The WordPress sidebar is a helpful tool that gives site owners a chance to engage readers, direct them to content and other pages, and read prior entries. With an extensive sidebar widget system, there are lots of great options for blog owners who are looking to take their design — and their readership to the next level.

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Subscription Options

Offered as an optional plugin for the standard WordPress installation, the Subscription Options widget allows your readers to subscribe to your site’s blog entry or comments RSS feed. That means they’ll always have your freshest entries in their RSS reader of choice, and they’ll be alerted to new content. It’s a great way to keep people coming back again and again every time you post new content to your blog or other website. Users can also use this handy widget to subscribe to email updates, like a digest of your site’s weekly entries, as well as post your entries to Twitter in hopes that they’ll go viral.

Recent Comments

The goal of any blog owner is not only to grow readership, but to flaunt how large that readership has become. Users actually respond to this: if they perceive a website to be more active and engaged with its users, they’ll be more likely to make repeat visits and add their comments to your entries. This is where the Recent Comments widget comes in: it allows blog owners to display the five most recent comments in their sidebar, along with user avatars (or Gravatars) as well as a link to the entry where the comment was posted. It essentially shows off your site’s popularity, and perpetuates its cycle of success.

PayPal Donation Plugin

If you run a pretty popular blog, you’re aware that hosting costs can spiral out of control as the need for more disk space and monthly bandwidth allotments increases. You can certainly pay for these costs on your own, and there’s nothing wrong with doing that. However, if your users enjoy your content and feel inclined to help, a PayPal donation widget for your sidebar will give them the opportunity to contribute to your blog’s continued online presence. It could just be a few dollars per reader, but the PayPal widget will ensure that you get support in your effort to deliver the Internet’s best written word.

AdSense Widgets

Another way of earning money with your WordPress site involves exchanging the PayPal widget for an AdSense widget that shows relevant Google textual ads that relate to your content. These widgets do all of the hard work for you, placing the ads exactly where you drag-and-drop the box, and adjusting the code accordingly. You’ll simply have to provide your Google merchant ID and decide which type of ads you want to display. Drag the widget into the ideal space and your website is ready to earn money on pay-per-click advertising.

What to Avoid

These are all great ideas for the WordPress blog owner and designer, but it’s important to know what to avoid when personalizing a sidebar. It’s essential that a sidebar be functional and useful, but not cluttered and crowded with too many things that are simply distracting. Avoid large flash videos or displays, big and embedded Google Maps, and large photos that slow your site’s loading time. A sidebar should look good, but should be more function than form. Help your users — don’t overwhelm them.

About the author: This is a guest post by Rodney Warner – A Custom WordPress Designer in Denver CO.