Widgets: Less is More

Widgets generally  accomplish one or more of the following things:
  1. improve the functionality of a site by providing reader accessibility to content that is not located on the front page;
  2. act as leaders for e-commerce or other transactions;
  3. promote and lead traffic to the site serving the widget;
  4. redirect readers to high quality sources of relevant information found in authoritative blogs in the same niche.

Keeping the amount of widgets and other sidebar clutter to a minimum may seem like common sense to veteran bloggers but to new bloggers the lure of adding widgets may be too overwhelming to pass up.  However, a  common mistake  beginner bloggers make  is the  overuse widgets as sidebar decorations, methods of bragging,  and as space fillers,  because they fail to consider the following:

  1. the impact of  the amount of script they have running on their blogs on their readers experience;
  2. the collection of  reader information (computer ip,  location, browser type and version) that some widget use results in; and
  3. how all those widgets clutter the 12 inch screen of laptops.

Widgets as spoilers

Widgets don’t only spoil the design and give the blog an amateurish appearance, but they also compromise blog speed (page loading time), in short viewers have to wait for widgets to load before they can interact with your blog. This may not seem important to bloggers on high speed broadband service but most people surfing the web today are on dial-up service.

“Too many widgets on a page will kill a blog’s design and turn off visitors. How should you gauge whether or not you have too many widgets on your blog? Check other blogs and see what kind of an impact widgets have on your experience as a reader.” — Glen L Graham II, Web-designer / Graphic artist  for The G&R Group

Widgets as distractions

Consider that readers come to our blogs to read our content. They don’t come to our blogs to view our awards, badges and buttons and they have no interest in seeing where every other visitor is coming from. Yet every day I witness distracting and tacky looking widget clutter in the sidebars of many personal blogs. The important point here is that widgets and other sidebar clutter distract readers’ attention by drawing the eyes and mind away from the content in our posts.

Widget test

The test for whether or not to add a widget or any sidebar link to your blog is to answer these questions:

1. Will adding this widget or link to my sidebar provide my visitor’s access to blog content that’s not found on the front page?
2. Will adding this widget or link to my sidebar provide my visitor’s access to additional high quality related resources beyond my blog?

The rule of thumb is that if it does not accomplish the foregoing , then do not add it.

References:
Too many widgets

Related posts found in this blog:
Why having a well designed blog is important

 

34 thoughts on “Widgets: Less is More

  1. Hi, timethief, I’m still working through all the great stuff on your site, and trying to improve mine. I actually work sometimes, too. :)

    So, a couple questions. I really, really like the Recent Comments widget, but that means avatars, which are extra images. Is that a significant factor on page load time? Is it possible to increase the number of comments it shows, and if so, would that be a mistake?

    I could move two or three of my sidebar widgets into footers. Would that make any difference?

    Since my blog is so text-heavy, does it really hurt me to have ten posts on the front page? I think you generally recommend fewer than that. I’ve got a post on the front page right now showing a picture, but that’s very rare — if I do have an image, it is almost always below the More tag.

    I’d appreciate your thoughts on it.

    As always, I really, really appreciate what you’ve done on this site, and I’m adopting more and more of your suggestions.

      1. OK, thanks. Trying to keep it very generic so as to be useful to anyone else who stumbles on this: It sounds like in a WordPress.com theme with a right sidebar, since that loads after the content, that it really makes little difference whether widgets are in the right sidebar or the footer. Is that accurate?

  2. I would like to do something that I think should be really simple. I would like to put the “Subscribe by Email” widget at the bottom of my posts. Having the widget in the sidebar is OK but I would like people who have actually read a post to consider subscribing after reading a post. Can this be done? WordPress help needs help.

    Thank you very much,

    carl-

    1. No widgets cannot be used in posts or on pages on WordPress.com free hosted blogs; they can only be used in sidebars. The reason for this is WordPress.com does not allow posts and pages to be autofilled with content from RSS feeds. If this functionality were available then WordPress.com would become full of content thieving sploggers and spammers and we only have to look at Blogger to see that. So I don’t agree that WordPress.com help needs help. I think those who don’t want to accept the limitations of blogging on this multiuser blogging platform ought to hire a web host and set up a WordPress.org install.

