I’m not a big fan of the word “must”.
People who say things like, “In order to stay healthy you MUST stop eating cake for breakfast,” bother me quite a lot.
Okay. That’s a terrible example.
People who say things like, “In order to have any success at selling your art online you MUST have a mailing list signup in your sidebar,” bother me quite a lot, but not for the same reason as my nutritionist telling me not to eat cake for breakfast.
You see, one of these things is objectively correct. If I eat cake for breakfast, my insulin levels will shoot up, my body will convert the sugar in my bloodstream into fat and I will be hungry again in about an hour. (I will also be incapable of rational thought, but that’s another story.)
Saying that your business will fail if your mailing list signup is not in your sidebar is not objectively correct.
You see, eating a well balanced diet is an essential factor in losing weight, beating heart disease and living a long, healthy life.
Having a mailing list signup in your sidebar is only one of many, many ways to successfully have a business online.
We already know why having a Sidebar is a Website Essential, but when you’re reading my list of Sidebar Essentials below, remember that these are what pass for “best practices” online, not something that you MUST do in order to be successful.
There are lots of paths to success online.
Not eating cake for breakfast is a pretty sure path to living to see 40.
Having a widget that constantly updates as you publish content not only keeps people interested (both new and returning visitors), but also keeps Google’s bots happy. Stagnant sidebars can help to convince Google you’re not worth archiving.
Product or Service Buttons
People are great at doing what they’re told, and the internet has been great at telling them what to do and when to do it.
Guaranteed, if you create a big red button that says “PUSH ME NOW!” people will push it. It’s as simple as that.
Creating buttons the lead visitors to your products or services will not only show them that you do that thing, but give them a quick and easy way to get to something they might want.
Mailing List Signup
Sidebars are good places for mailing list signups, because it’s a highly visible location and appears on every page. Since your Sidebar accompanies your content, people who have just read a post on your blog will be instantly offered the opportunity to sign up to get more like that. Those who are likely to sign up no matter what page they’re on will have the opportunity to do so no matter what page they land on.
Social Media Connect
It’s always a good idea to help people connect with you on social networks. If they like what you do on your website, capturing their interest on social media means that they can more easily share their fondness of your with their friends.
This is not the same thing as the “recent posts” section noted above. These are posts that get a lot of traction on your site, through search traffic, links in from other sites or are commented on a lot. These posts are popular for a reason (a reason you hopefully know) and they will be interesting to people both new to your site and returning again and again.
This is far from an exhaustive list of things that could go in your Sidebar, but are a great place to start. Go take a look at your own Sidebar and see how it’s doing.