Understanding the WordPress Sidebar

wordpress sidebarSidebars can serve as incredibly valuable space on your blog or website, and when you utilize them with good design, a thoughtful layout and quality plugins, they can be instrumental in helping you reach your online goals.

What is a WordPress Sidebar?

As its name suggests, a sidebar is not the main space for content on a website or blog, but rather a side panel or panels along the left or right hand side of the page, generally filled with secondary content. That’s not to say the content in sidebars isn’t important – in fact, this secondary content can be essential to a site or blog’s usability, and in achieving goals and conversions.

Sidebars can appear on either side of the main display page, or in some cases both sides. Some sites even employ multiple sidebars in the same side of their webpages.

What is the Purpose of a Sidebar?

The content featured in sidebars is usually considered secondary content – meaning it needs to be included in a prominent space without taking the focus from your primary content (like your blog posts).

When used well, sidebars offer practical and important functionality that can be customized to meet the specific objectives of your online presence. There are tons of reasons to add a sidebar to your website or blog, but these are the three most popular reasons:

  1. Your sidebar can be designed to help users navigate their way around your website or blog in ways your primary navigation doesn’t allow (like by category or tag, or by recent or most popular).
  2. Sidebar content can highlight sections of the site that need to gain more attention to meet your goals, like encouraging email subscription sign-ups or social media followers, or linking to a buy now option or shop space.
  3. Particularly in the case of blogs, sidebars are considered valuable real estate for unobtrusive, but still high profile, advertisements, and many bloggers feature ad space in their sidebars as a means of generating revenue.
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Adding Sidebars

Sidebars are fairly easy to add to your website or blog, and different themes enable the control of widgets on different pages and post types to allow you to control the secondary content you want to showcase on your site.

If you want to add a sidebar to your existing WordPress website or blog, check out your current theme’s capabilities in the admin, since many themes offer sidebar options. If your current theme doesn’t offer the option to include a sidebar, but you’re experienced in web development (or you can employ the skills of someone who is) you may be able to add a sidebar using HTML and CSS.

Alternatively, there are tons of great free and premium themes available that offer sidebar options, so if you’re happy to rejig the appearance of your site, switching themes may be a good option.

Controlling Sidebar Content

Once you have your sidebar set up on your site, controlling the content that appears there is crucial. Though sidebars are designed not to take the focus away from your main content, they are still prominent, so it’s important to make sure they’re aesthetically pleasing, and functional.

Sidebar plugins are a great way to ensure your sidebar content looks great and functions the way it’s supposed to, and some plugins even offer the added flexibility of showcasing different sidebar content across different pages and posts.

Widget Logic is a great sidebar plugin to help you make the most of your sidebar real estate, and is a hugely popular option among users having been downloaded more than 800,000 times (and been given an average of 4.3 out of 5 stars by users). Widget Logic’s greatest asset is that it gives every widget an extra control field to allow you to specify which pages that widget appears on, meaning you can optimize your sidebars for greater conversion rates specific to your main content.

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Have an additional question about getting the most from your website’s sidebars? Be sure to post it in the comments below.

Nikki is a professional freelance writer and story teller with a passion for the web and technology. She writes for WP Dev Shed and amongst a roster of other clients.

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