‘Must Have’ Sidebar Features

BlogSEO has posted an interesting list titled 10 Must-Have Things That Should be on Your Blog’s Side Bar which I’m certain will cause some debate among ProBlogger readers.

As I look down the list there are some I strongly agree with and others which I have a personal aversion to. Here’s their list headers with a few comments with my own opinion in brackets after each:

  1. Site Search – (agree with this one – I regularly search for keywords on others blogs and would include it in my own top 10)
  2. Archives – (I use date based archives on some blogs but not others – the main reason to have them in my mind are for SEO purposes. Search Engines like to be able to find every page on your blog quickly and to be linking back into your archives means the SE bots are only ever a few links from every page on your blog. Of course this can also be achieved with a SiteMap or even by Categories, which is the way I do it here at ProBlogger).
  3. Blogroll – (I used to be a big fan of the blogroll in sidebars but without really ever making a definite decision on it have stopped using them. The main reason for this was that they became so unmanageable as my blogs grew and at times it became something of a political activity that I really didn’t want to buy into. I’m not anti blogrolls but would rather link to other blogs from within my content as they write quality/link worthy posts. I do have a links page that I guess functions as a blogroll but as you’ll see it’s very out of date – I haven’t updated it in many months.) I do have links to other blogs in my sidebar but they are other blogs in the network to which I belong. We’re actually working on a less dominating way of doing this which I’m really looking forward to implementing as the list is now getting way to long.
  4. Recent Comments – (I’d be hesitant to include this in a ‘must have’ or ‘essential’ list and don’t use it on any of my own blogs at all. I agree that it can be very useful for creating community and I have had a number of readers requesting it here at ProBlogger – but I find that on a blog like this that can have up to 6 or more posts per day and that gets upwards of 50 comments on some posts that it almost becomes a little pointless. If readers want to keep track of the latest comments on threads here I encourage them to use the ‘subscribe to comments’ feature instead. Having said this on newer blogs that are attempting to establish community this feature can work well – as a result we have it on quite a few b5media blogs).
  5. Blog Categories – (As I said above – this is something I use on all of my blogs both for reader usability to enable them to find posts quickly but also for SEO purposes. I don’t find it necessary to have both it and a date based archives on most of my blogs though).
  6. Most Popular Posts – (I’ve often considered this plugin but have never found room in my sidebars to use it. Instead I manually highlight some of the more popular posts, as well as those I want to be popular, in my header menus and sidebars. I do this for the same sort of reasons that people would use the plugin but like to retain the control over what links appear there).
  7. Contact Info – (I’ve ranted about blogs that don’t include easily accessible contact details before so will only say that I strongly agree with this one. I just don’t get why people wouldn’t include a way of being contacted – in fact to me it leaves me feeling a little suspicious when a blogger chooses not to have a way of giving feedback in a more personal way than comments).
  8. Short About Section – (I like blogs to have some sort of information on the blog and blogger but don’t always see it as essential, depending upon the topic and goals of the blog. I know my about pages are among the most popular of the blog here at ProBlogger and think they are well worth putting some time into as they can act as a springboard further into your blog if you use them well).
  9. Your Other Projects/Blogs – (I generally highlight some of my other projects at some point on my blog either in the about page, sidebar or footer. Depending upon how many other projects you have you might want to be a bit picky or choosey on this one. I probably wouldn’t have this one as my 2nd highest ‘must have’ but it’s a feature on most of my blogs to some extent so I guess it is important to me).
  10. RSS Buttons – (I personally like to feature RSS buttons or links prominently on most of my blogs – especially those where I know my readership are RSS savvy like ProBlogger readers).

As you can see, a sidebar is a pretty personal thing. Some people choose to have two (or even occasionally three) of them to fit more features in and an increasing amount of bloggers are experimenting with blogs without sidebars altogether and are instead incorporating their ‘must haves’ into their footers, horizontal menus and headers (in fact big footers seem to be very popular at the moment).

Other ‘essentials’ that some bloggers include in their sidebars include:

[Read more…]

Improving the Readability of Your Comments Section

I love it when bloggers get on a ‘hot streak’ with their blogs and write multiple link worthy posts in a short period of time. Rachel’s blog is hot right now in my opinion (I seem to be linking to her a lot) and today she’s written an interesting post on Improving the readability of large numbers of comments which is full of ideas, plugins and suggestions to consider to improve the functionality of your comments section (especially if it’s pretty active). You wouldn’t want to implement all 10 of her suggestions but there are some great suggestions there. Here’s her headings (with more written under each point):

  1. Highlight your (own) comments
  2. Provide visual cues
  3. Show what’s new
  4. Split things up
  5. Newest first
  6. Distinguish Trackbacks
  7. Rate comments
  8. Nested comments
  9. Editable comments
  10. Categorise comments

Blog Design Solutions

Blog-Design-SolutionsI’m quite excited to see that a team of talented blog designers (Phil Sherry, Andy Budd, Simon Collison, Michael Heilemann, Drew McLellan, David Powers, Chris J. Davis and John Oxton) have just announced their new book titled Blog Design Solutions.

I’m not familiar with all of the authors but those that I know have great blogs and know what they are talking about – I’ll definitely be getting myself a copy as I’m a complete dunce when it comes to blog design and I can use any tip I can get.

