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What Is A Sidebar In WordPress? (+ How-To)

what is a sidebar in wordpress

In the process of working with new website owners, many ask us what is a sidebar in WordPress.

Quick answer: It’s a vertical section on your website that’s beside the core content area with all these extra goodies (read: widgets).

One of the most IMPORTANT tasks is to make your website EASY TO USE for your visitors.

The WordPress sidebar is one element of your website that can help boost user experience.

However, sidebars are often misused and misunderstood in WordPress.

In this post, we’ll explain WHAT a sidebar is in WordPress, WHERE you can find it, HOW to use it, and even share some quick DOS and DON’TS for WordPress sidebars.

So, What Exactly is a WordPress Sidebar?

A sidebar in WordPress is a widgetized area that WordPress uses to display content that’s not part of the main content.

You can add built-in WordPress widgets, such as Recent Posts, Tag Cloud or a Search Bar.

Some themes and plugins have their own set of widgets that you can add to display EVEN MORE information.

Note: One of the widgets we use is the MailChimp Sign-Up Form.

Where to Find a WordPress Sidebar

where to find a wordpress sidebar
Typically, a WordPress sidebar sits vertically along the left or the right side of the main content area.

However, you can also find it in other locations below or above the content area, footer or header, or anywhere else in the theme.

If it’s located in one of these places, it’s usually horizontal rather than vertical.

How to Use a WordPress Sidebar

Most WordPress themes come with sidebars in place. (Even extra widgets.)

All you have to do is add content to it. (0 coding necessary!)

You can do so by going to Appearance > Widgets or by going to Appearance > Customize and using the Live Customizer.

You’ll see a list of all the sidebars you have and the available widgets that you can add.

How to Add/Edit a Sidebar With Widgets

Option 1

how to customize your sidebar with live preview in wordpress
To add a widget to a sidebar, drag it over or click on the Add Widget button if you’re using the Live Customizer.

ADD the content and ADJUST the widget to your liking, then click Done.

You can rearrange widgets, configure the content, and delete them if you change your mind and don’t want to use it.

Don’t forget to hit the Publish button if you’re using the Live Customizer to add your widgets.

Option 2

how to add edit a sidebar with widgets in wordpress
Personally, I like using the Appearance > Widgets approach more. For me, it’s easier and less distracting.

Depending on the theme you use, you DON’T even need to click the Publish button. The sidebar area updates automatically.

If you ever want to switch to Option 1, you can also just click the Manage with Live Preview, located at the top.

Top 5 Things to Include in Your Sidebar

The purpose of a WordPress sidebar is to make your site EASIER to use and ENCOURAGE users to stay longer on your site.

As such, here are top five things you should consider including in your sidebar:

  • A list of popular or recent posts to encourage visitors to stay longer
  • An email subscription form to help you grow your list
  • Search bar to make it easy for visitors to find content
  • Event promotion if you’re a business and have an upcoming virtual or in-person event
  • Your most popular service(s) or product(s)

Dos and Don’ts for WordPress Sidebars

Now that we’ve covered what a WordPress sidebar is and how to use it, let’s go over some sidebar dos and don’ts.

WordPress Sidebar Dos

When working on your sidebar, do:

  • Consider the placement of your sidebars and how it fits with the rest of your site. For example, using a sidebar on your blog page is natural. But having the same sidebar on your homepage or sales page will be counter-productive.
  • If you want to promote a piece of content or an offer consistently throughout your site, add it to the sidebar.
  • If you use ads on your site, consider adding them to the sidebar rather than placing them in the middle of the content.
  • Add only information that is relevant and make it easier to navigate around your site.
  • Use content-aware sidebars that display different content based on the page they’re on. You can use a plugin like Content Aware Sidebars to help with this.

WordPress Sidebar Don’ts

On the other hand:

  • Avoid adding too many widgets as this will make your sidebar more cluttered and difficult to use.
  • Don’t install too many third-party widgets or plugins so as to not increase the chances of plugin and theme conflicts. (They can also slower your website load.)
  • Go easy with the ads in the sidebar as too many ads can make your site appear spammy.

Final Thoughts

A WordPress sidebar typically resides on the left or right hand side of the main page or post content.

However, you can also find it in other locations such as before or after the content.

The sidebar helps make your website easier to navigate when YOU USE IT RIGHT.

And point your visitors to your MOST essential pages and resources.

Use the tips in this article to optimize your sidebar and provide your website visitors with a better user experience.

Like a CHAMP.

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