There are three schools of thought about putting a sidebar on your blog page:
Do it, but make it succinct
Don’t. Do. It.
Why do you have sidebars arise in the first place? Do you feel like you’re wasting real estate? Is there an overwhelming need to share everything on every page? Do you want to make sure users can go anywhere from anywhere? Maybe it just seems to be a sensible place to put stuff.
Is it possible you should drop the sidebar?
No, It Brings Some Value
HubSpot considers the sidebar a place that encourages users to read more posts, click on calls to action, and become returning visitors. In fact, they have seven “essential elements” that should be included:
The sidebar can certainly become a dumping ground. Some sidebars are so busy and crowded everything just fades into a mass of color and words. You need to decide what, exactly, you want your sidebar to accomplish and what sort of choices you want your readers to have.
Keeping the sidebar clean with lots of white space makes it less distracting and, ultimately, more useful. Providing only a search box, a social sharing widget, and subscription options is probably the best.
Yes, Drop that Disaster Area
Eric Anderson of Squarespace likens the sidebar to a garbage dump. Sidebars are distractions from the real business of the page which is to present ideas for people to consider. This requires a certain amount of concentration. If the sidebar sits there interrupting the user with the option to read tweets, bounce to a “popular” blog post, or (horrors) jump off your site entirely, then the sidebar definitely needs to go.
At best, Anderson feels that nobody really pays any attention to it. That stuff over in the periphery of a user’s vision is easily dismissed. Stanford Smith at Social Media Today shares a heatmap showing where readers focused their attention. Surprise! It wasn’t the sidebars.
But, But, But…What about CTAs and Stuff?
Relax; there is room elsewhere for some of what you will be giving up without a sidebar. In fact, these things may even be more effective if moved to more prominent or logical areas.
Calls to Action: Place these at the end of the blog post. You have just eloquently made a case for an idea or solution. The reader is primed to do something about it.
Related Posts: Like calls to action, the best place to mention other posts is after visitors have read one. This points your readers in the direction of more information about solving their problems. And it keeps them on your site.
Social Media Widgets: The reader has just finished this great post and is primed to send it to everyone else.
Search Box: The search box may be better placed in the header or footer of your page. In general, the header or footer has become the expected locations for a search box.
Ultimately it is up to you whether to dispense with your blog’s sidebar. It very much depends on how you are using your blog, the expectations your readers have, and what you want the sidebar to accomplish.
You have very little time to capture attention so give every part of your screen real estate some serious thought. Make that space work for you, not against you.