Is Derek Halpern Wrong? The Debate of Web Sidebar Design and Conversions

by Marcus Sheridan

Before we jump into this incredibly important question of website side-bar design and conversions, let me just say that I’m a big fan of Derek Halpern. As those of you know that read this blog regularly, I’ve praised him in past articles and think he clearly has one of the great minds in the internet marketing arena. Simply put, the guy produces, and there is no arguing that, which is also why the likes of Chris Brogan and Pat Flynn have sought his advice when it comes to optimizing a website to maximize conversions. At the same rate though, I felt prompted to write this article because although Derek’s methods will fit many online business models, they don’t necessarily apply to everyone (as I’m sure he’d agree), which is why I felt the subject needed further thought.

In his excellent article “The #1 Conversion Killer In Your Web Design”, Derek says:

Murder Clutter… Before It Nukes Your Conversion Rates

Look:

With widgets, plugins, social media profiles, and other junk like that, it’s easy to overload your website with a bunch of garbage you don’t need.

And worse, when you do just that, your conversion rates PLUMMET.

The simple solution is to DITCH the baggage, and focus on what you NEED visitors to do to grow your business.

In most cases, you need visitors to subscribe to your email list or buy your stuff, and that’s what you should focus on.

Related posts? Twitter feed? 10 million social media profile icons? Badges?

“Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!”

Great thoughts from Derek here. Really. Not only do I love his writing style but his point is a very valid one—too much stuff can/does hurt conversion rates. And as far as the effectiveness of badges on the sidebar, I’m sure we could spend hours debating the merits of that one, but I think the key question is actually this:

What’s your definition of a conversion?

For some folks, a conversion might be capturing someone’s email so they are now part of your ‘list’. But for others, ‘lists’ may not be the end-all.

For example, in the coming weeks, I will be spending more time building my list to promote my new inbound marketing/Hubspot newsletter, but never do I expect this list to be the main focus of TSL in terms of how I monetize this site. More on this in a minute…

In the same article, Derek goes on to say:

But it’s not practical to ONLY include a call to action in your sidebar. You need a little bit more:

Every blog sidebar needs:

  1. an opt-in form (at the top of the sidebar)
  2. links to resource pages (preferably right under the opt-in form)
  3. links to popular articles

Anything else is a potential distraction.

By no means do I think Derek is necessarily wrong with what he is saying here. In fact, just as I said before, I think in the majority of cases, based on most people’s goals, he’s absolutely right. But for me, when all is said and done, the goals of this site are:

1. Build an incredible community through the ‘personal’ feel and interaction of the site.

2. Raise awareness of my speaking services so companies hire me to come out to their place and rock and roll their marketing world. :-)

Speaking

My third priority is the list building side of things, but it does not trump 1 and 2, which is my my sidebar also reflects a different goal than does Derek’s. For example, when it comes to achieving goal #2 of this site (speaking services), my sidebar is the catalyst to make this a reality.

For example, right now I’m showing a ‘I’m Speaking at Content Marketing World’ badge. The reason for this is simple: I want to speak at more events and this badge is a social proof to others that (hopefully) makes them think: ‘Marcus is speaking at one of the most impressive marketing events in the country, maybe I should have him at my event too.’

Further on down the page, you’ll notice a YouTube video of me speaking at a marketing seminar. I will be frank in saying this video alone has benefitted me tremendously on a monetary level. Currently, over the next 6 months, I’m scheduled to be a paid speaker at 6 events, and many others are in the works. Although I’ve always had ‘speaking’ as a service here at TSL, it was not until I posted that video on the sidebar a few months ago that the calls and emails started coming in. Simply put, there is no better social proof than that of video, and I think just about every sidebar should include one, especially if you’re looking to be a paid speaker. Another great example of this is Jason Falls. Check out his site to see how he leverages his side bar to garner tons of speaking opportunities.

Finally, you’ll notice just below the video scrolling testimonials of my web coaching and speaking services. Again, this just lends itself to the #2 goal of this site.

Community

As I mentioned above, the #1 goal of TSL is to build community by creating a ‘personal’ feel between me and my audience. There are diverse ways in which to accomplish this (one of which is taking the time to genuinely answer every comment that comes through these parts) but again, the sidebar reflects these goals. Although I could take a minute to discuss the social media widgets and why I want them there, I’d like to turn your attention to the bottom right of this page, The Sheridan Clan.

Every month, certain articles that do well here on TSL get clicked and read thousands of times. But most pale in comparison to the number of clicks the photo gallery gets of The Sheridan Clan, which usually gets clicked about 10,000 times each month. Heck, even the phrase, ‘The Sheridan Clan’ is now branded. People all the time ask me, “How’s the clan Marcus” or “How’s the Sheridan Clan doing Marcus?”.  Is this phenomena due to the fact that people are obsessed with my family and simply can’t stop clicking?? No, of course not, it’s a simple reflection of the #1 goal of this site—Create community with a ‘personal’ feel. And I ask you, is there anything more personal than family?

To close this article, I want to reflect back to the question I asked earlier?

 What’s your definition of a conversion?

The catch to this question is that if you don’t know the main goals of your site, conversions really don’t mean a thing. But once your goals are clearly defined, then you can start to develop your sidebar to match said goals.

So to answer the question stated in the title of this article, ‘Is Derek Halpern Wrong?’, I’d say the answer is NO—assuming your goals are to build your list. If that’s your goal, then I’d suggest you adhere to his clutter-free methodology, because like he said, the numbers don’t lie.

But if you have other goals and priorities, makes sure you consider those too as you look to maximize optimal web design.

Your Turn:

OK, we’ve got a great opportunity here folks. What’s your take on sidebars? Is less more? Do you like badges? How about social media buttons? What are the goals of your site and how does your sidebar reflect them? And finally, why do you keep looking at my kids? (Just kidding ;-) ) C’mon friends, throw your thoughts in, because this is a topic that affects all of us.

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