Is Your Sidebar Sending Mixed Signals?

After watching the game last night between the Green Bay Packers & New England Patriots, I noticed that as the game winded down to the last minute of play, the message being sent to Green Bay’s rookie quarterback must have been mixed.  He played a great game last night until the final 60 seconds.  It seems as though he became completely unglued in the final 53 seconds.  I think that this was caused by confusion in signals which happens when you have inexperienced people running things.  As you watched the final play of the game, Matt Flynn tried to at one point call a huddle, then a timeout and then finally rushed to just get a play off that ended the game.

While part of this fault lies on the rookie QB, I think more fault should be left with his coach that had called a timeout just before that.  At that point he should have given his quarterback a clear and concise game plan as to what he wanted done.  If that had taken place, there would not have been so much confusion and the Packers might have won the game.

This same type of confusion takes place daily on websites across the world.  Consumers visit thinking one thing to be greeted by buttons and flashy objects that simply confuse them and divert their attention.  In this post I am going to give you a clear and concise road map to making your site function better.

I talked last week about ironing only the front side of your shirt and the importance of looking at more than just the visual appeal of your site.  We discussed the importance of your site being shared socially easily and also having a good foundation to the search engine optimization side.  I mentioned in that post there was a third element that I would cover soon regarding the calls to action on your site.

What are calls to action? They are graphics or links on your site that you wish for people to click on and use.  Normally you want to set these up to drive people to specific areas of your site where they can either purchase your products or services, hire you to work with, or subscribe to your site.  If they are placed in the proper segments you can help direct your traffic to the exact places you want on your site.

Sorry What Were You Saying? I’m Lost In Adwords!

Have you ever visited a site thinking it was about a specific thing, but when you start looking at the site you get confused what the site is about? I see too many sites now where the sidebars are wasted on driving the traffic you worked so hard to get to your site right back off your site to somewhere else.  Here’s a screenshot from a friends comedy website:

So they worked hard getting someone to come visit their jokes and they are instantly met by Google Adwords above the post driving them to school lunch programs, nutrition schools and more.  The sidebar doesn’t look much better with ads driving them to natural healing school, eating heart healthy, and other fun places.  While they do receive a little bit of money from people clicking on the links, I asked them how much revenue they actually created each month.  He shared it was less than $20 per month.  It boggles me when someone places these types of ads on their site trying to garner riches and glory.  Unless your site is seeing major traffic, you will not see big money coming from them.  Instead you drive your consumers away from your product and place them off your site on others.

Confusion In Content

Back in the late 90’s 2003 MySpace was king of the customizations and abilities to add all types of fun widgets to your profile.  Unfortunately those days are over.  Having a giant meez dancing or taking photos is no longer a popular practice.  Also, you are once again driving your consumers off to other distractions instead of your products or services.  Over on the right you can see the actual sidebar of another friends website.  You can see they start off with some interesting content telling us that their site has “STUFF you NEED to know if you planning to buy or sell your home.” They do warn that they has a sense of humor by saying you will be entertained while learning.  But, under  the brief description we have a broken widget that should be for feedburner.  It has sat like this since at least May 2009.

Following the broken widget is a PayPal Verified seal which baffles me even more.  Last time I checked, consumers are not using PayPal to buy or sell a home.  If they were selling an online product on the site and PayPal was their preferred form of handling transactions it would make sense.  They the finish off the sidebar by adding their Meez of a girl with a camera taking photos.  The sidebar to this site leaves me in complete confusion as to what the site is about.  Is this a product site where I can buy things, is it a photography site, or is int an entertainment site.  To the average consumer, this same confusion will take place.  The search engines too are completely confused which hurts your SEO.

Creating The Dummy Button- My Top 3

The top two or three things you share on your sidebar are the most important.  That is what will show up on the screen above the fold to a consumer visiting your site.  This is your prime real estate space and you shouldn’t fill it with jibberish that does not help your business.  Here’s a great tool to see what a consumer is going to see on their computer.  I use it regularly as I work on my system with a high resolution 24″ monitor that most consumers do not own.  So use Google’s simple browser size tool to test what content runs above the fold at different sized screens and resolutions.

So what makes your call to actions effective? The most effective call to action buttons are going to be catchy graphics that are predominantly displayed in prime locations on your site.  I nickname them dummy buttons as I feel it is pretty simple to an consumer visiting my site they know exactly where I want them to go.  On 210 we have three main call to actions.  The first is to subscribe via email to our blog.  Some may debate why I placed this button first, but I think this is huge to growing your readership, your influence and overall business.  In just over 6 months of this being installed on our blog we have over 825 people subscribed and receiving every blog post we write directly in their email.

