I’ve been surfing around to other blogs quite a bit recently and I’m shocked at how much sidebar pollution is out there. Specifically – advertising.
I’m all for making a few bucks and I’m hoping the few spots I’ve allocated to ads will at least cover my hosting at the end of the year. The last thing I want to do is distract people from the content. Or worse yet, send them screaming for the hills just because it takes forever for the site to load.
If you’ve taken the pains to optimize your theme, then why are you going to turn around and slow things down by overpopulating your sidebar? In some cases I’ve been able to finish reading a post before the page had even finished loading. (Thankfully, content was rendered first.)
The first thing I learned in web design was the fact you have approximately 15-20 seconds to grab a user’s attention. After that you can consider them gone. In these days of high speed access, most designers and site owners have pretty much forgotten about this. We still have a certain portion of the Internet population that still uses Dial-up.
Slow loading sidebar? Here’s a few things to look for:
- Flash Video Ads. These things take a fair amount of resources and bandwidth. I have the luxury (?!) of running an older computer. These ads, especially when more than one appears on a page, bog down my system to the point where I have to wait for the ad to finish playing before I can do anything else. The quickest solution to this is to simply close the window or tab. Not something a blogger wants. Not all flash video ads demand such resources but a good portion do. (Especially those Telus ads which dominated Adsense prior to Christmas)
- Plugins and Widgets. Some people are just wild about adding all the latest greatest sidebar widgets and plugins. Truth be told, many of these make a huge amount of http and database requests. Some plugins are just coded poorly which doesn’t help matters either. If you think your sidebar is slowing things down, deactivate all plugins and corresponding widgets then start them up again one at a time. Eventually you’ll find the culprit.
- Community Avatar Widgets. Yay! It’s great to see who’s been visiting, but each one of those tiny little avatars require an http request to load. If you run several of these community widgets (each displaying last 100 visitors) then you slow down the load time considerably. Next to flash ads, I found these to be once of the highest load times on many sidebars.
- External Content. If a plugin or widget needs to pull it’s information from a 3rd party site, this can slow things down if the target site is either busy or experiencing technical difficulties. Ensure that the site provides it’s content on a timely basis, otherwise lose it.
I’m yet to finalize exactly what will appear in my sidebar, but rest assured. I’ll be watching the above points very closely.
I’d decided I wanted a ‘Random Thoughts’ area in my sidebar for little tidbits worth mentioning but not worthy of posting about.
So, off I went on a plugin hunt. After a half hour of hunting and asking around in IRC I was finally given a link. By that time I’d come up with a better idea.
Text Widget. By creating one line of HTML within a Text Widget I managed to get my sick little thought out into the open.
Keep in mind that Text Widgets obey the laws of HTML very nicely. If you can do it on a HTML web page, you can likely do it in a Text Widget as well.
<ul><li>Ever notice how Puritan Stew comes in the same size cans as dog food?</li></ul>
That’s all the code I needed to scare readers off Puritan Stew forever.
I could likely fancy it up a bit using CSS but it seems to fit well into the sidebar as is.
As far as maintaining something like this… It can’t be any more work than maintaining a plugin. A quick line of code, save, and we’re done.
<li> <i>Give a man a program, you frustrate him for a day. Teach a man to program, you frustrate him for a lifetime.</i> — unknown</li>
Plus, as an added bonus, you’ll never have to worry about those pesky upgrades that plugins seem to go through so frequently these days. It’s all you!
So, next time you’re thinking about something simple for your sidebar, think Text Widget first, plugin second.
At this point, sharing my posts is starting to become more of a focus. (Not that I’m writing anything Earth shattering here! ) To this end I have installed a couple more plugins to help with this.
GOOGLE XML SITEMAPS
The first place you want to share your posts is with Google and other Search Engines. This superb plugin regenerates XML sitemaps after posts are published and notifies Search Engines of the changes automatically.
No muss, no fuss. Activate it, review the settings then simply forget about it.
I wasn’t sure if I still needed to go into WebMaster Tools at Google and initially submit the sitemap manually or not, but I did just that anyway. I figured it couldn’t hurt.
WebSite: http://www.arnebrachhold.de … sitemaps-generator/
One thing you want on your blog is an very simple way for people to share your posts with others. The ShareThis plugin pulls this off beautifully with many options.
Instead of blathering on about it, check out the ShareThis icon at the bottom of this post and give it a try.
This has nothing to do with sharing but does add pagination for navigating through post pages. I like it as it tidies the pages up a bit.
WebSite: http://lesterchan.net/portfolio/programming/php/ (You’ll have to scroll down)
As you can see I don’t get into a lot of technical detail when describing plugins. At this point those topics have been blogged to death already. I doubt I could add anything new.
I’m just suggesting what I like here.
I’m not sure why I’ve avoided this plugin for so long. I’ve been aware of it for about a year now but never tried it other than to make comments on other blogs. I guess the idea of storing my comment data elsewhere made me a little nervous. I think I’m over that now.
So, balancing myself on the edge of the diving board, I took the plunge and installed it.
The install was drop-dead simple. Create an account with them, upload a few files, activate the plugin and make the desired settings. Done! The only thing missing now are people to make comments. They’ll come soon enough. We’re only on day three here.
So far it looks to be an awesome Comment System. Just from surfing around a bit it looks like support is also top notch.
Come the new year people will be able to comment on blogs with Disqus using their FaceBook Profiles. Also Comments post to the Facebook news feed. I’m too much of a FaceBook dummy to know how this will benefit a blog, but we’ll see.
What more can you ask for?
Well, I do have one issue with Disqus. It breaks XHTML validation. There are several solutions out there but most are for earlier versions and simply didn’t work for me. I did see mention of promises to look into this problem by support staff. So, even though it breaks my efforts to keep everything validated, I’m still willing to use it. That should say a lot about how I feel about Disqus.
This is definitely a plug in you should look into right from the get-go.
Visit their site: http://disqus.com
I’ve been using this Stats Plugin for over a year now on another blog. I love it! It’s the very first Plugin I installed here.
There’s nothing like real time when it comes to stats and FireStats delivers. Why wait for your web server to process the logs? See how busy your blog is NOW.
FireStats has just entered RC4 of their new 1.6 version. Here are a few features this version delivers:
- Performance improvements
- Hits table pagination (Finally!!)
- RSS Subscription tracking (Available to donators only)
- Some other technical stuff… bla bla bla…
I recommend using their other plugin: FireStats Installer. No muss, no fuss. And no waiting for over an hour to FTP this massive archive. You’re literally done in seconds using this. It will also allow you to upgrade to newer versions in the future.
Check it out: http://firestats.cc/