Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The top 10 items for the sidebar of an artist's blog

I was talking to somebody yesterday about the sidebar on their blog and realised that I'd never done a blog post about the sidebar. The sidebar (side column) of your blog is "prime real estate" for:
  • promoting your blog and attracting subscribers
  • providing information about yourself and other websites you may have - including links to where people can buy your art
  • highlighting other blogs that you rate and want to share
  • and, for some people, including adverts or widgets which monetise your blogs.
Given that my blog has now crossed the threshold of 1,000 subscribers for the second time in a week (I didn't really believe it the first time it happened - when I added 100 subscribers in one day last Monday!) I'm going to take this opportunity to outline how I operate my side column

Chelsea Green Tomatoes
10" x 8", coloured pencils on Arches HP
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

The top 10 items for the sidebar of an artist's blog

In my view these are the essential items in the sidebar of an artist's blog
  1. About the blog: If you don't have a snippet as a strapline to the title (like this blog) then you need a snippet of text to say what the blog is about. This is your 'elevator pitch'.
  2. Profile/About Me: I don't mind if there's no text in the sidebar so long as there's a link to somewhere which tells me who's writing this blog. I'll then take it more seriously. A photo is a welcome addition, but I well understand those people who don't feel they photograph well!
  3. Portfolio: tell me where I can see more of your art
  4. Sales: tell where I can buy your art (if relevant)
  5. RSS feed: Include an RSS feed link if you want subscriber numbers to grow
  6. Email subscription option: enable people to subscribe via email and you'll get many more readers.
  7. Recent posts: If you want people to link to your posts then make it easy for them to copy and paste the blog title. It also tells people at a glance what the blog is about.
  8. Categories / Labels: These tell me what your blog is really about!
  9. Archives: If you don't have an archive then your content dies as soon as it leaves the front page of your blog. It also tells me how long you've been blogging and (if displayed) the number of posts tell me whether or not you are a serious blogger.
  10. Copyright Notice: essential if you are displaying your artwork on your blog. It needs to be prominent. Remember people viewing your blog can live anywhere in the world and won't necessarily know about the copyright regime which operates in your country.
What follows is a discussion of issues relating to the content and organisation of the sidebar.

Promote your blog on your blog

I noticed that when visiting blogs I always tended to pay more attention to blogs which had a lot of subscribers - so decided to use my own blog data to promote my blog as soon as it became respectable.

I moved all the key benchmarks to the top of the side column because it's the best way I know of showing that people appreciate the content of this blog. My subscriber numbers fluctuate up and down all the time but the total has been climbing steadily over time because I'm happy to say most people rate the content after they've tried subscribing for a while.

I also had a big jump in subscribers when I made the subscriber links and widgets really easy to find. To start with they were half way down the side column. It was a bit like having a business card which never got handed out. Once I moved the subscription links to near the top (just under the information about visitors/subscribers) my subscriptions started to take off in a major way.

If you leave out an RSS link it won't stop those in the know from subscribing. In most feedreaders you only need to add the URL to 'add blog' section of a feedreader and it will find the RSS feed. But not everybody uses feedreaders and knows this.

I always provide a link to both subscribing via email and a separate link for subscribing in a feed reader. Just because you always read in a feedreader doesn't mean everybody does. I have a huge number of people who get this blog every day via email.

Finally, you may be surprised by how many people have forgotten to include any feed or subscription link at all. One of my blogging chums was musing on the lack of readers on her blogs. Was it the art? Was it what she wrote about? I pointed out it might possibly be something to do with the fact that there was no subscription link in the side bar. One was promptly included and subscriber numbers started to take off!

I also promote links to my other blog in the sidebar and even provide an RSS feed which provides the headlines to the last 5 blog posts.
My recommendations:
  • show people if your blog is popular
  • highlight an RSS feed and email subscription link and make them easily accessible
  • promote your other blogs in the sidebar too
Provide your contact information

If you want to have a dialogue or you want to sell art then you need to make yourself accessible and MUST tell people how they can contact you.

My link is to the page on my website which provides an image of my email address. I'm wary of including live links to email addresses because of the ways in which these tend to be harvested by people who sell them to spammers. If I were to put a live email address on this blog I'd make sure it was on which was solely related to receiving emails from people reading this blog. That way I can kill it or change it without risking my main email addresses.
My recommendations:
  • show people how to contact you.
  • think about which email address you use if providing a live link on the blog
Promote your art

Most people remember to include a link to their website and/or galleries where art can be purchased - but again the link is not always there or is just not that obvious. I'm not any sort of expert at selling art from my blog but I do look at what other people do.

Here's what I think when people show me links to their art.
  • Links to a portfolio website tells me you're serious about your art
  • Links to galleries tell me this is an artist who is selling in galleries
  • Links to online e-commerce sites are essential for people who selling their art online - but make sure people can find them easily. Ask yourself whether they need a signpost or a widget.
  • Links to Flickr and other such sites suggest to me this is somebody who is doing art for pleasure (except when seen alongside the above)
I'd be interested to hear if people have different interpretations.

I have a major problem with my sidebar which is that I have a very large number of other sites relating to my interest in sharing information about art as well as producing it. I'm not at all happy that I've got that aspect right as yet - and it's a problem which must be addressed as the list grows ever longer (75+ and counting)!!! My feeling is that a major tidy-up needs to be scheduled!
My recommendations:
  • include all relevant links to places where I can find your art
  • highlight the key locations where your art can be found/purchased
  • keep other information about you and your sites under control
The Blogroll

When I began blogging I used to learn huge amounts about art, blogging and other useful sites from blogs I found in people's blogrolls. I still investigate blogs I've never heard of before when reviewing a blog roll.

