Think outside the widget to tap your sidebar potential
Published: January 18, 2011
If you have a website, you’ve probably discovered the value of the widget (or gadget), a topic we covered previously. But the page element we call the sidebar offers potential for custom content that may not only lure visitors to your site—that small element set apart from journal entries or articles may entice a reader to stay longer and explore more of what you have to offer.
Kay B. Day
Most blog platforms and website-builder software provide sidebar options. At sites like Blogger and Squarespace, you simply select the type of sidebar you want and proceed to fill it out. The same software usually permits you to select from options like link lists, subscription feeds, archives and search engines. For custom sidebars, there’ll usually be a page element for text.
If you don’t place anything else in a sidebar, do provide a site search engine for your guests. That way the visitor can search within your site and she may be willing to stay longer if the results satisfy.
I’ve come to view these content blocks as a creative opportunity. Writers who honed skills on print material sometimes feel a bit confined by graphic limitations inherent in writing for the Web. Article length can be a big challenge if an editor is a stickler for limits on those words we craft so lovingly and are often skeptical about cutting. What may not fit into an article may be suitable as an adjunct to the article.
For instance, if I’m doing an article about a television program I enjoy, I may not be able to include in-depth information about the author who wrote the book the program is based on. A brief bulleted list of the author’s works and/or website will fit nicely into the sidebar and round out the feature or commentary in a more fitting manner than adding 200 words an editor may cut.
With increasing use of mobile devices, I am learning how important it is to try to fit a lot of information into a piece that’s 500 words or less. I realized how important this is not long ago when I read parts of a website on my daughter’s smart phone. You can expand a screen to enlarge type, but if the article is very long, that gets tedious. But a smart device presents a sidebar with little trouble and it’s easy for the reader to get the gist of it in a glance.
Sidebars are a perfect avenue for photographs, especially if you have some great ones that haven’t yet found a home in your content. If you come up with a recurring theme, you’ll be able to put those photos to good use. For instance, if you’re doing content related to lifestyles, a photo sidebar with various holiday celebration photos might entice the reader to hang around a bit longer.
Custom content potential is infinite when it comes to the written word. Some examples of sidebar content you research and compose yourself include:
• This day in history—an event from antiquity or last year.
• Quotables—interesting remarks from celebrities, authors, poets or others in the public eye.
• How many days ‘til—a countdown to any special event you’re promoting or writing about.
• Most popular now—a sidebar blurbing your most popular article with an embed link.
• For sale—especially useful if you’re an author selling your own book.
• Classifieds—an opportunity for your readers to sell an item or service (you can actually sell that sidebar space directly if you choose and use PayPal to receive payment).
• Breakout quotes from current or past articles that relate or link to the topic of the day.
• Inspiration—snippets of wisdom that inspire your visitors or move them to action.
• Self-serving links—often overlooked by writers, but useful if you have a bio site or other site you’d like to direct traffic to.
Just as jewelry and accessories complement an outfit, sidebar content can complement your website. The more custom content you have, the more character your website manifests.
There’s a great deal of potential in the humble sidebar. You just have to think outside the widget to realize it.
Florida journalist Kay B. Day has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. The author of two books, she has written for
The Christian Science Monitor, United Press International,
The Florida Times-Union and Sky News. To learn more about Kay Day, see www.kayday.com. To read Kay's other Web Savvy columns about writing for the Web, click here.