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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{ 89 comments… read them below or add one }

Jens P. Berget August 29, 2011 at

Hi Marcus,

I believe that you and Derek are both right. Too much clutter in the sidebar is a sure way to nuke your conversions. I have tried to focus on what’s important to me in my sidebar, but it’s hard. There are so many things I want to add, actually, I want to add everything that I can’t fit in the content of each post :)

What you’re saying about the definition of conversion is the most important part. I’ve talked to a lot of people, and most of them don’t have a definition of conversion. Most are just thinking short term, and a sale is a conversion. But, like you, we should think about the long term effects of showing family pictures and building trust. We shouldn’t just add banners and think about the sales. Building a community of raving fans, that sounds a lot more fun :)

Jens

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Marcus Sheridan August 29, 2011 at

‘Nuke your conversions’….LOVE that phrase Jens. Perfect way to describe it really. And clutter can do just that. I think this is a question that will continue to be answered as more and more folks learn the science of inbound marketing and list building, but it’s certainly one that everyone should be paying very close attention too.

Thanks so much for dropping by my friend,

Marcus

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Derek August 29, 2011 at

While I focus on building an email list, people mistakenly think that I build the email list at the expense of everything else.

Community is vitally important to me too… I just prefer to interact with people “after” they subscribe.

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Randy Cantrell August 29, 2011 at

I’ve long enjoyed Derek’s insights, and yours (along with others). As with most things, I don’t suspect one size will fit all. Of course, I’m in no position to comment seriously since I’ve yet to convert my offline business/revenue generation/income production to an online medium. I really should get on that soon though. ;-)

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Marcus Sheridan August 29, 2011 at

Yeah Randy, I guess it is about time you got paid for that million dollar voice of yours, ehhh?? ;-)

Good seeing you bud,

Marcus

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Brankica August 29, 2011 at

That is exactly the point I have reading Derek’s blog. I implemented many of his tips and have seen improvement with my list. but that is what his main goal is – a list.

I have read his posts and comments on his blog and his replies to those comments and everything he is “preaching” is aimed at building a list. Converting visitors to subscribers. That is why you need to remove the clutter.

But what if my only goal was to get as many people to add me on 5 different social sites. Then I would have to do the opposite, I would have to add all the social buttons and clutter, right?

So although I agree with him and implement his tips, their main goal is list building and not much of other things, I think.

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Marcus Sheridan August 29, 2011 at

Great to see you hear Bran, you’ve always got such a real perspective on things because you seem to dabble into everything online and know just about everybody. ;-) This being said, I think it’s great that you know exactly the purpose of your site, and the changes you made, based on Derek’s suggestions, have worked. I really think anyone with the #1 focus to build a list should do just that. But yes, different goals require different strategies.
Keep rocking your list girl, I’d love to hear more about how you’ve done in that area as you write more articles in the future.

Thanks for the comment!

Marcus

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Derek August 29, 2011 at

My main goal is growing my business. The list is part of it, as is my community of people who enjoy my content and interactions. Both are extremely important to me.

I happen to focus on the email list because if someone is in your community, chances are they’ll be on your email list. If they’re in it, and they’re not on your list, are they really “in” your community?

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Marlee August 30, 2011 at

I think Derek makes a really good point here. Of course your goals and objectives are going to override your primary motivations for any activity on your site. But I think this is a really interesting question.

Personally, I think people who aren’t on my list can still be part of my community, but they certainly miss a certain level of engagement that I offer, AND they definitely don’t exhibit the same level of “loyalty” that I see from people who both are on my list and engage on my blog.

All that said, I think I feel like people in my list are much more involved in my community than those who aren’t. Especially because I have people who never comment on my blog that engage with me via e-mail and my facebook fan page which I use to communicate with my list most frequently.

Really interesting question, Derek.

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Tom Ewer August 29, 2011 at

Great article Marcus – I hope Derek reads this. I speculate that he would probably agree with a lot of what you have said. You clearly understand and agree with his basic principles, and have applied them selectively to fit your own style and target audience.

I don’t think Derek would ever claim that there is a “perfect” conversion method. It (in part) relies upon your target audience for instance, which can vary.

As you know, I am an avid reader of both yours and Derek’s blogs, and yet you have completely different styles. What does that say? There is more than one way to skin a cat ;)

All the best Marcus,

Tom

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Marcus Sheridan August 29, 2011 at

What an awesome comment Tom. It’s cool that you regularly read both blogs and can thus see the benefits of both approaches.

And ultimately, that’s what this article was all about– understanding that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to defining online success and blog monetization.

Appreciate your support my friend, hope your week is a great one…

Marcus

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Ameena Falchetto August 29, 2011 at

Definitely a lot there that I need to think about Marcus. I personally like relevant stuff in the side bar – twitter feeds just annoy me.
Thanks for such a timely post! Will also go over and check out Derek’s site.

