The Sidebar in Your Blog is Hot Garbage

Spoiler Alert: Dumping a bunch of stuff into a sidebar doesn’t make you a blogger. Nor does it make your website more useful.

With more than a decade working in the Internet industry, trust me when I say that sidebars are mostly ignored, certainly distracting and little more than a link garbage dump.

I can empathize, I really can. I understand you want everyone to see everything from everywhere on your blog. Let me make something plain … as a reader, I don’t need to see everything from everywhere.

If only this beautifully written article was accompanied by a blog archive and tag cloud linking to the entire history of this site. I’d be so much happier.
— No one, ever

I just made that quote up … it’s not real. Nobody ever really said that, as far as I know. Okay. So I’m just going step out of this passive aggressive stance I’ve taken and get right to the point. I’ve found your article, now please just let me read it comfortably.

 

You Don’t Have to Use a Sidebar

15 recent tweets. Blog archive sorted by year and month. Tag cloud with all the tags. Ads. Lots of ads. Search box. Social profiles with links to all your social networks. Pictures of all your friends. 9 recent Instagram and Flickr posts. Stop me when we reach something relevant to the article I’m reading in your blog.

So, what do you do as an alternative? There are simple things you can do to blog without a sidebar. Here are three example actions you can take to modernize your website & kick Y2K’s sidebar right in the crotch.

  1. Provide links to related content at the end of your post. People will actually use these links since they are pertinent and related to the subject. Their position on the page (at the end of the article) also lends the links more usefulness as they are provided in context.
  2. Add a search field to the header or footer of your site. Again, placing helpful links and facilities where they are most needed by your reader will make your website more user-friendly. You’ll find that more people see (and use) these features when they are thoughtfully presented and carefully placed.
  3. Create an archive page for your blog(s). Help your reader by curating useful lists of links on a page dedicated to archival links. Posts by month or year, post by tag or author. All of this type of cross linking is much better served from a dedicated page.

See? It’s not so hard. You can blog without a sidebar. Imagine how engaged your readers could become … they’re able to read your writing comfortably and without distraction; Links to related content and searches are moved out of the dump and into a contextually charged position—right there where they need them; archives are presented as such and actually become a useful resource.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Next Steps: Reach inside your head and yank out the part of your brain that won’t let go of the sidebar (labeled ‘S’ in Figure 1). Then burn it in a fire. When this is done, visualize your website sidebar free … once you do, you’ll never go back to the gotta-have-a-sidebar mindset.


I’ve used sarcasm here. I’m certainly not suggesting you actually perform a lobotomy on yourself. My real point is that you should take the time to carefully consider what content you present to people and in what context. If you feel your website must have a sidebar, be smart about the content you put there.


This writing was originally posted as my first post on Medium.

Eric E. Anderson

Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, NY 11233, United States

Lives in Brooklyn and makes a living creating a better web at Squarespace. Most of his free time is spent wandering around New York City practicing the craft of photography.