      If you wish you can have a direct link for email subscribers that you can copy and paste at the end of your posts. The workaround solution requires explanation using images as well, you can view it here – http://wp.me/pinhe-iU

  3. Thanks for your time, timethief, much appreciated. I’ve cut the number of posts on the front page from 10 to 6, shortened the displayed texts as suggested, and run a couple of speed tests with the loading time checkers (90-91% overall rating). And I’ve got rid of a couple of widgets which showed broken links. Would you mind reviewing it again please if you have a moment – particularly the widgets – do you think I still have too many? Thanks a lot

  4. Hi timethief, just visited your site for the first time – loads of good info! I saw your Flag Counter widget and thought “hey that’s cool!”, and put it on my site. Then I read your post on too many widgets and am wondering if I am guilty. Would love it if you could quickly sidle over to my site and scan through the widgets and give me your opinion. Thanks a lot

    1. The issue is page loading time. Firstly, I recommend that you go here and reduce the number of posts appearing on your front page > Settings > Reading
      Blog pages show at most __ posts
      “save changes”
      If you do not want to do that then you can edit the posts and insert “the more tag” so only excerpts appear on the front page followed by a “read more” link. When clicked it will display the full post on its own page. http://en.support.wordpress.com/splitting-content/more-tag/
      See this post for Online page loading time checkers and other tools > http://onecoolsitebloggingtips.com/2009/06/13/blogging-strategies-for-reducing-page-loading-time/

  5. @Barry
    I visited your blog.
    Two Pages Widgets
    IMHO as static page tabs already appear on your blog’s Front Page, the two Pages Widgets for “Poems” and “Stories” you have placed in your sidebar are redundant. They may not clutter your sidebar presently, but over time as the list of titles grow in those two Pages Widgets, your sidebar will take on a cluttered appearance, and this is not to mention the link count which I will clarify later on in this comment.

    Blogroll (Links) Widget
    I do not know if you intend to increase the number of Links or not. If you do expect the number to grow then I would suggest that you could do as I do. I place the Links Widget in my sidebar and then I go to the front of my blog and copy the results. I return to the Admin side of my blog and create a static Links Page using the Visual editor and I simply paste the “blogroll” data I have copied into it, publish the Page and go back and remove the Links widget.

    You will notice that I also choose to have a static page for Categories, rather than a drop down menu Categories widget in my sidebar. I do the same copy and paste routine I described above for the Links (Blogroll).

    Archives Widget and the alternative
    Archives do grow monthly and eventually will to take up quite a lot of space in your sidebar. Please read this entry in my blog for an alternative way to display them on a static page using the shortcode. https://onecoolsite.wordpress.com/2009/07/29/building-a-post-index-at-wordpress-com-with-archives-shortcode/

    Splitting front page post text by using the “more” tag
    Take a close look at your front page. Count all the links on that page including links to static pages, links in widgets in your sidebar, titles links, comments links, and the links in the posts. We ought to be aiming to have less than 100 links on ANY page as some search spiders stop indexing at around 100. By using the “read more” tag in posts on your front page you can reduce the number of links on the front page.
    http://support.wordpress.com/splitting-content/more-tag/

    Also note I do not use the Recent Posts widget in my sidebar as the most recent posts are already on the front page and using it would amount to redundancy. I also want to keep the number of links on my front page low ie. under 100 links, and I want my blog to gave the quickest loading time possible. https://onecoolsite.wordpress.com/2009/11/15/page-loading-time-a-new-ranking-factor/

    Registering and verifying your blog with the three big search engines (Google, Yahoo and Bing)
    The instructions for doing the same are found here in the support documentation http://en.support.wordpress.com/webmaster-tools/

  6. timethief,

    When I designed my blog, I added two page widget, a Blogroll widget, an archive widget and one RSS Feed. It sounds like I was right to ditch the Recent post widget. It just wasn’t helping.