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Marcus Sheridan August 29, 2011 at

Yeah, I’m not down with twitter feeds either. Like you said Ameena, relevancy is the key, and I think we need to ask that about every piece of our sidebar.

Great to see you lady, thanks for taking a moment to stop by.

Marcus

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paul wolfe August 29, 2011 at

Marcus

I think that anyone reading this needs to understand exactly what they are trying to achieve before they implement anything. Too many folk start blogging – almost aimlessly – and copying features from other blogs irrespective of WHY that blog has those features.

As Bran says above, Derek is focused on list building – and I gotta tell you I think that’s pretty close to the thing that most people should be aiming for. (True story – no bragging, just some fats – two weeks ago I made 6Kin 5 days purely by sending two emails to my list. And those emails weren’t selling a new service – just telling my list that an existing service was about to increase in price by 25%).

For some people side bars may fit with their goals. For others – it won’t. It’s as simple as that (IMVHO).

Paul

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Marcus Sheridan August 29, 2011 at

Awww, stop bragging Paul!!!! ;-)

Nah man, seriously, great points. I agree that list building is a big deal…for most. It’s on my agenda as well, but it’s not the centerpiece of the business model that is The Sales Lion. That’s not saying it won’t be at some point, it’s just not right now.

Congrats on rockin it online my friend. Appreciate your support.

Marcus

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Derek August 29, 2011 at

Just to clarify again, I’m focused on growing my business… not just list building. An email list just happens to be an easy way to do it :-)

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paul wolfe August 30, 2011 at

Derek

I agree with you. I think for most businesses with a significant online component that a ‘list’ is one of the primary assets they should be building. Doesn’t have to be a huge list either – the list I’m referring to above is just 6000 or so strong, so it’s not huge. But each time that list grows, my business potential grows.

So I’m on the same page.

The point I was making was that a lot of bloggers don’t seem to have clear and focused goals on exactly how their blog or website should serve their business goals. And include stuff because BLOGGER A says this widget is cool, or this is a cool feature in the sidebar.

And cluttered sidebars are often a result of a lack of clarity in their business goals.

I think the deeper message from this article is for bloggers to chart a path forward and set goals – and once they’ve done that, redesign their blog so it supports that goal. Maybe I wasn’t clear enough….hopefully I am now!

Paul

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Farnoosh August 29, 2011 at

You know, Marcus, I have heard a lot of interviews with Derek and do like him a great deal and I think he may be right to a great extent. After listening to him, I stripped a lot from my side-bar – he’d probably still call it a jungle ;0) – but seriously, I do like simplicity BUT there is still value in having more than just the bare bones version.
It also depends on your style. The minimalist zen-look that Leo Babauta goes for doesn’t necessarily do it for me. I want to offer more to my readers ON THE BLOG. Conversion for me is engagement so when they choose to engage with me, I have a conversion. Joining the email list would be nice too sure but that’s not the only measure of captivating a reader.
Still think Derek is pretty smart. Maybe I’ll try his philosophy for a week or two and test things out. Thanks for the great topic here!

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Marcus Sheridan August 29, 2011 at

Conversion for me is engagement so when they choose to engage with me, I have a conversion.—-LOVE this point Farnoosh. As I was writing this post, the same thought crossed my mind. Engagement, in all its forms, is a ‘conversion’ to some folks, and I know it is to me.

The great thing about you Farnoosh is that you’re willing to play with this and test what works. Who knows what you’ll find, but because your open to the possibilities, better results will follow. :-)

Thanks for being so dang awesome and such a positive person Farnoosh,

Marcus

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john Falchetto August 29, 2011 at

Hi Buddy,
As Jens said it’s all about your goal.
There is no one size fits all solution for converting, whatever this means.
If you are looking to build a community, then your example of the Sheridan clan is right one.
If you just want people to join your email list, I remember a certain blogger/jerk who asked you to join his list and wouldn’t give you any other options.
Derek is a smart guy but I think we are all trying to achieve something different.

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Marcus Sheridan August 29, 2011 at

Yep, that’s exactly it, we’re all trying to achieve something different. In fact, that’s maybe the biggest takeaway I hope folks get when they read this: Knowing what they’re trying to achieve.

Have an awesome week bud. :-)

Marcus

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Adam Toporek August 29, 2011 at

This is a very interesting approach to Derek’s post, and I appreciate the main message: it depends on what your goals are. There is so much one-size-fits-all advice in the blogosphere, but I tend to listen to the people who can place their ideas in the specific context to which they apply.

Seems like Derek is right on for list building, and you are right on with personalized community building. I don’t think you can argue with either of your results. And I will definitely be coming back to this post as I develop my site goals.

