Declutter That Sidebar for Better SEO

Cleaning out the clutter.

Ugh.

The mere thought of it makes us couch-warriors break out into a cold sweat.

Luckily, it’s far easier to declutter your website’s sidebar than it is to clear out your closet or The Drawer — you know which drawer I’m talking about, right? That drawer, usually in the kitchen, or maybe the bathroom (or, if you’re like me, both) into which has been swept a mind-boggling array of detritus and Crap That I Might Need Someday. Cleaning that sucker out would strike fear into the heart of even the most organized soul.

Your sidebar, on the other hand? Nah, that’s easy.

Why a Decluttered Sidebar Is Best

But why do it in the first place?

I mean, you worked hard to get those buttons, badges, blogrolls, and widgets in place. Took you for-freaking-ever to figure out the whole pixel-sizing and proper-placement stuff. Why on earth would you want to undo all that?

Simply put: because it makes your reader happy.

Happy readers = more money. (Ultimately. No, it’s not quite that simple but it’s definitely true, nevertheless.)

Think about it. If you hit a website with a sidebar that’s crammed full of Interesting Stuff — ads, possibly, or images that link out somewhere (ooh, that’s a pretty picture of a book and the title’s JUST what I’m looking for … wonder where THAT goes?) or blogrolls that scroll on for eons and archives and category lists and badges and buttons touting this award or that association …

What are you gonna do when you’ve finished reading the article on that page? IF you finish reading it at all, that is?

That’s right. You’re gonna start getting click-happy on that sidebar. And off you go. Maybe you’ll come back to that website. Eventually.

More likely, you won’t. Because you, my friend, are busy. And your attention pie is being carved up into ever-smaller slices, and who can even remember where this little web journey started out?

Cluttered sidebars, simply put:

  • Distract your reader from YOUR message
  • Offer waaaaay too much temptation to head off somewhere else
  • Look ugly to modern eyes
  • May even suggest that a cluttered mind is behind all that sidebar junk — that’s your mind, and is that really what you want new readers to think about you?
  • Kill your conversions. (Proof.)

But How Does That Help SEO?

Fair question – this is SEO Saturday, after all.

And I have a fair(ly) simple response: because the crap you’ve got in your sidebar that links out to other stuff, when it’s viewed in the context of a single page on your site, most likely has nothing to do with your page’s keywords and topic.

Unrelated links-out don’t help your SEO, and they could even negatively impact your SEO on a single-page basis. So, it stands to reason, if you keep the links in the sidebar to a minimum, that’s less of a negative impact you’re risking.

What You Need In Your Sidebar

So, that said, what do you really need in that sidebar?

Well, it depends, of course, on what your business model is. If you’re heavily invested in affiliate marketing, maybe you need that space to lead readers to your sales pitch for the product.(Note: I don’t really do a lot of affiliate marketing here, or anywhere else. I am not the expert in this method of income generation.)

But if you’re like most readers of PJP, you’re not really selling somebody else’s crap — you’re selling YOU, and your expertise. So, if that’s you, then you need these things:

  1. Your email sign-up form
  2. A list of top content (you can use plugins for these, or you can craft them yourself using the Text Box widget in your WP Dashboard)
  3. Links to specific squeeze pages (also called landing pages, or resource pages)
  4. A brief description of what your page (and you) are all about (BRIEF, people. This is not a rehash of your “About” page.)

That’s it. (And Derek Halpern of Social Triggers mostly agrees although he leaves off #4 — and he may be right, actually. I haven’t tested it yet … maybe I will. UPDATE: am testing it now, and I gotta say — I think he’s right to leave it off. Looks cleaner, no? Have I lost anything by removing those “about” synopses? I don’t think so…)

What You DON’T Need In Your Sidebar

Everything else.

What?!

Oh, all right. You don’t need:

Archives of Past Posts

There’s no rhyme or reason to these, although they used to be very popular. Far better to simplify — remove the overwhelming abundance of options — for the reader by selectively promoting your best content with “popular articles” lists and links to squeeze pages.

Calendars

Really? C’mon. Your customers are smart enough to know what day it is.

Blogrolls

This one’s controversial. I still run into folks who insist they have to have these blogrolls because the people they link out to there won’t continue to link back to them if they remove the blogroll.

Here’s the truth, though: blogroll links are penny-ante backlinks. I couldn’t care less if PJP is linked to in someone’s blogroll. Far better for me and my site’s SEO to nab one well-crafted contextual link within someone else’s content than get TEN blogroll listings from various sites.

Links to your Social Media Profiles

Everyone just went all “WTFZOMG!” on me right there, I’m sure.

But here’s the thing: your site’s purpose is NOT to drive traffic to your Facebook page or Twitter profile. I promise you. That’s completely ass-backwards. (Meaning: you want those SM sites to drive traffic to your WEBSITE.)

Put those links at the bottom of posts, or on your About page, or in a footer, or somewhere. At PJP, I use the Follow Me plugin, which is a nice compromise, creating a floating tab way off there to the right of each page. It’s unobtrusive, not terribly distracting, and lets me give ALL my relevant social networking info to readers at one shot.

Also: same goes for those inane Twitter feed widgets. If I want to see what you’ve been tweeting lately, I’ll go to your Twitter page. I promise.

Get Rid of the Crap and You Will Feel Better

Try it out. Just for awhile. Declutter the sidebar, pare it down to the essential stuff that is designed to keep your readers on YOUR site, learning what YOU want them to learn. I promise you, you’ll feel really good about yourself afterwards.

You may even feel so good that you decide to tackle That Drawer.

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  • Jan Musil

    I don’t agree with the social network pages part. Of course, you need to drive visitors to your site, not from it. But the truth is, that some users won’t come back to your site unless they get to know you’ve added new articles. Think about is rather this way: Your user visits your site, reads all the articles, likes them and wants more. There aren’t any more articles, but the next ones are said to come soon. So the user finds out you have a Facebook page and likes it, so that they can see it on their FB page that you have published new articles! Otherwise they could forget about your site and never come back.

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