Showcasing your content on a WordPress powered website has become so wonderful now with the sliders, jQuery, and so many nifty tools. However, even with these new innovations in the web technologies, the web canvas is still very limited in terms of layout choices. It is difficult to come up with an innovative layout and structure while keeping a site user friendly.
Sidebars are considered an easy and conventional way to showcase content and offer other things on a website. Sidebars are not necessarily for blogs but I guess blogs made them really popular. Now when a visitor arrives on a blog with a sidebar, they immediately know where to look for the subscription options, links, related content, and so on.
The challenge for website owners is that over time the sidebar becomes too cluttered, confusing and often useless. In this post we will discuss some ideas about how to use a sidebar smartly to increase your readership, pageviews and income.
Make your sidebars interesting
People love colors and design experts strongly recommend using colors to highlight differences or usage of an element. The same theory is applicable for your sidebars. Make them look slightly different from your content. With just a few lines of CSS you can change the background color of your sidebar, put a line between content and sidebar, increase padding, and do lots of other things.
People who made your WordPress theme are not the only experts on design, you can be your own expert, if you think that your sidebar is dull and unnoticeable then go ahead and play with CSS.
Using Conditional Widgets Plugin
We can't be sure how it got started but it seems like a lot of website owners really don’t care about their sidebars. They have the same sidebar on each page of their website. This might be useful on some websites but most websites today are trying to be dynamic by offering different views and tools to their visitors to interact with the website. A static sidebar that does not change is boring and it is often ignored by the visitors. On the other hand, a website with different sidebars on different pages makes it more interesting.
Widgets are an important part of your Sidebar. Most WordPress themes are Widget ready and you can easily drag and drop items in your sidebar. However, some themes are not smart enough to realize that website owners would probably need different widgets on different sections of their websites. For example, If you have a blog where you are already showing your recent posts on the main page then the ‘Recent Posts’ widget makes no sense.
A simple solution to this problem is Conditional Widgets plugin. This plugin adds options on each Widget panel where you can selectively hide or display a Widget on specific sections of your website. For example, you can hide Recent Posts Widget on the main page and continue displaying it on single and archive pages. You can disable widgets on certain pages or create an altogether different set of widgets for each section.
If you are not a developer, and you are unhappy with the limitation of sidebar and widget ready areas in your theme then you can use this plugin to use the same sidebar but with different widgets for each section.
Decide What’s not Needed in Your Sidebar
Look at your sidebar and try to find out things that are not being used by your site’s visitors. Check your Site Analytics reports and you can figure out which links are not getting any attention from your visitors. Now you have two options. You can either drop those links or widgets from your sidebar, or make them work for your website.
For example, many new bloggers join blog directories in an attempt to quickly gain some links for their new blogs. These directories ask them to put a button on their website as a reciprocal link back to the directory. If you have those buttons on your website for quite some time and your blog is already getting low visitors then perhaps you should get rid of those buttons.
Blogroll are nearly dead, there is no need for you to have a blogroll or links widget on each page of your website. Either use Conditional Widget plugin to limit their visibility to the main page only or just get rid of those outgoing links. Not because you are greedy and don’t want to share link juice but because these links are not adding any value to your sidebar.
There could be lots of other things on your sidebar that are useless, uninteresting, ugly, and unnecessary. For example buttons for social media profiles where you don’t even participate, an embedded youtube video, a flickr stream that takes ages to load, flags of the countries your visitors came from, traffic counters, links to directories, links to unrelated websites, etc.
Even if you like those things but your visitors and search engines both want you to provide a better user experience for them.
Adjust Priorities on Sidebar
Each website owner has different priorities. Some want to sell stuff, some want their content to be read and their advertisers visited. Whatever your goal is, it will not work out if your website does not provide a good user experience. Keeping that in mind you need to think what comes first on your sidebar.
If you want your website visitors to click on ads then you would want to put them at the top. But do your visitors want to click on the ads? Are they coming to your website so that they can click on advertisements? No they are not coming for ads they are coming to look at your content. All successful bloggers and website owners know that throwing an ad on the users does not work as well as them leading them to an ad. This means that your sidebar should start from you, use the top widgets in your sidebars to tell users about your website, or ask them to subscribe, follow, like, or showcase your popular content.
When you are adjusting priorities on your sidebar think about what visitors want to do on your website. If they like your content they would want to follow you, they might want to search your website for specific content, they might want to know who you are, they would probably want to see why your website is awesome.
Multiple Sidebars - Do You Really Need Them?
There are some great WordPress themes offering multiple sidebars. On their Demo pages these sidebars look very useful but do you really need those sidebars? There are even themes with four column layouts with the ability to have three sidebars on each page. Unless you are publishing as much content as The New York Times, I don’t see a reason why would anyone want so much clutter on their website.
Remember that the key to the success of any design and layout is testing. Test different layouts on your site and see which one helps you most. Multiple sidebars could work wonders for a website that needs them. For example, I made a recipes website for my sister and even though I thought the website does not need two sidebars but my sister wanted to have Cover-WP theme. So we experimented and found out that the layout with multiple sidebars increased our pageviews slightly.
WordPress Plugins For Sidebars and Widgets
There are many things you can do with your sidebars to make them dynamic and more interesting. There are many free and premium WordPress plugins to help you reinvent your sidebars and make them more effective. We have already discussed Conditional Widgets above, lets see what other plugins can be used for our sidebars.
Sidebar and Widget Manager for WordPress
This plugin helps you manage your Widgets and create custom sidebars. It can also be used to replace the Conditional Widget plugin. With this plugin you can set Widget visibility and can even set options for individual posts. With custom sidebars you can create sidebars for specific areas, posts, pages, categories of your website. You can save your custom sidebar and use it on different sections.
Custom Widget Areas for WordPress
Custom Widget Areas comes with an innovative approach to managing sidebars and widgets. It allows you to create Custom Widget Areas where you can add your widgets. It also allows you to create custom widgets, you can add custom widgets into content as well using shortcodes. This plugin also allows you to set default sidebars for different templates and choose visibility options for individual widgets.
Perhaps the time will come when sidebars will become outdated and old-fashioned. The process has begun now with so many devices and displays your sidebars come at the bottom and that too when you are using a proper responsive layout. However, this important layout element is still useful in selling advertisements, building readership and increasing the value of your website. Use wisely before it becomes obsolete.