Great stuff, oh Lion king! :)

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Marcus Sheridan August 29, 2011 at

Hey Adam, great to hear from you bud. And yes, you got the message: There is no one-size fits all. Like you, I see that quite a bit in the blogosphere and it bugs me. And, btw, I don’t think Derek views this as a one size fits all topic either. Ultimately, the key is knowing your goals, and then designing everything on the site for said goals.

Appreciate your support my friend,

Marcus

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Derek August 29, 2011 at

I don’t view this as one size fits all, but I will say this:

every single business can benefit from building an email list of highly targeted prospects.

I also think connecting with people on a personal level is VITAL. I just choose to do it AFTER I get the email, instead of before.

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Marcus Sheridan August 30, 2011 at

You know Derek, as I’ve been looking at this conversation, I think it would be great for you to do an article on ST that talks about building relationships after conversions. I don’t think most folks understand how this is done, and you’d be the perfect person to talk about it.

You once sent me (and your other subscribers) a note that asked everyone to join your FB page. As soon as I got that, I thought, “Dang, now that’s a smart way to build relationships with your list”. But as I said before, I don’t think most folks understand this strategy, or are at least using it to the level where they could be.

Make sense? If you’re willing to write it, let me know, and I’ll do a big announcement of it here on my site as well.

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Adam Toporek August 31, 2011 at

Yeah, it’s hard to argue with the power of the list. It’s really the one digital relationship (compared to social) where you have the data yourself and can actually manage the relationship.

I like Marcus’ idea for a post below btw — hope you write it Derek!

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Al Smith August 29, 2011 at

Thanks Marcus. As usual, lots of great info. to digest. I know, we have discussed it. Make. Some. Videos. Especially if I want to speak (and I do). I does depend on your goals, but mine and yours are pretty much the same. I want to build community and become a speaker for The CARE Movement. Ok, I am gettin to work, per your suggestion. Ha ! Still have so much to learn concerning the site, sidebars, badges, social media buttons, etc.

Thanks again for your willingness to CARE and Share your knowledge and insight with us all. And to be able to talk about Derek with respect and agree to disagree on some issues. A welcome site. You both are Right.

Al

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Derek August 29, 2011 at

We actually don’t disagree here. We agree that you need to focus on whatever goal it is that you have set for your site. I just happen to focus on emails because thats my goal. Its also usually the goal of other people I talk to, too.

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Marcus Sheridan August 30, 2011 at

Hey Al, don’t sell yourself short brother. You’re doing many great things. The guy you are today in terms of web knowledge is nothing like the guy you were 6 months ago, and the guy you’re going to be in 6 months in terms of knowledge will be nothing like the guy you are today. The problem that most folks have is they forget to look back and see how far they’ve actually climbed up the mountain, because they’re too busy thinking about just how far away the summit appears to be.

Thanks for all your support my friend. Keep doing your thing.

Marcus

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pea August 29, 2011 at

Anyone who quotes ‘Blazing Saddles’ is right about everything…end of. But as a minimalist I agree with him also, but that’s not to say that cluttered sites can’t be or aren’t successful either.

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Marcus Sheridan August 29, 2011 at

Hahaha Pea, yeah, you’ve got an excellent point there. End of ;-)

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Derek August 29, 2011 at

ha ha — I loved that quote.

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Derek August 29, 2011 at

There seems to be a misconception about the point of Social Triggers.

Yes, I’m focusing on building an email list, but my main goal isn’t the email list. My main goal is growing my online business. The email list just happens to be the method I’m focusing on because once you have a big email list, EVERYTHING becomes MUCH easier.

Here’s the deal:

Even though I focus on my email list, I still have PLENTY of speaking gigs coming up.

(You can see me speak at Social Fresh Charlotte, Rich Happy and Hot Live, Blogworld LA, Seattle Interactive, and etc.).

Even though I focus on my email list, I also have a vibrant community at Social Triggers.

(Lots of my articles get a lot of comments. I also get a lot of interaction on social media, even though I don’t promote it anywhere on my site).

But all in all Marcus, you’re right.

You need to define what a conversion is, and what that conversion means to you.

If you’re in a service-based business, an email list may not be your main goal. If you’re a local business, an email list from the internet may not be the same goal either (you might prefer phone calls).

But make no mistake. A large email list of targeted prospects can help anyone build a business faster than not having an email list.

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Marcus Sheridan August 29, 2011 at

Makes total sense Derek, and hopefully you see the angle I approached this article. You’ve been a pioneer in many ways with regards to conversions and lists. The fact that you have so many speaking gigs I’m sure is a result of many things– like brand awareness, awesome content, etc. In my case, video has been imperative because I couldn’t seem to get traction in that area until it was on the sidebar.

I’m not saying your site is unsocial at all. I love the interaction. You take the time to answer everyone. You know who you are man, and it shows.

Thanks for being a part of the conversation bud, and thanks to for putting this subject at the forefront like you have.

Marcus

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Derek August 29, 2011 at

I was clarifying for people who may have misunderstood my strategy.