The blurb at Amazon on the book says:

“In this book, a team of renowned web designers take you through the ins and outs of putting together great blogs. They waste no time harking on about the philosophy of blogs, or the community behind them. Instead, they get straight to the practical details, showing how to set up a basic blog in some of the world’s most popular blogging engines — Movable Type, ExpressionEngine, WordPress, and Textpattern. With your blog set up, they then show you how to build great looking, usable layouts for your blog. The last chapter even shows you how to build your very own PHP/MySQL-based blog engine!”

Pre Order your copy at Blog Design Solutions (affiliate link).

Liquid Width or Static Width Blog Design?

Graywolf has started a worthwhile series titled Maximizing Profits With Website Design and Layout which I’ll be following closely. The first in the series tackles the eternal debate of web designers over wether liquid width or static width designs are better.

This is a question I have pondered over the past few months also as I’ve considered new blogs. To this point I’ve mostly gone with static width blogs (with a couple of exceptions) but what do you prefer and why?

Blog Spring Clean Checklist

Last week I did a spring clean of my office (although it is Summer here). It’s amazing how many bits and pieces one can accumulate over time and how they pile up to become an accumulative mess.

Blogs can also become messy over time in a similar way. Most obviously this happens when bloggers keep adding new features, buttons and widgets to their sidebars (I was on one blog yesterday that had more buttons than it had content). But the accumulation of mess can easily happen behind the scenes in the code of your blog also.

Rachel has just posted a Blog cleanup checklist that might be helpful in getting the code of your blog cleaned up. To be honest it’s something I constantly have struggled with as I’m not really wired in a technical way – but it is important every now and again to dig into.

The only thing I’d add to Rachel’s list is a section on cleaning up the front end of your blog. Perhaps something like:

11. Take a critical look at the information in your menus and sidebars. What is essential and what is just clutter?


12. Delete 50% (minimum) of the buttons in your side bar.

Finding Cheap and Free Stock Photos for your Blog

If you’re looking for good cheap (and/or free) stock photos for your blog there is a helpful list over at Presentation Zen titled Where can you find good images?

found via LifeHacker

Net Users Take 1/20th of a Second to Judge your Blog’s Design

Martin just emailed me a link to an article that is sure to depress some bloggers. It talks about how internet users only take one twentieth of a second to decide whether they like the look of a website.

‘Dr Gitte Lindgaard and colleagues from Carleton University in Ottawa flashed up websites for 50 milliseconds and asked participants to rate them for visual appeal.

When they repeated the exercise after a longer viewing period, the participants’ ratings were consistent.

“Visual appeal can be assessed within 50 milliseconds, suggesting that web designers have about 50 milliseconds to make a good impression,” the Canadians report in the journal Behaviour & Information Technology.’

How do they decide what they like and don’t like? Well the article doesn’t go into great detail except to say:

‘She says the appeal of a website is usually tied to colour, movement and interactivity, with the way the information is structured coming second.’

I’ve written about the quickness the average blog visitors stays on blogs before but one twentieth of a second is pretty full on! All the more reason to work on blog design and think about what message your blog is communicating in the first few seconds of a visit.

Four easy steps to add your own link in Typepad

This post was submitted by Vic Correro from

I have to give credit where credit is due. I first saw Darren’s use of the ‘Add this post to link a while back and decided that I would like to do the same to I think this is an excellent idea, as is a wonderful resource. Also, Nick Wilson over at gave the additional push I needed to include this feature through his post and free PDF about

For those of you who are familiar with Typepad, or are using it, the following information will require a tad bit of knowledge with Typepad’s advanced template structure. If you want more information on this, see: Advanced Template Sets and Template Tags. Understanding of HTML will also be helpful here.

Now, before I continue. I do want to mention that this is the way that I accomplished the task. As the saying goes: ‘There’s more than one way to skin a cat’.

So, let’s get back to the topic. If you want to create your own link embedded somewhere in your post, you will need to do the following:
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How to Decide How Many Columns are Best for your Blog

‘How Many Columns is it best to have on a blog?’

Now there’s a question that must be in the top 10 that I got asked in 2005. It’s one of the biggest dilemmas that bloggers tackle when putting together a blog.

There are of course no right or wrong answers to the question. I’ve seen wonderful two, three (and even one and four) column blogs that have met the goals of the blogger. Really it’s a question that needs to be asked on a blog by blog basis.

Warning, Tangent Ahead:

WardrobeAs I sit here pondering this question my mind goes back a couple of months to the day when we had a sales person come to our home to give us a quote on wardrobes. V and I had in our minds what we wanted in terms of design – we’d even drawn lovely pictures and diagrams to make her job easier!

But our wardrobe consultant (she was much more than a sales person as it turned out) had other ideas. She didn’t want to look at our designs – she wanted to look at our clothes. She spend the first half of our consultation purely measuring the space our clothes took up in our current wardrobes. It wasn’t until she had a good picture of this that she started to build a design. The design that emerged was, as a result, much more functional than the ideas we’d had previously. Once she had the basics in the design she asked to look at our ideas and was able to incorporate a few of the more cosmetic ideas we’d had.

Rather than starting with design elements she started with questions of function.

While we had all kinds of cool ideas for how we wanted our wardrobes to look, we’d forgotten that wardrobes existed for another purpose – to keep clothes in.

Sometimes I wonder if bloggers could learn a thing or two from this way of thinking when it comes to blog design. [Read more…]