Setting up the WordPress Sidebar: Six Sidebar Best Practices

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Most WordPress themes include a sidebar area – or at least the option of a sidebar area.

Not only are they an important component of a website’s aesthetics, but the sidebar’s content can also help visitors find what they’re looking for. These duel functions served by the sidebar are important, and personally, I would always choose to go with one.

Once you’ve committed to using a sidebar, knowing what elements to place in there is far more problematic, though – there are widgets for almost everything, so where do you start?

Today, I’m going to help you get the most from the sidebar area. Here are six tips for setting up the WordPress sidebar.

Keep It Clutter Free

The main rule for building the ideal sidebar is to keep things as simple as possible. I see far too many website owners cramming their sidebar with all sorts of widgets and functionality that just overloads visitors.

Popular posts, latest posts, countdown clocks, advertising banners, Facebook followers, calendars, latest Tweets – stop, it’s too much!

Sure, some of these widgets do look pretty cool, and they can add a sense of interactivity and “busyness” to a website, which at first glance seems fun and appealing.

There is one major problem, though: a “busy” sidebar detracts from your content.

When a visitor lands on your website, you want them focused solely on your content. The more they read, the more they understand what you’re about, and the more likely they are to convert.

Remember: your sidebar will sit directly alongside your content. If the sidebar has too much going on, it’s only going to steal focus away from your content.

It’s also worth pointing out that every additional sidebar widget plugin installed adds extra weight to your website. This will only slow down how quickly your site loads – another factor proven to influence conversion rate.

Use It as a Conversion Driver

So you’re committed to keeping your sidebar clutter free, but what widgets should you include?

Remember: The sidebar is displayed on every page (for most websites, at least). That’s premium real estate right there, so your sidebar should be working hard for you to generate maximum value.

How exactly? By driving conversions. What your conversion goals are is up to you.

Most websites use their sidebar to display an opt-in form for their email list. Building a list is one of the most important things you can do, and I would highly recommend placing an opt-in form prominently in your sidebar.

Other websites will display banners linking to their sales page – this is another effective use of the sidebar.

A conversion can be construed as a visitor taking any desirable action, no matter how small. Social shares might not be worth as much to you as some other types of conversions, but they can bring some extra traffic your way and are not to be sniffed at. With this in mind, most websites will add social sharing buttons in the sidebar, too.

By adding an opt-in form, sales banners, and social sharing buttons, your sidebar could be generating three types of conversions. This could have a big impact on your bottom line.

Add an About Widget

People like to know the person behind the content – it’s proven that we find content more credible when we can see the face of the person who wrote it.

Despite this, most of your visitors won’t go out of their way to view your about page. First time visitors who don’t land on your homepage will probably have very little idea about who you are and what you do.

With this in mind, it’s worth placing an About Me widget in your sidebar. This doesn’t have to be particularly long, just a short paragraph (similar to your author bio) describing yourself. It also helps to add an image, as this adds a sense of trustworthiness – people will recognize you, too, which is useful if you post on a range of websites.

If you want to add an About Me bio to your sidebar, I highly recommend you check out the Widget plugin.

Use It to Improve Navigation

Another tactic commonly employed by top websites is to use the sidebar to improve navigation.

In particular, I’m talking about a widget filled with internal links pointing towards relevant posts.

Now, personally I’m not a big fan of displaying your latest posts in one of these widget areas. Why? Because visitors know they can access your latest material from your homepage, so linking to these in your sidebar is an ineffective use of space. I would also refrain from adding a WordPress main menu to the sidebar for this same reason – visitors can see it already at the top of the page.

I’d recommend using a most popular posts widget instead. This is because your popular posts are proven to resonate with an audience – why else are they viewed so much? If you can point new visitors towards these “top” posts, you are introducing them to your best content. This can improve conversion rates, or at the very least attract a loyal readership.

Another popular strategy is linking to related content – for example, posts in the same category. If visitors have an interest in the current article, they will probably want to read articles covering similar topics.

If you want to add a popular posts widget to your sidebar, check out the WordPress Popular Posts plugin.

You can also consider adding an archive widget to your sidebar – WordPress supports an archive widget by default. This is a great way to show visitors how your journey has progressed. It allows them to easily jump forwards and backwards in time to see how your content has developed.

Use Multiple Sidebars

When visitors see the same sidebar over and over again, they stop paying attention to it – this is known as ad blindness.

To combat this well-known problem, try creating multiple sidebars, which rotate with each page view. For example, you could use opt-in forms with different colors, images, and call-to-actions. If you don’t do this, your conversion rate will drop off over time.

To achieve this, consider installing a free plugin like WooSidebars.

WooSidebars also allows you to create custom sidebars to display on specific pages. For example, you could create a dedicated sidebar for posts in a certain category. This allows you to configure the sidebar’s content to appeal to the audience most likely to be reading each post.

When you use language and call-to-actions that speak directly to a particular type of reader, you can boost conversion rates significantly.

Put Your Important Stuff First

My final tip is a simple one: put your most important widgets at the top of the sidebar.

The first item in your sidebar receives the most views, and is therefore the most important item in your sidebar. Prioritize your sidebar, so that the widgets that drive the most value are ordered first.

Final Thoughts

There you have it people: six tips for setting up the perfect WordPress sidebar. Of course, physically setting up the sidebar is really simple to do, thanks to the WordPress drag-and-drop interface for adding widgets — I think this is why so many people get carried away.

Always keep in mind that your sidebar sits right next to your content, and can steal attention away from your words if you’re not careful. Keep your sidebar clean, make sure it adds value, and only use the widgets you really need.

Do you have any tips for setting up the WordPress sidebar? Let us know in the comments section below!


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Shaun Quarton is a freelance blogger from the UK, with a passion for online entrepreneurship, content marketing, and all things WordPress.


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