March 8, 2020

BTBGuide: Configuring a Blog Sidebar

These notes are for Blogger, but you can do the same things... and way more things... with WordPress. For specific details, I've written up some step-by-step tips for my students which you can use here: Blogger Tech Tips.

This is just a quick behind-the-scenes sidebar guide to the items included here: The Joys of the Sidebar.

Theme. This is one of the left menu options from your Blogger blog dashboard. Before you start adding content to the sidebar in Blogger, first make sure you are using one of the theme templates that is sidebar-friendly. Some of the new mobile-first themes do not display the sidebar by default. Some sidebar-friendly themes are Simple, Picture Window, Awesome, Watermark, Ethereal, and Travel. after you choose a theme, you can customize it by selecting the background art, color scheme, adjusting column widths, etc.

Layout. To add content to the sidebar, choose the Layout option from the left menu. You will then add, remove and rearrange (drag and drop) content boxes in the sidebar column:

For some unknown reason, Blogger calls these things "gadgets" but I call them widgets since that is the more usual design term for these things. When you click on "Add a Gadget" at the top, you will see lots of possible options. Here are some of the ones I find most useful:

HTML/JavaScript. This gives you a box where you can copy-and-paste in HTML and javascript. This is what I use to add my javascript randomizers to the sidebar, and it is also what you use for embedding YouTube videos and playlists, embedding Google Slides, embedding Twitter widgets... basically, it is for embedding all the things!

Blog Search. Especially if you have suppressed the top navigation bar in order to make your blog fit more nicely inside the LMS, adding a search box to the sidebar is a good idea.

Labels. Labels are a blogging superpower. You can put multiple labels on blog post and access them again later by means of those labels. It is a way for both you and your readers to navigate your blog content without having to build the navigation as you do at a website. Labels generate the navigation options automatically! I often have multiple Labels widgets in my sidebar for blogs with complex varieties of content.

Link List. This widget is a little clunky to use, but it is a handy way to keep a list of links, even a long list of links, in the sidebar.

Follow by Email. This automatically set up a Feedburner email subscription service for your blog. Users can add themselves to the email list and remove themselves from the list; you don't have to do anything. The formatting of the blog emails is also really nice, preserving media, etc.

Featured Post. This can be useful if you have a post of special interest that you want people to be able to access from anywhere in your blog. For example, at this blog, I have made the "Be There with Blogging: Table of Contents" the featured post, so it is accessible from anywhere in the blog. The widget also snags the image from the blog post to include in the sidebar, which looks nice.