This is a guest contribution from Larry Alton.
Content may be king to a successful blogger, but layout and design are also important aspects.
Unfortunately, this is a topic that doesn’t come naturally to most bloggers. In fact, it can be a point of conflict for bloggers who have no graphic design background.
Sound familiar? Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. With the intuitive information and guidance found in this post, you’ll be able to take action and give your blog a simple adjustment it drastically needs.
Study Consumption Patterns
Every blog is different, but users often consume information and interact with content in similar ways. Over the years, web designers have studied trends and determined that two design patterns stand above the rest. Let’s take a look:
Various eye-tracking studies have shown that many web surfers prefer to read the screen in an “F” pattern. In other words, they start by looking at the top of a web page and ultimately drift further and further down the left-hand side of the page. Only occasionally do they gravitate towards the right-hand portion of a page. The takeaway is that the most important elements of a website should be on the left side of the design.
While similar to the F-Pattern, the Z-Pattern design has some slight nuances. This theory says that users follow the shape of a Z when consuming content. That is, they start in the upper left-hand corner of the screen and proceed horizontally to the upper right-hand portion before moving diagonally to the bottom left and across to the right.
The F and Z patterns are obviously generalizations, but the principles gleaned from these design techniques can be applied to any website or blog. Using a scroll heat map, you may be able to figure out just how far down your pages users are venturing before clicking through to another page. With this information, you can then increase conversion rates and reduce bounces.
By using a heat scroll map, you may also discover that certain design elements on your blog aren’t serving much of a purpose. In Darren’s recent podcast about How to Give Your Blog Design a Spring Clean, he touched on the importance of refreshing layouts and visual elements to maximize results. Specifically, he started with two simple questions:
“What do you want people to do on your blog?
“Are you reflecting that in your design?”
Darren then discussed some simple, yet effective solutions to improving your blog layout in a practical manner. While he mentioned a number of helpful tips, we’re going to dig a little deeper into one tip in particular: decluttering your blog sidebar.
How to Declutter Your Blog Sidebar in 4 Easy Steps
Over time, your blog’s sidebar grows. You add a link here and a tool there, and before you know it your sidebar is the equivalent of that messy junk drawer in your kitchen. While you may not consciously think about your growing sidebar, now is the time to give it a little TLC. Here are some targeted tips for decluttering that sidebar so that you can speed up your site, eliminate distractions, and improve the visual layout of your blog.
1. Set Your Priorities
The first thing you have to do is set your priorities and metrics for determining what stays and what goes. The best method of prioritizing sidebar elements is by analyzing each individual one and asking two questions: Is this element serving my blog’s goals? Is this element serving my visitors’ needs?
If the answer to both of these questions is “no,” then there’s nothing else to think about. Go ahead and hit the delete button! If the answer is “yes” to both, then you can feel good about leaving well enough alone. Things get a little murky when you have one yes and one no. Weigh the pros and cons and err on the side of removing the element if you can’t definitively say that it adds value.
2. Delete These Elements
Right off the bat, there are some clunky elements that you can delete. The first is the “Tag Cloud.” These are the groupings of the most commonly used words on your blog. While they may look cool at first, the reality is that nobody uses them. They just take up space.
The next thing you should delete is that blog roll. While a good link to a relevant blog may be helpful, the fact is these links take away from your site by driving traffic to different URLs. They also take up a lot of room.
Finally, consider deleting the recent comments section from your sidebar. The reason is that nobody cares to read comments out of context. Furthermore, if spammers regularly comment on posts, your sidebar will end up being nothing more than a real-time spam feed.
3. Highlight Popular Posts
Most blogs are set up in a format that highlights the most recent posts in the sidebar. While there’s nothing wrong with this, people can get the same information by simply visiting the first page of your blog. Instead, use this space to highlight popular posts. This will increase your click through rates and provide more value in the long run.
4. Understanding What Stays
So, what stays in the sidebar? Well, you’ll definitely want an opt-in form to collect user’s email addresses, a mini bio with picture to highlight who you are, and a convenient search bar. Past this, nothing is mandatory. Remember, only keep an element in your sidebar if it serves the needs of your visitors or satisfies the goals of your blog.
Make Layout and Design a Priority
While every blog is different, the reality is that most users interact with blogs in similar ways. If you study the consumption patterns of your users, you’ll notice that your cluttered sidebar likely adds very little value to your blog. In fact, it may take away from the primary conversion goals you’ve established. Paying attention to these behavioral patterns and decluttering your sidebar may allow you to experience higher conversion rates and longer site visits.
Nobody is telling you to skimp on content. Your content is obviously the most critical component of having a successful blog. However, you can’t afford to ignore layout and design. By combining the right layout with relevant content, you can transform an average blog into a valuable, high-converting industry resource that attracts readers, advertisers, and influencers alike. And while you may have never realized it in the past, decluttering your sidebar can play a major role in this transformation process.