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The sidebar of a website is an interesting place and one that should given some serious thought while designing or modifying your site. Unfortunately, many people just associate the sidebar as a place to stuff advertisements. While it is true, the sidebar is a common place for advertisements, people who are serious about building a great website should see the sidebar as more than just an “adbar.”

The way I view the sidebar is as an extension of the pages content. It needs to compliment what the visitor is looking at in order to be the most effective. An effective sidebar should have a purpose and the purpose shouldn’t be finding ways to display the most advertisements and make as much money as you can from onetime visitors. The best sidebars are ones that retain, engage, and monetize visitors. And then do it again the next time the visitor comes back.

Here are a few tips to optimize your sidebar and make the most out of it.

First, figure out the purpose of your sidebar. What do you want your sidebar to accomplish? Do you want to use it to drive email newsletter signups? Do you want the sidebar to promote your social media profiles? Whatever it is that you want the sidebar to do is the purpose. Again, a good purpose should revolve around the concept of retaining, engaging, and monetizing. The best sidebars do all three.

Once you have your purpose, run with it. On BestTechie, I use the sidebar to promote the sites social media presence, recent content from popular categories, the BestTechie app (which does need some work/updating), the sites archives, and of course, to monetize.

That sounds like a lot to put in a sidebar, but good placement is key to a sidebar’s success. While you do not want to have an overwhelming sidebar that people are scared to look at, it is important to pick key elements of the site for the sidebar to represent. Everything in the sidebar on BestTechie has been hand selected for a specific reason.

The social media profiles (Twitter, Facebook page, and Google+ page) are there to build up a our presence on each network. We have found that a number of our “Likes” on the Facebook page have come from the placement of the Like box on our site. We recently added the Google+ widget and Twitter follow button (large version) to replicate that effect. By building up our presence it means more people will see our new content and most likely return to the site.

Our implementation of recent articles in the sidebar allows visitors to find more content that may be of interest to them and keeps them further engaged and on the site for longer periods of time. Right now, we use the Business, Electronics, and Web categories because those are some of the most popular.

It is also worth noting that since we implemented the sharing buttons on the left side of each article, social sharing has increased dramatically.

One last thing of note, similarly to how the core of a website should never be considered “done” the sidebar can always be improved and modified to increase its effectiveness. The use of website analytics can be very useful tool for determining what’s working and what’s not.

Do you have any tips for designing an effective sidebar? Leave a comment!

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