It's important (and nice) to have a well-organized and clutter-free blog for the same reasons we all want well-organized and clutter-free homes: so you can find things easily! Only on your blog, it's not YOU finding things, it's your readers, so your organization needs to be even simpler and more straightforward.
Think of your blog organization like the babysitter trying to find the first aid kit or the extra diaper ointment -- you might know exactly where it is in your home (like where you used it last or where your toddler stashed it "safely"), but the babysitter will have a much easier time finding it herself (without calling you or tearing the house apart) if it's in a commonly logical place, like the medicine cabinet or the changing table.
So what are the important things on your blog? That depends entirely on you and your blog -- and your readers. (We spent a month talking about usability and your readers at HE, so check out the Usability 101 series there for a refresher.)
The organization of your blog is important to two main groups: readers who are browsing and readers who are searching for something specific. Browsers are looking to see what you have to offer, getting to know you as a blogger. Searchers have an objective: finding the such-and-such that they are looking for -- a specific tutorial, a quote you shared, a post they particularly liked, etc. As you think about your blog's organization, you want to keep both of these groups and their different needs in mind.
put yourself in your readers' shoes -- what will browsers be interested in? what will searchers be looking for? Those are the important things on your blog and should be featured most prominently in your sidebars and header area/menu bar, just like putting the pajamas out for the babysitter.
For example, here on just Lu, I have a handful of links in a menu bar right under my header image. These links are either important (such as the about me link) or common on-going topics that will give a browser a good idea of what I commonly blog about (such as the bookshelf, craft table and recipe box links). Many bloggers also include a home link in the menu bar -- it's not a bad idea, and it's a must if your blog's header image doesn't link back to your home page (like most do automatically).
Then, in my sidebars, I have some common and important widgets:
- A picture and *very short* about-me blurb lets visitors see you and connect with you. Putting a picture of yourself in the sidebar isn't vain, it's putting a face to your blog -- YOUR face!
- Labels are important to browsers and searchers. More on labels below.
- Archives help both browsers and searchers see what you've posted recently or in a specific time frame (such as around a holiday). I prefer the drop-down type archive because it's easy to browse a month and look at the titles.
- Subscription links to your RSS feed and email subscription are necessities, in my opinion. If you Facebook and/or Twitter, include links to those as well.
- Followers want to follow, so make the GFC (Google Friend Connect) box easy to find -- but not ginormous. Readers can see the number there, so they don't need to see the thumbnail from each and every follower. :)
- A blog button and code are free advertising -- the button is like your brand, so why not get free advertising by making it easy for other to grab and use your button?
- A search box is nice, but not necessary if you have the Blogger toolbar and its search function on your blog. I have both -- they're just a little different and each has its own flaws and shortcomings. But be sure you have at least one way for readers to search your blog -- a searcher will likely go for a search box first, before digging through your labels and archives to find what they're looking for.
The most important thing to remember about a menu bar and your sidebar(s) is to keep them simple. Choose the most important things to feature there. Prioritize: if everything becomes important, *nothing* is important.
In your menu bar, keep it to a single line of links. If you spill to a second line, redesign (smaller font/buttons), reconfigure (such as moving something to a sidebar instead), or reevaluate (cut something out). Kim from seven thirty three has a great tutorial for making your own menu bar and buttons; you can create the menu bar either by using an HTML widget with text and/or images or by using the Pages widget. (My menu bar is an HTML widget containing text links with spacer images in between them.)
With sidebars, a general rule of thumb that I follow is that the contents of the sidebar(s) shouldn't be longer than the average post length -- and shorter sidebars with fewer things in them are definitely better. When you put something new in your sidebar (or evaluate your sidebars' current contents), ask yourself WHY -- why do you want that in the sidebar? why is it important to your readers? Remember to prioritize!
If you find your menu bar and/or sidebars getting to long and/or cluttered, consider consolidating some of their contents to a Blogger page. For example, instead of having four different buttons and code in the sidebar (such as for your blog and the different parties you host), create a page with all four buttons on the page and include a link to that page either in your sidebar or menu bar.
And don't forget to use your post labels to aid your organization. Post labels (sometimes called tags) are for your internal organization only -- not for search engine indexing -- so use them wisely. Your labels should reflect what is in your post, but not in a search-engine type way, listing every possible term someone might search for in reference to your post -- those terms should already be in your post anyway. Labels should be used to group like posts, such as recipes or book reviews, or posts in a series, such as Housewife MacGyver.
The more specific and focused your blog's topic is, the more specific your post labels should probably be. For example, if your blog is only about quilting (or at least *mostly* about quilting), your labels will be more specific to that: binding, cutting pieces, applique, hand-quilting, machine quilting, etc. (Can you tell I'm not a big quilter? :) On the other hand, my blog has a little broader focus than just quilting or even just sewing, so even if I were to post the exact same post about a quilt, my labels wouldn't be that specific because I probably won't have other posts about those exact same topics.
Labels are most effective for both browsers and searchers when labels refer to groups of posts and not just individual posts. So, if I am posting my one-and-only quilt project that I'll probably ever do, I would probably just include the post in with my creations or tutorials tags that I already have. However, if I was posting the first of many quilting projects because I found a new hobby and fell in love, then I'd create a new tag called quilting so that all of those posts can be grouped together.
Labels are visible to your readers both in a labels widget and at the end of each post. You can configure certain labels to NOT show in the labels widget, but every label you give a post will show at the end of each post (unless you deactivate that feature, which I wouldn't recommend). Here on my blog, I have a few labels that I use mainly for my organization, labels that aren't as useful to readers, whether they be browsers or searchers. So, I remove those labels from showing in the labels widget:
For you and your blog, you might prefer more labels (or menu bar links or sidebar information) than I do. And that's fine, of course! We're practicing the Golden Blog Rule (blog how you like to read), so it's only natural that we'll do things differently. :)
What do you do to keep your blog organized?