In reality, I know we’re both on the same page here :-)

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Jordan August 29, 2011 at

I totally agree with Derek here – from a user’s perspective sidebar spam is totally annoying (especially when the sidebar is on the left side!). I’ve found in my own designs, putting the social media stuff in the footer works especially well. I suppose that is a “Web 2.0″ thing (footers with a ton of content) but I think it much better than overloading the sidebar. Give them an opt-in box on the right, some content in the middle, and let them find the rest :)

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Marcus Sheridan August 29, 2011 at

Hey Jordan, a pleasure. :-) Yeah, I’ve never understood the sidebar on the left side thing. It completely gets my brain all whacked-out. ;-)

Really appreciate your opinion though and thanks so much for dropping by!

Marcus

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Jordan August 29, 2011 at

I’m actually guilty of using the left sidebar, but only when creating adsense sites. People do click there more often, as I’m sure you’ve seen a heatmap before. But when trying to create a good looking site, it’s a no-brainer to avoid it.

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Derek August 29, 2011 at

Thanks Jordan. Not sure why most people don’t see it this way. What I say isn’t an opinion. It’s based off of results, heh.

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Steve | ROI detector August 29, 2011 at

I think you can safely say that in your case having a “busy” sidebar has actually helped you especially since your goal is more about creating a community and less about directly selling. I think Halpern’s advice has merit and we should only add stuff if we have a reason too (and we study the metrics like you have).

I wonder what would happen if you changed the order of some of items or removed a few of them? IE would removing “recent posts” put more emphasis on the Sheridan clan or your testimonials. Doing some A/B testing on your sidebar would be pretty interesting…do they have a plugin for that :-)

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Derek August 29, 2011 at

Here’s the deal: I base my ideas off results and testing. Very few people do that.

Here at The Sales Lion, he can streamline his sidebar for sure. I’d never tell him to remove the Sheridan clan if that’s his main goal.

But recent posts? That’s relatively worthless in my eyes. Blogs are great at highlighting all the new content. They’re horrible at highlighting archived content.

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Marcus Sheridan August 30, 2011 at

You know what’s interesting Derek, is that after I read your article I went into my Google analytics and saw the click through rates of all the links on my homepage/sidebar. When I did that I realized that almost NO ONE had been clicking on ‘categories’. So, in the spirit of minimalism/less is more/no clutter you idiot!! I nuked that widget ;-)

I’m sure the ‘recent posts’ is likely next ;-)

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Steve | ROI detector August 30, 2011 at

Hey Derek, It’s almost funny how seldom decisions are made based on analytics (I’m guilty of it too). Especially with all the tools available to us for really cheap or even free. Gotta say I love how simple your design is, you do a great job driving traffic to your email signups.

Would you suggest that pages are really just dedicated to 1 main goal with “maybe” a secondary goal?

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Marcus Sheridan August 30, 2011 at

A/B testing is the least utilized tool on the web today, and really it’s like a new science unto itself. That being said Steve, I agree man. I need to do more of that, and it’s an area I’m currently studying. I do A/B testing with my pool site, and will be doing more to TSL soon….and I did not know about the plugin. Have you used it? What’s it called?

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Steve | ROI detector August 30, 2011 at

I found this free plugin by MaxFoundry http://maxfoundry.com/plugins/maxab/ that says it does A/B testing but I don’t have any experience with it. Perhaps an upcoming Sales Lion post :-)

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Marcus Sheridan September 1, 2011 at

Hmmm, great idea Steve, thanks bud!

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Joel Libava August 29, 2011 at

Marcus,

Derek rocks, and i trust his judgement. I know in my gut that less is more.

It’s just brutal to decide what stays and what goes.

The Franchise King®

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Derek August 29, 2011 at

Thanks Joel :-)

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Joel Libava August 30, 2011 at

VELCOME.

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Marcus Sheridan August 30, 2011 at

Hey Joel, great to see you man and I appreciate you coming by.

Yes, it’s tough to say what goals. I mentioned in another reply above that when I did google analytics recently on this site and viewed the click rates of some of the links on the home page, I was amazed at how few ‘clicks’ some of the stuff got, which is why I’ve eliminated ‘categories’ as soon as I read Derek’s original post and made the findings. Next up will likely be ‘recent posts’.

I checked out your site last night and thought your had a really unique set up with more of a header/footer makeup versus a ‘sidebar’ design. How has that worked for you? (if you don’t mind me asking)

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Joel Libava August 30, 2011 at

I just moved my site and blog, (2 separate sites) from Typepad over to WP. (Finally!

I love genesis, for sure, and have found a great lady who totally redesigned my site/blog.

I’m still playing with it.

Did you go to the “blog” portion yet?

