Friday, September 26, 2008
Repurposing: What to do with sidebars

I haven’t really covered repurposing yet, with the exception of discussing print heds vs. web heds, and more will come, don’t worry. But for now, I got a question via email about what to do with sidebars when repurposing:

I’m encountering a few problems with posting sidebars from articles. Have you noticed any best practices when it comes to posting sidebars along with the original articles they appeared with? For example, are others simply opting not to post sidebars online? Linking to them from the bottom of the article? Integrating them into the content pages?

Direction has been set for me to upload features (1500-3000 words) for some of our publications. I end up breaking up the content every 500-600 words which results in six pages or more for people to click through…with the addition of sidebars the thing becomes a monster. Right now, I’m wondering if I should just add a link to the end of each article that jumps to a separate page containing the sidebar. Wanted to know how others are approaching this.

This is a really good question, and unfortunately there’s no easy answer except “all of the above.” There’s no good formula for best practices in this case – it’s the web editor’s job to look at each piece individually and decide what works best. But here are some thoughts on each option.

Cut the sidebar
It can be hard when repurposing to cut content – after all, the print editors worked hard on every word of that article, and everything’s in there for a reason. But sometimes, you need to cut. Look at the piece, look at the sidebar, and decide if it really needs to be in there or if it’s extraneous information. (After all, I’ll step up and admit that I often find sidebars distracting in print when I’m reading a story.) Sometimes, you just need to leave it out. (Cutting part of the story is a discussion for another day.)

Build the sidebar separately
If the sidebar can stand on its own, and the word count is high enough, then go for it – build it as a separate article and link the two to each other. This is especially valuable if you’re aiming for search traffic, as you can optimize each piece with different keywords.

Tack it on the end
If you don’t want to cut and you don’t want to build it separately, then you can add sidebars to the end of the article, whether that means at the bottom of the page or on their own page. This can be awkward, but it really depends on the content. Try it out and see how it works for the article you’re working on. (The question of whether you should be splitting up features at all is another one to think about.)

Integrate it
If you’ve got the time and are feeling really creative, you can try to integrate the sidebar into the story in what can end up being a complete rewrite. An example of this just came up on today (sorry for overusing my own site – please send in more examples) with an article that we were repurposing, “5 secrets for hot dates with your spouse“: I really wanted to use the sidebar, but it was very short. The editor working on the piece did a great rewrite and made each of the five points from the sidebar into a heading for larger sections repurposed from the main body of the original article.

I’m sorry I don’t have an easy answer, but I think the theories behind how to repurpose are in flux right now – more on this in future posts.

Please share your thoughts on repurposing sidebars – and any content, for that matter – in the comments.

- Kat Tancock
About Me
Kat Tancock
Kat Tancock is a freelance writer, editor and digital consultant based in Toronto. She has worked on the sites of major brands including Reader's Digest, Best Health, Canadian Living, Homemakers, Elle Canada and Style at Home and teaches the course Creating Website Editorial at Ryerson University.
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