You can put anything on your blog’s sidebar. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. I’ve seen folks fancy up their sidebars with fancy widgets, badges (for affiliate sales, etc.), lead capture (in the WRONG place), etc. So today, I thought I’d share some important elements that your blog’s sidebar can’t live without…

1. Subscription Options

Your blog should have a quick and easy way to subscribe (whether via RSS or via email). I recommend Feedburner for this. They provide you with an html form for capturing email as well as something they call a “Chicklet Chooser” for providing readers subscription options via RSS. Of course you can also use a tool like Aweber to deliver posts via RSS and, you can use it as an email newsletter as well. Keeping tabs on subscribers can give you some good insight on who’s reading your blog and the progress your making over time.

2. Call To Action(s)

Think about what you want your readers to do. What “action” do you want them to take upon landing on your site? Do you want them to use your home search tool? Do you want them to submit a registration form for your newsletter? What do you want them to do and are you making it easy for them to do so? Not the sample sidebar on the right, if you want to search for homes, that’s the first thing you see: “Quick Home Search”.

3. List of Categories

We talked about how to organize your categories effectively before (read: How To Use Categories Effectively On Your Blog). Basically, you want to give readers a way to easily sift through your content. The easier it is for them to find what they’re looking for, the more likely they are to stick around the blog.

4. Featured/Popular Posts

Having you written a Post Series? Something like a 3 part series on the Mortgage Application Process? This is something you want readers (especially new readers) to be able to reference easily. You could use something like the “Popular Posts Plugin” to do this or with a little bit of html, you can put your own “Featured Posts” in there using a simple text widget.

5. Social Proof

Social proof is pretty simple. It’s just the human instinct that if someone else is doing something (buying a product, reading a blog, jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge) then it’s probably a good thing to do. – Copyblogger.com

Social Proof is a great way to build some momentum on your Real Estate blog. You can do this by hi-lighting testimonials (check out: WP Testimonials Plugin), hi-lighting any media coverage you might have gotten and/or hi-lighting any recently sold listings. People care less about your titles and designations and more about how productive you are as an Agent. Here are two examples of Social Proof in action on PasadenaViews.com & themortgagereports.com:

PasadenaViews.com: Irina does an excellent job of displaying all of her recently sold listings using a simple text widget that scrolls through both her properties that are currently for sale and her recently solds. Each image links to a blog posts where she writes in detail about that listing. As a new site visitor, you know she’s a productive agent, and you get to see some of her work first-hand upon landing on the home-page.

TheMortgageReports.com: You can go anywhere to get lending information (your local bank, your local broker, etc.). But Dan’s been featured in the news including several newspaper and radio appearances. He shares that openly on his site but do you know why? Because it establishes him as the local expert!

Anything else that takes up your sidebar can simply be considered clutter. In fact, I’m of the opinion that the less you have on  your sidebar, the better. Just think about what’s most important, and focus on displaying that information above the fold so that when people land on the page, they can see it clearly. If you want to display any additional information, like affiliate ads, etc. by all means do. But I wouldn’t place those before your Home Search and subscription options.

Over to you…

What do you think? What are some of the most important elements that should go into your sidebar? Did I miss anything? More importantly, how does your sidebar look and how can you clean it up and improve it?