Joel

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MaAnna August 29, 2011 at

I recently saw a couple of his site reviews and one of the folks has a big social media following, plus a big email list. He told her to remove the social media links. I can’t see that working for her and was were I drew the line on the one-size-fits-all tone of the advice. Like your speaking video, there has to be some room for what’s working for you, your audience and your ultimate goals.

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Derek August 29, 2011 at

Each site review was geared towards the goals they told me they had before the review went down. And yes, there’s always room for what works for you, but just because it works, doesn’t mean it can’t do better. People with big followings are in optimization mode, and that’s where they stand to see some of the biggest benefits.

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Marcus Sheridan August 30, 2011 at

Hi MaAnna! So glad you joined what has been a very thought provoking conversation.

I think the key now would be to find out from that particular blogger if her social media ‘conversions’ have been impacted. Also, is she now using her list to build those same followers? (which she likely wasn’t doing as much before).

Regardless though, I think the key is a willingness to experiment and be open to the possibilities— whether more or less be the answer.

Thanks MaAnna!

Marcus

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Kristi Hines August 29, 2011 at

I think that for certain pages, especially sales pages, you’d want to take off your sidebar so that people are only focusing on what counts – buying your product. I did that with my Blog Post Promotion Guide and have noticed the conversions go up since. Throughout the rest of your blog though, where you aren’t trying to get someone to do anything but stay on your site, your sidebar elements become important again. Mostly the elements that turn random visitors into loyal visitors (subscription options) and the elements that keep people on your site (top posts, recent comments, etc.).

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Marcus Sheridan August 30, 2011 at

I agree that sales/landing pages must follow the minimalist rule Kristi–No distractions allowed!! ;-)

Tell me, if you don’t mind, have you added or taken away elements of your sidebar in the past that has made a serious improvement to conversions? I only ask because I know you’re really great with this stuff and would love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks!

Marcus

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Kristi Hines August 30, 2011 at

I think the biggest improvement to my conversions happened when I added my mailing list opt-in to the sidebar. I don’t give away any freebies (with exception to a discount code for my eBook) and people still subscribe regularly to my mailing list. You don’t have to give away something – just provide good content and an opt-in box and your readers will do the rest. :)

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Adam Sokoloff August 29, 2011 at

Marcus,

Fantastic discussion you’ve got going here! I find it extremely interesting how you and Derek are both ending up at the same destination while taking different routes to get there.

I get such a different feel between both of your sites. Derek’s being minimalistic and yours full of personality.

I’m glad you presented the other side of this, and it’s great to see Derek’s responses as well to better understand where he was coming from in his post.

The one question I would have for Derek is regarding the relationship building after the conversion. Being on Derek’s list, I have found that unlike some other email marketers which pelt you non-stop after subscribing, Derek seems to be much more casual about nurturing the relationship (less emails, more to the point). Is this intentional as part of his email marketing strategy? He does answer his comments regularly. How does he suggest nurturing utilizing email?

Marcus and Derek- thank you! -Adam

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Marcus Sheridan August 30, 2011 at

Adam, thrilled you enjoyed this conversation. It has been very enlightening for me as well. I’m sure Derek will answer your question at some point.

But you’re right. Derek and I actually agree very, very much. We believe in the importance of a list, of community, interaction, etc. I think the only difference is that he does most of his relationship building after…which has really made me think more about what I could do after as well.

Thanks for all your support brother.

Marcus

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Marya | Writing Happiness August 30, 2011 at

Hi Marcus. I read your article with much interest. As you are probably aware, there are many distinct schools of thought when it comes to design. One believes, if you need to focus on your content and nothing else, minimalist look is the way to go. Blogs like zenhabits, writetodone are huge supporters of this philosophy – and so am I to be honest. Although, I do always wonder what sort of blogs don’t focus on content? The ones which are selling products and services? This one is a gray area for me.

As for the issue of sidebar, the same group feels that all you need in your sidebar is your opt -in, links to best posts and a mini about me page. And I agree. I don’t like to see badges, ads or any shiny things in there. To me, they are just distracting and add nothing to the blog. I think Social Triggers is so cute – that’s how I would describe its appeal. :)

Marya

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Marya | Writing Happiness August 30, 2011 at

And I totally fotgot to say what I came here to say – for me conversions mean having regular engaged readers. If I can achieve that without them even having to susbcribe, then more power to absence of opt -in. I am not concerned about building list – I use basic, free feedbuner. As far as I am concerned, I have no immediate plans of selling any products through my blog. It’s more of a writer’s platform for me, and an idea of a memoir that I am cooking. For me conversions mean establishing my tribe, a thriving community of readers. I love readers reading my work – that’s all I want. At this stage.

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Marcus Sheridan September 1, 2011 at

Love what you’ve said here Marya and all of your goals. As far as creating a memoir, there is no better way in the world to do that then that of blogging.

