A sidebar shouldn’t be random clutter that you use to fill up white space. In fact, many bloggers (and their readers) love the crisp, clean layout of content with white space cradling it on either side.

But you can’t ignore the fact that it’s advertising space you could be profiting from when you’re running an online business. Especially above the fold, it’s important to test out the space you have in your sidebar to see if it can help you turn a profit.

There are five favorite sidebar items that marketers like to use to help the visitor experience and to boost financial rewards as well. You can test a variety of them to see what works better for you.

Social networking badges help you build a following on other places, besides your own website. You might put a “Follow me on Twitter” badge, a FriendFeed badge that shows the latest web 2.0 items from you, or a Facebook badge that lets people navigate to your profile and friend you.

While social networking might not immediately seem like a revenue booster, the more you’re able to connect with your target audience on a friendly level, the more able you are to build a relationship of trust with them and convert them into long term, loyal buyers.

Banner graphics that are hyperlinked with your affiliate URL can help generate revenue instantly. If you’re an affiliate, look for an affiliate toolbox page from the product creator (or email them and ask if they have vertical banners or buttons). You can use simple HTML code to show the banner graphic and have it hyperlinked to the product with your affiliate URL.

Images or text that are placed in your sidebar for ad space sold to other marketers is another instant revenue option. But you have to be careful because if a visitor sees an ad, they’re assuming it’s you who is endorsing this product or service.

Link lists to your other sites can help turn a profit, too. While you may start out as a newbie in the business, your online empire will grow and soon you may have 10-20 websites to call your own. You can link to them in your sidebar and even write a textual description to accompany it.

Widgets that help your visitors navigate or utilize your site can be placed in your sidebar too. Letting them subscribe to your RSS feed, for example, keeps them in tune with what you have to say.

WordPress Widget Options

Whenever you install a new blog, and you look at it, you’ll notice that the sidebar has some default items in it. Yet when you log into your dashboard and look at the widgets, there’s nothing showing up in the sidebar.

You can get rid of those default items and leave your sidebar blank just by adding a text widget and leaving it empty. As soon as anything is added into the sidebar manually by you, the default items disappear.

Log into your dashboard and click on Appearance and then Widgets. This is where you can add items into your sidebar area. And you may have more than one depending on the layout of your theme (like one sidebar on each side of the content for a three-column theme).

You’ll find a list of 15 widgets you can add to your site’s sidebar. First is the AddThis widget. When you drag it into your sidebar, you’ll need to customize it to show the social networking sites the way you want them to be shown and then save and close the widget.

The Calendar widget lets you place a calendar on your sidebar that hyperlinks the days when you made a blog post. The visitors can hover over the day and see what the post title is so they know if they want to read it or not.

You can create a Custom Menu in a widget that showcases whatever elements of your blog you want. You can drag the Pages widget over to highlight the pages if you’d rather they show up here than below the Header. You can sort them and exclude certain ones, too.

The Recent Posts widget lets you choose how many posts are shown. It defaults to five. A Search widget will let your visitors search for blog posts based on certain keywords. A Text widget allows you to place text or HTML code (hyperlinked images, for example) in it.

An Askimet widget just tells people how many Spam comments have been blocked. This may deter spammers from attempting to post comments to your blog. The Archives widget lets you create a drop down menu that shows the month and number of blog posts made during that time frame so visitors can see past blog posts.

The Categories widget does something similar. Visitors can see how many posts are in each category and click through to visit them. The Links widget lets you showcase your blogroll and even the rating you give the links, too.

You may want to add a Meta widget so you can log in from the site’s home page, or showcase participation through the Recent Comments widget. You can also add an RSS widget for subscribers and a Tag Cloud widget to see what’s popular on your site.