Anyone who is familiar with WordPress is likely to have experienced the wonder that is the WordPress ‘sidebar’ and ‘sidebar widgets’.
This function in WordPress is part of what makes it an excellent platform; with a few clicks you can use widgets to add free function and form that requires a programmer and a lot of cash with traditional websites.
It’s very tempting to get carried away like a child in a candy shop, adding every interesting widget you come across…but wait, are you damaging your website by doing so?
Sure, widgets allow you to easily add bells and whistles to your website, but bells and whistles are very distracting.
The bottom line is that widgets could be costing you money, and website hits, but how would you know? Hold tight and I’ll explain how to decide which widgets to keep, which to bin and what to do about it.
What is the goal of your website?
This is the most valuable question you can ask yourself and keep in mind when working on your website. Your goal may be to sell a product or programme, to keep people on your site for as long as possible, or get social media shares, the list goes on.
Get the goal straight in your mind and then ask yourself if each of the widgets in your sidebar contribute to this goal? If the answer is ‘no’, seriously consider removing it.
Derek Halpern, an expert in increasing website conversion rates, explains this is why he only has TWO widgets in his sidebar: his newsletter sign up form, and popular posts.
How to test which widgets are useful
Do I think you need to go as far as Derek? Not necessarily, because:
- your website goal may be different to his and
- there is a great way to find out whether your widget is of value using Crazy Egg
Once you have removed the widgets that are definitely not helping your site, there are likely to be some you aren’t sure about.
This is where Crazy Egg comes in: set up an account and create page snapshots on some key pages and wait to get some data. You will be surprised by the results.
Let the data make the decision for you.
Case Study: Everything for Redheads
One of the websites I own and run is a website especially for Redheads called ‘Everything for Redheads’, which was how I first came across Crazy Egg.
I realised quickly how many pointless widgets I had, but was also pleasantly surprised by which ones worked for me. Not only that, the way a widget was used on different pages of the website differed completely.
I’ll share some of my most recent heat maps with you from the website home page and blog page.
The primary goal of this website is to get sales of products through my shop, but I have a secondary goal of keeping visitors on the site for long enough that they see other products and want to return for the content. As such, different areas of my website have different purposes, so the sidebar widgets should reflect this.
If you want to know how to have customised sidebars in different parts of your site, stay tuned.
I know you’re on the Crazy Egg blog, but I’m not going to assume that you have personally used Crazy Egg website tracking.
This software allows you to see how visitors are behaving on a site and in these examples I have used the ‘heatmap’ view to demonstrate how visitors are hovering and clicking on different areas of my website.
Oh, and by the way, if you’re not familiar with Crazy Egg there isn’t much of an excuse anymore; at the writing of this post there is a 30 day free trail and adding it to WordPress is really easy with the WordPress plugin. You’ll learn a lot in those 30 days.
Getting back to the point: as you can see from the screenshot there are some big white spot areas and I have found out that surprisingly;
- There are close to 100 x more visitors using the widget in the sidebar to get to my shop than the link in the page navigation
- There are 8 x more visitors are accessing my blog through the popular posts widget in the sidebar than the page navigation bar.
- BUT my search bar has been used ONCE but in my shop it is used more often.
What does this tell me?
- Keep the widget that shows shop categories and popular blog posts
- Consider removing the ‘search’ function on this page, it’s taking up valuable website real estate, that I don’t want wasted!
The blog sidebar is completely different from the homepage. In the following picture you can see that the ‘Redheads quotes’ widget gets a lot of action, but just below it my newsletter subscription form doesn’t 🙁
What does this tell me?
Keeping in mind the point of my website is:
- To make sales on my shop
- Get return visitors through my blog and newsletter (so that they can buy products in the future)
The quotes widget doesn’t help serve either of these goals, but IS taking up attention of my visitors and space on my sidebar. So as ‘nifty’ as it is, it has GOT.TO.GO.
Customise your sidebar for different pages
So what if, like me, your website has more than one purpose and you want to have different widgets on different pages?
Easy: There are two plugins I have used with WordPress that allow you to customize your sidebar but in different ways. Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with these plugins and cannot guarantee that they will work with your website, just that I have found them to be extremely valuable and hope you do too!
WordPress plugin ‘Dynamics Sidebars’
This plugin allows you to adjust the widgets on a page by page basis. The benefit of it is that this is highly customisable, and you can be REALLY specific, but it can also be easy to forget where widgets are. I have also found it to be buggy with some websites.
WordPress plugin ‘Custom Sidebars’
With this plugin you create several ‘sidebars’ and then select in the page which sidebar you wish to use. You can also set a default sidebar depending on the page type/post/product/category etc which makes life much easier when installing it. I have used this one to create a ‘blog’, ‘shop’ and ‘homepage’ sidebar for Everything for Redheads.
Are all your bells and whistles heavy?
I mentioned that your widgets could be ‘costing you’ and this applies in many ways — money, visits and perhaps page-load speed.
The more elements your website has to load to deliver a page, the longer it will take to display. Slow load times will turn people off your website, lower your page ranking in search engines and create a frustrating experience for your visitors. If you’re unsure about how a plugin is affecting your website there is a great plugin for WordPress to test how your plugins are affecting your website’s performance: The P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler)
They say it best: ‘This plugin creates a profile of your WordPress website’s plugins’ performance by measuring their impact on your website’s load time. Often times, WordPress websites load slowly because of poorly configured plugins or because there are so many of them.’
Knowing when less is more
I want to leave you with the thought that just because something CAN be done, doesn’t mean it SHOULD be done. This is a mantra that could be applied to all areas of life ‘Will this ‘widget’ really make my life better?’. It can be near impossible to decide in real life, but thankfully with websites we don’t have to guess. I hope I’ve illustrated how easy it can be to see exactly what to keep and what to remove.
So what has your experiences been? Do you have lots of widgets? Have you struggled to decide which to use? Have you used Crazy Egg to analyse your sidebars? Would you be up to a 30 day challenge to trim your sidebar right down? Please share in the comments below