So I hope your community continues to grow Marya and thanks so very much for taking the time to share your thoughts here. :-)

Marcus

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Davina K. Brewer August 30, 2011 at

YMMV. As will everyone else’s.. and they’ve made good points, depends on the goals and what we define as conversion. Blogs and websites have different focus, different ways we want to go about doing things. I’ve been to many a blog and been surprised by the lack of some of these blogging features, social sharing.. or even had to hunt down a simple name or Twitter link on an about page. Again, different strokes.

I want to change the look of my site to add to the sidebar, but without the clutter. For example, I use a related post plugin at the bottom of a post, so not sure I’d want that info duplicated in the sidebar when perhaps a different CTA should be there. Kristi makes a good point about changing the sidebar per page type; I think the sidebar for About Me and Service pages can and should be different than say the posts; all of which should be designed to work together per the blog – and business – goals. FWIW.

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Marcus Sheridan September 1, 2011 at

That’s the thing Davina— I certainly don’t like the idea of someone having to ‘hunt down’ my contact info— whether it be a FB account, twitter, whatever. I know Derek still pushes these accounts after the fact, but I think some initially could possibly be turned off by the lack of SM buttons. And yes, I cetainly think pages should have a different sidebar. In fact, every page of the side should have a unique sidebar in my opinion, with different offers, info, etc.

Thanks, as always, for your support Davina. :-)

Marcus

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Marianne Worley August 30, 2011 at

Hi Marcus,

As a blogger, I’ll probably always be making small changes to my sidebar as my site evolves. Personally, I like a clean, organized sidebar that includes, at a minimum, RSS and sharing buttons and information that will help me learn more about the blog. I’ve found that by showing Popular and Recent Posts, a new reader can quickly become familiar with your blog, so I’m a fan of including links to a sampling of posts.

I like the information in your sidebar. The first time I stopped by, I was able to quickly learn what your blog was about, and see those pics of the clan! I have a clan of 1, and he’s a French Bulldog. But I do have a picture of him on my About Me page–I get occasional comments about him. Perhaps I should have a slideshow. ;-)

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Marcus Sheridan August 30, 2011 at

Hey Marianne, and thanks so much for the feedback here! :-)

You’ve brought up a great point about ‘familiarity’, and I would be curious to get Derek’s take on this as well. How a person makes snap judgements of a site, especially on the first visit, I’m guessing is much tougher to measure. But assuming that person converts, then the ability to build the relationship grows exponentially. Hmmm, good thoughts Marianne.

And good luck with the bulldog ;-)

Marcus

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John Sherry August 30, 2011 at

To me it’s about the funnel Marcus. Whether it’s fancy widgets and sidebar links or calls to action or squeeze pages what are you funelling them in for? Do you want to sell and e-book or promote your online premium content or merely attract speaking assignments? Keep it simple – when a visitor turns up to your site is it clear, easy, obvious and straightforwards what you are offering and how they can access it? No.1 phrase being when I click to your blog..’If I don’t know, then I go’. It’s not about the look or the design, it’s about the message and the magic that draws people to it.

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Marcus Sheridan August 30, 2011 at

I like your focus on ‘message’ John. And the phrase ‘If I don’t know, then I go’ is a very good one.

Sound words, as always, my friend.

Thanks so much for dropping by to comment bud.

Marcus

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Sarah Arrow August 30, 2011 at

I am in two minds about it. I like the personal feel of this site and others.

I go to other sites and there is a sign up box in the sidebar, in the footer, in a pop up and I can ignore all of those if I want but I get the feeling I am only wanted for just one thing – to be sold something.

On my business site, we convert like crazy into phone calls, we also have opt-in and free content. As a service based business, driving a newsletter subscription isn’t the right thing for us, clients have a need right there and then and sending them into a “subscribe or die” filter seems a little extreme. After they have used us suggesting they subscribe and stay in touch is far more effective, more personal to the customer.

As bloggers we have to balance the cost of blogging with the needs of our audiences. I think Derek is great and his advice sound, but it doesn’t work for me or my audience.

The fact that I speak out more here in your community Marcus compared to Derek’s shows how I value personal with my information.

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Marcus Sheridan September 1, 2011 at

Sarah, you really made some interesting points here, and I certainly appreciate you stopping by to share, as I always do.

You mentioned how some sites seem to send you a new ‘subscribe here’ button or pop up at every movement of the mouse. I agree, that can be pretty annoying. But do the results outweigh the impression it puts off to certain folks? Now that can be a tough question to answer, but it’s sure a legitimate one.

It sounds like you have a great system Sarah and it works for you. Most folks really can’t say that, so congrats on finding that balance we’re all looking for.

Thanks for all your support,

Marcus

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Nancy Davis August 30, 2011 at

I meant to comment yesterday, and I forgot. I am working on building my blog up more. I have no idea how to design things. I even need help to do a simple redirect so I can get my own domain set up.