    It doesn’t seem like my widgets are cluttering things. How do they appear to you? As I go to add more stories, I am concerned about the # of pages in the Stories (Page ) widget. Any ideas?

  7. Awww but I think Widgets add fun to blogs to keep readers entertained. I want them to come to my site and Indulge Pacman, Indulge Simon, and Indulge the Cat. I think these are neat additions to the page. Maybe I did go overboard with the Youtube and iLike, but I’m just trying to make my page more interesting. Keep in touch Timetheif

    1. @Dre
      In time you will understand how important all the information in this post and the comments is. By then you will also understand how linking works. Every third party widget is an outgoing link from your blog to that third party site that’s sending them Google juice.

  8. OMG! I was not aware of this 100 links thing. I’ll remove most of them in 3 days! I may also make the blogroll a separate page (I’ve added you in my blog roll of course)! My blog posts are crawled by Google almost the moment I write it! I don’t want to lose it!

    I may change my theme too but not now!

    Thanks a lot timethief phoenix! G’night and sweet dreams! :):)

    Thank you once again. Hugely impressed!

  9. (1) I call myself timethief because I twice technically died and came back to life again – I stole my life back from the grim reaper of death.

    (2) I have twice visited your site. I would remove most of what you have in the sidebar if I were you and not only for the reasons in this post. Search engine spiders stop crawling your site when they reach 100 links. It’s true they may go a bit more like to 113 for example but every blogger ought to aim to have no more than a total of 100 links on their front page – the fewer the better.

    G’night :)

  10. Dear timethief,

    Thank you for these elaborate comments! I am a bit surprised; I was expecting a usual one line thanks or something similar!

    Please do me one more favour. Please visit my blog (or did you already?) and tell me how my blog looks (it does not load easily ofcourse; I have so many widgets there)! I am thinking of changing to this theme and removing most of the useless widgets there!

    But I am a kid timethief! I want visual and aesthetic satisfaction too (though this theme is very pleasing too!). Help me; I want to switch to this theme! Please visit my blog and criticize me timethief. I am loving you; so prompt your reply!

    Thanks a ton!

    P.S.: Why do you call yourself timethief? What does this mean? I love it and your pic too!

  11. The choice is yours to make. Some people like to have a professional looking blog and some don’t.

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder ie. in this case beauty is in the eyes of the reader, not the blogger. Never forget that we blog for the readers and not for ourselves. If we blogged only for ourselves then we would have our blogs set to “private”.

    The way of the better blogger is to be able to step out of your own shoes and step into the shoes of your readers. Are the widgets colorful and distracting? Do they draw the eyes of the readers away from your posts? If so, then you ought to consider getting rid of all of them, except the ones required by users to be able to navigate your site and find all of your posts. The reason why is easy to state. Readers come to your blog to read your content. :)

  12. @ian in hamburg
    You have wordpress.com blog and we cannot run javascript. The wordpress programming strips it out to preserve security. Have you visited many blogspot blogs lately? Have you experienced watching the lower window on your firefox browser to see what loads before you can see the site content? That’s the kind of stuff I find to be the most annoying. The same information can be gained from running a good stats program without cluttering up a sidebar, however, I have watched some blogs load Google analytics and then feedjit too. I ask you wtf is that, if it isn’t overkill? I prefer a clean blog to a cluttered one any day and the way I cope is to put any blogs with excessive sidebar clutter on feeds rather than visiting them.

  13. @assistedgbu
    That makes two of us. If I really like the blogger and the posts and they have a cluttered widget infested sidebar then I subscribe to their feed so I don’t have to visit the blog. Of course that also means that I’m not going to comment very frequently.

  14. @earthtoholly
    I’m cranked up this morning so please read my reply to gabriel above and prepare yourself for me to rant on. The whole purpose of the pseudo blog competitions that we see badges for in sidebars is to generate backlinks. This is the same in the case of memes. You will note that I don’t play either of these blogging games at all – ever!

