The following post is part of a series on How to Silo Your Website. You should review, How to Silo Your Website the Masthead, How to Silo Your Website the Breadcrumb, How to Silo Your Website the Content. For this part, we’ll be taking a look at the sidebar.
[pullquote]You want to keep the sidebar content dynamic …[/pullquote]IMHO the sidebar is the second most abused and misused part of a website (the footer is the most abused which we’ll talk about in a later article). The sidebar is so abused because people stick too much third party content, widgets, social blocks, and simply too many links. In the past year I have worked on 5 client sites with between 300-500 links in the sidebar. No, that’s not a typo. That’s over 300 links in just the sidebar.
My first bit of advice: do some click tracking to see what people are clicking on. I like to use crazyegg (full disclosure: they are an advertiser, but I used them before they became one) or similar service that actually tracks X/Y coordinates on a page. See what people are clicking on and remove the elements that people don’t use.
Next make sure links to your most popular pages/content/products are there. Resist the temptation to go overboard. 10 is a good number; 15 is as much as I would recommend. If you are in a shopping environment, links to the main departments or categories is also a good idea. If you use faceted navigation (ie product/category links that change based on where you are or your last click), be careful. If the links are straight with no URL parameters, you have nothing to worry about. If the links change and pass parameters you are better off using no-follow. This isn’t to conserve page rank: it’s to prevent creating an infinite site from a search engine perspective. Using the rel=canonical tag is a good back up, but bandaid solutions are no substitute for bad architecture. You never want to leave thinking or decision making to chance with an algo.
Remove links to your service pages (privacy, contact, tos, etc) unless you need them for visual aesthetic (to balance out the content section). In fact, you want to reduce and remove as many links as you possibly can. We aren’t trying to conserve link equity but to control where it goes. It’s a slight but subtle difference.
If you are selling advertising, have affiliate links, or other banner-type content, this is probably where it is. If it’s what pays the bills and keeps the site running, keep it; if doesn’t convert then remove it.
If you have the ability to add in featured content THAT CHANGES daily, weekly, or (at the bare minimum) monthly, then do it. Also if you can add in related content links that change on a per page basis, then do it. You want to keep the sidebar content dynamic, with static and non parametric url’s. Bonus points if you can change the order based on templates or randomization.
So what are the takeaways here:
- Reduce the number of links to a minimum.
- Remove non essential elements, especially third party content, based on user testing.
- Include links to related or featured content, especially if it changes.
- Looks for ways to change or randomize content.