This is where I fall down pretty hard. I love Derek’s blog because he makes things simple and clean which I like too. I just have no idea where to even begin.

I need to have my blog looking better so I can find a better job.

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Marcus Sheridan September 1, 2011 at

Believe it or not Nancy, I’m very much like you in terms of my design capabilities are very low. When it comes to customizing my site here on TSL, I usually have to pay someone to do that. It stinks, I know.

Just stay positive and continue to do what you do– network well and keep up with the great content. As your audience grows, you’ll find ways to better your design as well. Hold the course, and it will pay off.

Thanks for all you do,

Marcus

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Steve Roy August 30, 2011 at

Marcus,
I am definitely in the “less clutter” camp. I was actually about writing a post about this when I read your article.

Although Derek says he is building a community (through his list), it seems to me that the list is the priority and the community is #2. Not that that’s a bad thing, especially since he is making waaay more money than I am.

I prefer a more personal approach like the one you have here. Your blog encourages interaction and has a very “homey” feel.

As far as sidebars, I think adding more than a few things makes it appear too clunky and is often a distraction.

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Marcus Sheridan August 30, 2011 at

Hey Steve, great observations and points man, so thanks for jumping in here.

The thing about Derek’s site is that he does to a very good job with community though. He gets a very large amount of comments, takes the time to converse with each, and is highly respected by his loyal fans. So although my site may seem more ‘homey’ to some, his does seem to find it’s communal niche quite well.

Thanks for all your support brother,

Marcus

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Joseph Putnam August 30, 2011 at

Marcus,

If you need any proof to back up Derek’s claim, you can find it here: http://blog.kissmetrics.com/too-many-choices/. Too many choices are just not a good idea if you want customers to make a decision.

With that said, do you really need a “Past Articles” drop down menu? Do people actually use it? If not, the question to ask is this: what benefit is it adding to the site and is it taking attention away from the most important conversion points?

Your thoughts?

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Marcus Sheridan August 30, 2011 at

Hey Joseph, really appreciate you stopping by here.

There is no doubting the numbers when it comes to email conversions and simplicity. Derek is right about that, and I really don’t think there is a debate there at all.

What I’m trying to get people to consider is the core goals/priorities of their site. Just as Derek’s numbers don’t lie, I know for a fact that the calls/emails I’ve received of speaking requests went up drastically when I put a video of me speaking on the sidebar. This is why I see my site as more of a hybrid approach as time goes on–simplicity, but still maintaining my core goal of speaking awareness.

Regarding past articles, that is a very small widget, and I’m not sure if I’ll keep that there or not. Based on conversation with Derek, I’ll likely take away ‘recent articles’ as well, just as I took away ‘categories’ when I read Derek’s article the first time.

But I agree with your question 100%– What’s the benefit? If the drawbacks out weigh the perceived benefit, then it needs to be canned.

Again, thanks so much for stopping by Joseph.

Marcus

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Joseph Putnam August 30, 2011 at

Hi Marcus,

I think you’re totally on target. There isn’t a clear right or wrong when it comes to this. For some people, a video makes the most sense, for others it doesn’t. I think the main point is to make sure that clutter doesn’t get in the way of whatever your moneymaker is? Make sense?

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Marcus Sheridan August 30, 2011 at

Yep, makes total sense, and this entire conversation over the last two days has really helped me consider harder the ‘less is more’ concept.

BTW, I went by your site Joseph, and happily subscribed to your less is more sidebar. ;-)

Cheers,

Marcus

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Joseph Putnam August 30, 2011 at

Awesome, thanks for signing up. You’ve got a great looking site. There’s a lot of great stuff I can learn here, and I look forward to keeping in touch.

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Jk Allen August 30, 2011 at

I think you nailed it Marcus. What many will do is take Halpren’s advice, which is great advice only because they find him credible, but not necessarily consider their own goals. As you know we live in a world where most just choose to drink the Koolaide without understanding why they should or shouldn’t drink it…they see everyone do it and figure they should be doing it too. I think understanding why is Point A in the process.

My thoughts on sidebars…
I see side bars, for the most part, as being for newer viewers of a site. That being the case, action items need to stand out and less is more (considering one’s goals). I think adding “stuff” for the sake of adding stuff doesn’t do any favors for anyone.

When it comes to SM buttons, I tend to always look towards the sidebar and typically find them there. I think not putting SM icons on your side bar is like not putting a phone number and email on your business card, or a contact form on a contact page. It’s become something that people expect to find in a particular place on a site. For me, when they aren’t there I assume they don’t want to connect (unless the icons are in the header).

Great work my friend. First time reading an in depth discussion on sidebars!

PEACE

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Marcus Sheridan August 30, 2011 at

JK, always love your comments man, and I’m really glad you talked about social media buttons, and I also hope Derek has a chance to give his thoughts on that one too.

