What You Need (And Don't Need) In Your Sidebar
One of the greatest things about WordPress (and some other blogging platforms) is the number of plugins available. One type of plugin is one that adds extra widgets and other things to the sidebar. Some of these can be helpful, like a latest comments plugin, or they can be completely useless, like a random quote plugin.
This post should cover some of the Do's and Don'ts of blog sidebars.
A search box must be included in every site's sidebar. It's important that the user can search from any page of your site. If you don't want to put it in the sidebar, put it somewhere else, like in the header. If not in the sidebar or in the header, at least have it in the footer.
If you don't want to use a horizontal navigation bar, a list of pages in the sidebar can be used as long as the list does not go on for too long. The goal should be to keep each section of the sidebar small, so that there is room for each of the other sections.
Depending on the number of categories you have, a list of categories may be helpful, or it may ruin your entire site. Again, the goal should be to keep each section of the sidebar small.
Personally, I think that 10 categories should be the maximum number to have in a list. I have seen a blog with over 100 categories stretch a page with just a couple lines of content enough to make my scrollbar just a few pixels tall.
As we all know, it costs money to run a site, and one way of making money to pay the bills is through advertising. The sidebar is usually one of the most used places for ads. Of course, just make sure not to fill up your sidebar with too many ads, and make sure that they are as unobtrusive as possible.
I think that a latest comments sidebar widget can be very helpful to find the latest discussions at your blog. You can display a few of your latest comments, with a combination of either a gravatar, post excerpt or a link to the author's homepage.
A list with a few of your latest posts can be helpful to new visitors to your site, who may have stumbled across some of your older content. With your latest posts right in your sidebar, they can easily see what some of the latest things going on around your site are.
I don't really think that there is much else that can go into a sidebar. (If you know of something else that would be helpful in a sidebar, let me know!) Unfortunately, there are some sidebar widgets that don't really help the user at all, like Flash games. (Trust me, I've seen those before.)
This is one that I see on a lot of blog sidebars. I don't think that a poll should be a part of a blog's sidebar. It just takes up extra space when the poll should really be part of a post.
Something that I see less often that sidebar polls, but that I still see a lot, are random quote widgets. For some reason, WordPress even comes with the Hello Dolly random quote plugin. Please tell me if you can find a good use for displaying a randomized string in a sidebar.
So, is there anything else that you think belongs in a sidebar, or something that you don't like to see in a sidebar? Be sure to leave a comment.