Online Marketing & Good UI Design: Why the Blog Archives Widget is Worthless

If you have a blog and you have an “Archives” Widget in your sidebar, take a minute to ask yourself, “Why is this here?” More than likely, the answer is that is was there by default or you or your webmaster put it there because you need to have something in the sidebar and you have seen other blogs with an Archives menu so you thought you would follow suit. […]

But the truth is that having an Archives menu in your sidebar is a waste of valuable real estate. At right is one example of what I’m talking about, taken from a real blog on a tech company website. Rather than use a dropdown menu for Archives, this blog displays a link to every month’s posts since the blog was created. And it’s at the top of the sidebar. It’s very unlikely that anyone gives this sidebar a second look.

One alternative to this excessive waste of space is to use a dropdown menu. That’s what the Google Gmail blog does. If you click on the first image below you see the Archives dropdown menu there in the sidebar – very near the top of the sidebar –  Google blog Archives menuwhich, again, is a waste of valuable real estate. And if you click on the second image you see the dropdown menu as it appears when you click on it, revealing a long list of months.

Google blog Archives menu dropdownIf you think about it, it’s pretty obvious why these links are a waste of space. When was the last time you were reading a blog and decided to click on an Archives link? Never, right? But that’s not an empirical argument; that’s just a matter of your own behavior.

Fortunately, you can use Google Analytics to make a much stronger case for why you should remove Archives links from your sidebar.

Google In-Page Analytics

Google In-Page AnalyticsIf you have Archives in your sidebar, view your website’s stats in Google Analytics. Go to Content > In-Page Analytics and simply navigate on-screen to your blog’s front page. Whenever someone views a page on your site, the next thing they do is either leave your site altogether or they navigate to another page on your site. Look at your sidebar and look for any caption bubbles indicating a percentage of clicks. You will see them on other links. You will not see them on the Archives. Guaranteed.

Should you be concerned that no one clicks your Archive links? No. They are a waste of space.

What should be there instead? This is something you can test. My suggestion is to add links that people will click. Use a Related Posts plugin, or a Recent Posts plugin, or a Most Popular Posts plugin. (Some Most Popular Posts plugins use the number of comments on the post as the gauge of popularity. If you don’t have any comments on your blog, this won’t work.) The point is to keep people on your site. Give them what they want.

It’s critical to give visitors easy ways to find more of what brought them to your site in the first place. “Bounce rate” is the percentage of visitors that leave a page after looking at only one page. Giving visitors options will keep them on your site and lower your bounce rate.

Remember that if someone lands on a blog page because they found it through a Google search, they need to be able to find their way around on your site. It’s ludicrous to expect them to dig through Archives links. Make it easy for them. Related Posts and Recent Posts are a no-brainer.  You can use Google In-Page Analytics to see if this is a good idea or not.

Other things you can put in your blog sidebar

Add a graphical image with text, a special offer, a call to action. The sidebar is a great place to get people’s attention. Put it to good use!

Comments: 3

3 comments

Hey Mark, great post and a good reminder.

One thing I wanted to share was this is something I usually preach in my workshops as well. The other day though a few people disagreed with me. They said that they use the archives a lot when visiting a new blog, as they can randomly choose a post or two to see what your earlier posts are like rather than being pointed to a set list.

Interesting thought, but I’m with you on this, there is much more valuable content you can use in the space that these take up.

@Bob Dunn – I appreciate your thoughts on this. I would not have expected to hear that there are folks that actually use the Archives links. But now that you mention it, I have done this a few times myself. For one thing, the Archives links are a quick way to see how long the blog has been in existence, and they are also a quick way to see if the author posts only a few times a year, and if they are posting more often more recently, or if they are not posting as often as they used to.

I might have to give the whole thing more thought!

Still, I stand by my basic argument which is that you can use Google Analytics to see which sidebar links get clicked the most. (And it’s super easy to do so. All you need is to have Google Analytics installed and be able to login.)

Links that get only a few clicks should go at the bottom of the sidebar, not the top. So to accommodate visitors like you mention, you could put the Archives links at or near the bottom.

The idea that visitors might want to have more complete access to posts and more options in terms of finding their way around the blog (rather than rely on us to give them links) is worth paying attention to. I use a “Sitemap” plugin for this to create a complete list of blog posts, although I could probably do a better job of letting people know it’s there. I have been doing more with these on client sites lately. (Of course, I haven’t applied the same principles to my own site yet!)

This is part of a broader discussion – a very important one – which is about the best ways to organize content and make it accessible and discoverable – for human readers and search engines. In my experience, a lot of companies are still in the dark about this stuff, high tech companies and startups included.

Periodically rethinking the use of valuable blog real estate is important. As my blogs develop, I see an increasing need to conserve space for productive use. Thanks for the tips!

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