    In the case of the “big” blogging competitions the sites that sponsor them benefit greatly. They compel voting on their main site as opposed to voting on the nominated blogs so they are benefiting from all the traffic inflow at the main site. When you get to these main sites they require registration in order to register a vote, and that means providing personal information including email addresses to them.

    As the main sites want to be sure each voter only votes once, or in some cases once daily they also run javascript programs for tracking IPs, browser information and operating system information from those who vote. What do those third party sites do with that data? Who has access to it? Who else (advertisers) do they share the information with? And for what purposes is that data used? Take a long hard look at the advertising on the main third party sponsor sites and see who is benefiting from the data collection.

    As for entering the competitions it’s easy you can nominate your own blog in a category and vote for it too. And as for who “wins” (lol :D) that becomes a result of a popularity contest combined with a who has a bigger army of “friends” that will get into reciprocal voting with them. Bah humbug! I’m a blogger. I’m not a gamer so you won’t find any of this blog competition “tat” in my sidebar.

    No doubt someone will now post and say words to the effect of “but this is a lovely way to express recognition”. Write a post expressing recognition for the bloggers of your choice and link to their blogs in it – backlink delivered – no bullsh*t and no expectation of reciprocation. If it happens that’s great and if not that’s okay too.
    Understanding backlinks
    https://onecoolsite.wordpress.com/2008/11/07/understanding-backlinks/
    Understanding reciprocal and non reciprocal links
    https://onecoolsite.wordpress.com/2008/11/09/understanding-reciprocal-and-non-reciprocal-links/

  15. @gabriel
    We are on the same page. The widgets that annoy me most are the ones running script like feedjit. What a useless piece of sh*t they are to readers and yet almost every blogspot blog I have visited has one of these or a clustrmap. As the bloggers are already running script for a comprehensive stats program like Google analytics, why is such a widget required at all?

    They serve no useful purpose that I can determine and the blogs that have them are providing a link to the third party site. For what? What value does it have to the blogs displaying them? Do the bloggers simply sit there and watch the front page of their sites all day long or what? I don’t get it?

    The bottom line is that these widgets running javascript slow down page loading time, provide no benefit to readers and they are collecting IPs, locations, and browser information from readers for the benefit of third party sites. What do those third party sites do with that data? Who has access to it? Who else (advertisers) do they share the information with? And for what purposes is that data used?

    My bottom line is that if you have an invasive widget like as feedjit on your blog I will visit it once, leave no comment, and then I will drop the blog from my read in person list and subscribe to the feed instead.

  16. @Dave Spears
    I removed the link to your blog because when I followed it through I found a reference link that led me to a advertisement for the secrets of thedumblittleman. When I clicked that link I experienced a pop-up that did not allow me to click out with ease. I hate, loathe and despise these pop-ups. I have experienced some that “hold” on to such a degree that one has to crash their computer to get the parasitic ad to let go. Therefore, I make it a practice never to link to or to recommend sites that link to such advertising.

    IMO the blogosphere is full of many wannbe bloggers trying to make money in the make money niche, who cannot write. Most have nothing original in their posts and many need to get out of blogging and find another way to make an income.

  17. I kinda like my messy sidebar. It’s where I stick things that show what I’m interested in. Kinda like an about-me page that’s always on display. If that turns off some, too bad.

  18. Thank you, thank you. I just changed themes so had removed my widgets. I’ll now reevaluate before putting any back. I have kept my playlist, though, on non-auto sound, of course! Good post.

  19. This is a great article, and one all rookie bloggers need to read. I can’t stand seeing tons of widgets on a blog — most of them useless. As a reader, I don’t want to see pictures of the last twenty-five MyBlogLog or BlogCatalog members who checked out your site — if you want that information for yourself, use something like Google Analytics or Mint.

  20. Since I am going through the learning process on blogging for profit using a course by Shawn Casey I appreciated the advice on widget usage. From some of my reading it seemed to suggest adding convenience widgets to entice visitors to return to blogsite regularly. Please check out my blog and let me know how you think it is shaping up.

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