Our second call to action button is to one of the products we sell.  By viewing my Google analytics, I found out quickly that most of the consumers who come to our site are looking for information about our custom WordPress sites that we design.  So, I created a quick and catchy animated gif to place on our sidebar that linked directly to that page.  I also added an image to the footer of every single blog post we write that does the same type of thing.  By doing this, that page that page is now receiving four times more traffic than any other page on our site except the home page.

The third call to action button we found beneficial to our business was the button to hire us to speakWhy would I add this button? The reason was simple: The more speaking gigs we get, the greater exposure we get for our business.  The more exposure we receive, the more business opportunities will arise.  This button is in our sidebar and also in our main navigation to our site.   Since the addition of the speaking button, our speaking page has remained in the top 10 pages for traffic on our site.   It has also garnered speaking engagements in large arenas like the Coldwell Banker Generation Blue Conference in Las Vegas.

The Rest Of My Sidebar

These are the buttons that consumers have to scroll down to use.  They still have good value and deliver your quality business but aren’t worthy of prime placement.  This is where my lead generation button is to gather email addresses for my newsletter.   I haven’t really pushed much yet with growing my newsletter list and still I get 2-3 new opt-ins daily.  This is followed by our chat buttons which allows consumers to see when we are online and chat with us about anything.  This chat function has been great in generating business as I have sold several sites directly through chatting with a consumer and answering all their questions directly and quickly.  There was no delay in filling out a contact form and waiting for me to respond.  Instant gratification is huge and consumers love it.

If you notice, our Facebook Page widget is well down our page and not as important for consumers to view.  Why you may ask? To me it isn’t important to push traffic on my site off to another platform where I have no control.  If Facebook shuts down tomorrow and I have all my business focused there, I would be in big trouble.  I do want people to know we are on Facebook and give them the option to connect, but it isn’t near as important to me as the buttons that get space above it because I already have people on my site where I ultimately want them to end up.

Lastly you will notice we display proudly our official SOB badge.  This award was given to us by our good friend Liz Strauss and was an honor to receive.  It brings a level of credibility to our site so it is important to share.  However we don’t want to place this badge at the top of our site as it does drive our traffic away from us and over to her site.  I also place at the bottom of my page the link to affiliates I am connected with.  As you notice, this is at the absolute bottom of my page under even the archive section of my blog.  While I am happy when someone signs up for hosting with Bluehost through my affiliate link, I am even happier when someone purchases a Custom WordPress Site,  books me to speak, or signs up for personal coaching because these are the primary sources of income for my business.  Affiliates can be a good auxiliary source of income, but they should not overtake your primary source of income in terms of space given on your site.

What’s Your Sidebar Saying?

So now that I shared with you some advice on what types of things should and should not be in your sidebar, take a moment to look at yours.  What does it say about you and your business?  Are you sending mixed signals to your consumers?  Are your call to action buttons clear as to what you want the consumers to do and are they driving the consumers directly to your services/products?  Or are your sidebar buttons and widgets causing confusion and pushing your traffic away to other sites.

Remember, we work hard to get the traffic to our site to generate business, make it clear what you want them to do, and keep them with you not onto another site. If you need help with any of the things discussed, feel free to contact me for help.

Photo Credit: idovermani

Jeremy Blanton

Jeremy Blanton is the Co-Founder of 210 Consulting- Social Media Advisors. He is a social media speaker who shares with thousands of people each year on things like how to use Facebook for Business, Blogging, and How to use Twitter.

When he is not coaching or speaking, he spends most of his time working on Custom WordPress Sites for his clients.

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  • Hey Jeremy, another helpful post. I have a question though as I’m relatively new at setting up my wordpress site (conejovalleyguy.com). I tend to think that animated images that link to your own pages (your custom wordpress one for example) gives the same appearance of a google ad that takes you somewhere else. In other words, when I see that, I think that links to someone else’s site that offers WordPress custom sites. Obviously you don’t agree or you wouldn’t have it there, but I’d like to hear your comments.

  • Since I talk about custom WordPress sites on my blog and I also have it in
    my products page I don’t at all look at it as a Google Adwords. The people
    are staying put with me on my blog. They aren’t going off to somewhere else
    where Google picked up a few keywords and found links from their Ads to fit
    it.

  • Good point. I also like that you changed the text of your Google chat to read Ask Jeremy a question instead of Chat with Jeremy. Much more effective. I changed that on mine. Thanks again for your great posts.

  • Deb Kruzel

    Hi Jeremy-
    Great post! I was wondering if you would advise against Networked Blogs and also, is it better to have the “archives” under the categories? (I’m fine tuning my site at: http://www.dkrealestateblog.com/ )

  • I think the archives and categories order isn’t that big of a deal.