Sidebars that Rock

They’re de rigueur in almost all blogs and websites these days- and yet so many sidebars seem like afterthoughts, simply columns of clutter where one sticks everything that doesn’t go on the rest of the site. Are sidebars the web equivalent of a kitchen junk drawer? They don’t have to be- with these tips for creating sidebars that rock:

  • Group like with like. This is probably the most important thing you can do for your sidebar. Separate your sidebar into “sections”, and when you need to add something, take the extra time to put it in its proper place. Group each section under a clear heading (e.g. “Awards I’ve Won”, or “Recent Posts”)
  • Make sure it’s wide enough. Nothing turns me off faster than a sidebar with banners or text that bleeds into the main content area. Try to plan ahead: think you’ll place 125×125 ads? Make sure your sidebar is larger than that.
  • Don’t make the text too small. Text on sidebars are traditionally smaller than that of the page’s main content- and for good reason. Still, try not to go too small with this text. Your visitors with bad eyesight- myself included- will appreciate it.
  • If your navigation menu is on your sidebar, make it obvious. The navigation menu is probably the single thing your visitors will be looking for the most, so don’t disappoint.
  • Include the “usual suspects”. For blogs, this means: RSS links, category links, links to recent posts, and a search box. A little “About Me” blurb is always welcome- and you might also want to link to your most popular posts or a list of recent comments, but don’t go too crazy here… there is such a thing as too many ways to browse a site.
  • Ads. Yes- this is where one traditionally places ads… something I believe I’ve recently commented on.
  • Finally, blogrolls and outward links belong on your sidebar, too- again, make sure it’s obvious that these are links to pages off your site. You want your visitors to know that they’ll be leaving your site if they click on these.

A truly rockin’ sidebar to me is one that’s useful and usable for your visitors, while also reflecting some of your personality. How do you design your sidebars? Do you include your Twitter feed? The music you’re currently listening to?