My own perspective is that I really appreciate people who split up their blogroll into meaningful sections. I've found over time that some blog names can be really 'clever' and very opaque as to their content at one and the same time!

I haven't had a major edit of my blogroll for bit. Plus the advent of the Blog Followers widget on Blogger has made me think about whether I need a new way of differentiating between:
  • blogs I follow
  • blogs I read on a regular basis
  • blogs I recommend
I'm now moving towards thinking along the lines of showing people what I follow through the followers widget and then including what I read/recommend to others in more tightly defined sections within the sidebar.

The main problem is that I still haven't transferred a lot of the the blogs I follow into the followers function - but I''ll get there!

rcial aspects

This blog is not monetized. I could monetize it through the use of advertising and have thought about this but I'm the sort of person who turns off the sound during the ad breaks on the television. Plus I'm also venting from time to time at the moment about the dreadful Glam-Ads on Squidoo (the issue being essentially about the non-relevance of content which also does not equate to the rating of my sites).

I can and could cope with restrained adverts in moderation if highly targeted and extremely restrained in presentation but I haven't felt the need so far to investigate whether that's possible.

I have to tell you I HATE the 'active' adverts now seen on blogs. They are massively distracting and tend to persuade me to leave a blog as soon as possible. I also really don't like a jumble of adverts of different hues/fonts/designs down the side bar. They offend my eye from an aesthetic perspective and really distract from any art being shown. Thankfully I generally see these only on professional techie type blogs written by people earning an income from blogging.

Having said that there is a good case for using widgets of relevance to you to break up the long lists found in sidebars. These need not involve any monetisation of your blog.
My recommendations:
  • think about the value of adverts relative to their impact on the display of your art
  • think about presentation and placement and the capacity to distract the eye/drive people from your site
  • break up long lists with pictures/widgets
and finally......

I try to tailor my sidebar to the length of your blog in terms of the number of posts that can be seen. I just don't see the point of a very long sidebar if there is no content to the left (or right) of it........However, I cut the blog posts from seven to five just recently as the blog was taking a long time to load and this blog now has that problem too! The main reason being that I've taken to parking my past surveys at the bottom of the sidebar - which maybe needs a rethink.
Memo to self: Time for an edit and an overhaul of the sidebar!


  1. I always worry I'm falling foul of the minimum requirements but sadly don't have the technical knowhow to spot if anything important is missing. I do try to gear up my blog so that first time visitors understand what I'm about. However, I do disagree that Flickr users are doing it only for pleasure, as I have a lot of professional contacts there. I've also found it's so popular that people prefer commenting there than on my blog (although I'd rather the dialog on the blog!). Your statement about taking popular blogs more seriously makes my heart sink ;) - it's a catch 22, if people only come back because you are popular! Being popular is a bit of a game and I suspect playing it can lead to stagnation if you are afraid to push yourself and experiment in case you lose your 'fanbase'.

  2. One thing that I tried for a while was a widget that collapses one's labels. I was moderately happy about that, but I had to delete it when Blogger did one of its famous lock-ups, and I got rid of any recent third party doo-hickeys in my blog.

    Turns out that wasn't the culprit, and I do wonder about the utility of good collapsing widgets for clutter.

    Unfortunately, I don't recall where I "shopped" that label collapsing widget, but I didn't like that it was too wide and lost some of it in the template.

    For my own part, I experiment with my sidebar when I have time, with the goals of neatness and turning hits back into my blog.

  3. side note on your poll - while it is subsumed under exploring an idea, for me it is more that when doing a work, variations come to mind, and variations sometimes off of those, as if a spiral - that is, the visual and the theme together often pop into mind before the rendering is anywhere done... rather than perhaps as others decide to, say, do a series of seashores, and then try to figure how to run them as some kind of similarity...

  4. Hi
    In my opinion,. I do try to gear up my blog so that first time visitors understand what I'm about. However, I do disagree that Flickr users are doing it only for pleasure, as I have a lot of professional contacts there. I've also found it's so popular that people prefer

  5. I'm just wondering whether people missed the caveat about Flickr?

    I know Flickr is also used a lot by people who are professional artists or illustrators - but those people generally also have a website of some sort which is also listed on their blog

    That's what I meant by "(except when seen alongside the above)" in relation to the point about Flickr.

    However I'm very happy to stand corrected if professionals are now using Flickr instead of a website.

  6. I stand corrected Katherine! Yes, I do look to see if they have a website and haven't come across any that only use Flickr. It is strange that those with a lot of comments don't also have the same numbers on their blogs. It seems that if they look at your work on Flickr, they are not curious to look at the blog i.e. one doesn't seem to generate interest for the other.

  7. Great post Katherine!

    Regarding Flickr, I have to say that I picked up a lot of readers just through there alone.

    The biggest problem with all these networking sites is keeping up with them all! LOL

  8. What an excellent post, Katherine.
    It's made me re-look at how mine is structured. Sometimes on individual posts, the comments are so far down the page that I'm afraid others might miss them. Here I always thought it was the provider or the theme I chose, never considered the sidebar. I better move up my website link too.
    Thank for the lesson!


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