If you frequent any of the bigger blogs lately, you will notice a new trend that is emerging in the WordPress sites: toolbars & notification bars. With the biggest blogs (such as the new notification bar on Problogger) the most popular option seems to be A/B split testing with the HelloBar.
However, this is far from the only option, and in many instances may not be the best option for your blog or what you are trying to accomplish with your notification bar. This is a real key with what notifaction/toolbar plugin that you should choose: clearly define what you are trying to accomplish.
Are you trying to navigate visitors to a “Start Here” page? Are you trying to build ‘Likes’ and more followers on your social networks? Are you promoting a new product of yours? Are you letting visitors know of new projects in the works? These are important questions to ask and answer before you install a notification bar at all, let alone choose a specific option.
So let’s look at some of the better offerings out there, and what they seem to be best used for (from other reviews and my own experiences).
The Hello Bar
Currently one of the more popular offerings, getting exposure from sites like Problogger, IWillTeachYouToBeRich, DIYThemes blog and many others, the Hello Bar is a simple drop down bar at the top of your screen which offers the ability to leave a message with an included link, using any text or color that you’d like.
The “Pro” version also offers a ton of other features, such as branding removal, split testing, different textures, and other miscellaneous goods, but it comes at a cost: a monthly price of $25, which can be useful if you plan on using for multiple sites, but quite costly over a years time if you only plan on using it for one.
However, as can be seen by the use of it on big blogs, it can get the job done. From my perspective, the Hello Bar is best used for directing users to a landing page, especially one that offers a freebie and invites them to subscribe to your newsletter (if you are familiar with blogging tactics and internet marketing, you’ll have heard of this strategy many times).
From my tests, offering the freebie right up in the Hello Bar is the best way to get “clicks”, or people actually clicking the link featured in your Hello Bar. Something along the lines of “Want to grab a free copy of my e-Book ‘How To Be A WordPress Expert’? Get it for free here!‘ (with the italic text being the link) will work just fine.
Another excellent use for this bar seems to be as the “introduction” to your site. There are other popular plugins for this, such as What Would Seth Godin Do, but none of the offerings that I’ve seen can compete with the attention that is grabbed by the Hello Bar.
From my own personal testing, I have not seen high conversions for auxiliary things connected with your blog, such as a link to a Facebook or Twitter page: it just does not seem to get you many more likes, and I place this fault at it’s offering of only a link, like buttons and like boxes convert much better than links to pages and Twitter accounts.
The last thing the bar seems to be good for (though I haven’t test this myself) is announcements for new products, as I’ve seen Problogger use the Hello Bar to link to his new book’s landing page, which I am sure is a great way to notify previous (and long time) visitors of a new product release, without spamming them about it with more than one blog post.
So, we’ve established that the Hello Bar is great for sending traffic to pages that attempt to convert, either email subscribers or sales, but what if our aims are different than that at the moment? Perhaps you’d like to generate some more social proof, and would like to increase likes on a new Facebook page associated with your site: what options do you have?
The most effective toolbar I’ve found thus far for this seems to be the Attention Grabber plugin. What makes this the most powerful option for building ‘likes’ is it’s ability to embed different types of iframes into the bar itself, which includes (you guessed it) the Facebook ‘like’ button, which you can link directly to your page, so that when users click ‘like’, you have added another fan to your growing users on your FB page.
I’ve found this to be much more successful than the other more cluttered toolbars that offer this option, such as the Meebo bar (which I’m sure you’ve seen). The reason seems to be the lack of options and the clean look of the Attention Grabber; while the Meebo bar and others offer users a myriad of options, the Attention Grabber can feature just the ‘like’ button and a simple message on a clean design, which seems to convert much better for likes.
To see it in action (at least at the time of this post) you can check out one of my projects using this plugin, an electronic music blog, that simply asks users to support the site with a ‘like’ if they have enjoyed the music featured, and as you can see from my current ‘likes’ amount, it seems to do pretty well.
The Attention Grabber also features all of the options of the Hello Bar for a single purchase price of $12, and can be installed on unlimited sites, making it a far more affordable option over the current Hello Bar subscription rate, and it also offers a lot of great features such as fixed positioning (both top and bottom of screen), multiple messages, beautiful typography, and other useful additions.
So we have established the Attention Grabber as a great alternative to the Hello Bar, but what about if we are simply interested in collecting email subscribers, what is our best option then?
Developed by Glen Allsopp of the ViperChill “viral marketing” blog, the ViperBar is a plugin that adds a notification bar at the top of your page, but with an excellent twist: it can be used to ask visitors to enter their email to get updates from your blog, a great way to convert subscribers, as it will obviously grab their attention right away.
I’ve tested the conversion rates of the Hello Bar and the ViberBar for email subscriptions, as have a number of other bloggers in their aptly titled “ViperBar vs. Hello Bar” posts, and the conclusion seems to be clear: for email subscriptions, the ViperBar out performs the traditional offerings of the Hello Bar.
Users seem to be more primed to enter an email with a good message at the top of the ViperBar and an email box waiting for them, rather than clicking on an additional link to go to another page. If the bar is properly incorporated into the color scheme of your site, I think that you will find that this plugin does quite well for email conversions.
Which leads to maybe my biggest problem with the ViperBar: it has the worst design offering of the 3, this may be my own opinion, or maybe it’s the users of the ViperBar can’t seem to get it together, but I’ve seen many sites using the bar improperly, that damage the overall design of the site because the bar is not incorporated into the design properly.
The link above to the plugin itself will show you a great way to use the bar: Glen, the creator, obviously cares about design, and as you can see on his blog, he incorporates his own plugin nicely; the bar stands out, but in a complimentary way, and doesn’t distract readers by being ugly or too obvious.
There is also an upgrade to the ViperBar simply called the ViperBar Pro, but this can only be accessed through Glen’s separate Cloud Blogging course, and it appears to offer additional features.
Hopefully this has been a useful overview of some of the better notification bars out there, and hopefully you find the right one for your site.