One thing I know for sure is Derek does want to grow his FB fans, but he does it a little differently. Once they’ve signed up, he’ll send out in his newsletter something specific about his fan page, which is an interesting approach, and I can see its validity.

At the same time, like you said, people expect to see the connect buttons. I know it bugs me when they’re not there. But then again, I’m connected with Derek and none were showing on his site.

It’s all very interesting. And the thing is, some of this stuff can be measured, and some cannot.

Thanks a bunch for jumping in here my friend,

Marcus

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Bryce Christiansen August 30, 2011 at

Great points on both sides Marcus. Congrats on a real discussion.

My question is do your needs change over time? What if you have multiple goals. You need more Facebook fans and newsletter subscribers.

Is it better to just prioritize and forget the other? I really don’t know the answer to that.

I can see how it puts visitors in an awkward position. I’ll probably take down my Facebook bar in the near future when my main sign up form is ready to go.

Really good points, once again.

Bryce

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Marcus Sheridan August 30, 2011 at

Hey Bryce, really appreciate the kind words. ‘Real’ discussion is too few and far between at times in the blogosphere.

I would say ‘yes’ to your question though with respect to needs changing. At least, they should, because as a blogger grows in scope so should the vision of the site. For example, I’m just now going to start an inbound marketing/Hubspot newsletter on this site (coming soon), but 18 months ago, this would never have been on the radar.

So things change. So do priorities. I think in light of what Derek teaches and the ‘facts’ of conversion studies, many folks need to reconsider their sidebar approach.

Thanks a ton for taking the time to comment here Bryce, have a great week. :-)

Marcus

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Howie at Sky Pulse Media August 31, 2011 at

I kept seeing TSL throughout. Isn’t that an Acura? Wait that is TL. Hmmm…..Traditional Seat Licenses? Is that for the Redskins? Anyhoo let know what it is so I can make sense of everything. I am on pins and cushions in anticipation.

Hey Marcus this is a great discussion of blog format and goals. Everyone has different goals. Every business has different goals. So obviously as you stated one size does not fit all. Always start with the goals or in this case definition of what a conversion is then figure out how best to achieve those goals.

Grats on the speaking engagements. Remember half bottle of tequila before each one and you will knock em dead for sure. If you need some opening warm up jokes just let me know. I have a ton. They work great and are only slightly worn.

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Marcus Sheridan September 1, 2011 at

Howie, it’s funny how I can’t help but to smile a little when I see you’ve dropped in to say high. You’re one of a kind brother. :-)

Thanks for your kind words regarding the speaking. I hope to have a plethora of video on here in the coming months of these events, that way you can see if I really need that tequila or not. ;-)

Thanks for all my friend,

Marcus

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Howie at Sky Pulse Media September 1, 2011 at

Marcus you know my comments are totally toasting your SEO. I can just imagine who is coming here due to searching for Tequila. But guess what? I bet one just might be in the market for a new pool.

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lanalavigne@rushcardpro September 16, 2011 at

hi Marcus, you have a very interesting post. I enjoyed reading this because I have learned on how to focus on my goals. Thank you for sharing this very informative thought.

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Naveen Kulkarni November 4, 2011 at

Hi Marcus,
This is really interesting debate on sidebar design. I too enjoy reading Derek’s site Social Triggers and watched those 7 videos in which he reviews popular blogs and suggests changes for increasing conversions. By seeing those very much engaging videos, I felt he has lots of valid points.
I think, less cluttered sidebar is going to convert well compared to a cluttered one. For the simple reason, if one has lots of choices, he ends up choosing none:-)

So less choices, more conversions. However, I still feel social media buttons (twitter and Facebook fan page) can be pat of sidebar because, they can make your blog go viral. An email list will not make your blog viral because it is intended for one person’s reading and he hardly forwards the posts to another. Where as Twitter and Facebook fan pages have entirely different approaches. They are easy tools for sharing. So why to lose such an opportunity for making your site popular.

Sidebar can also accommodate advertisements if one runs google ads on his blogs.

So my take on sidebar( pretty much agreeing to Derek) is it should have these elements- Email Opt In Form, Advertisement, Social Media Follow Link and Popular Posts Link.

Sorry for writing such long comment, but I thought to share my thoughts on this forum since design is one of my favorite topics:-)

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Naveen Kulkarni November 4, 2011 at

Hi Marcus,
Forgot to answer your question about definition of conversion, I agree with you here.

You see, different people have different goals for their blogs. For some people, it’s selling their amazing products through blogs ,for some, its just monetizing through advertisements. And some bloggers , just blog. They don’t need any sales or money.

So, conversion is the rate (percentage) of your readers those give their emails to you or buy your products. Design of sidebar dynamically changes based on the goal of your blog. Again, split testing is important here.

Thanks marcus for this post.

Hope, we all will have some takeaways from this posts and comments to implement on our own blogs :-)

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