Power-Up your WordPress Sidebars and Widgets

Power-Up your WordPress Sidebars and Widgets

The sidebar is one of the key features of a WordPress site. As the platform has evolved, the amount of things you can do with a sidebar has increased. Today there is almost no limit to what information and content can be displayed in the sidebar, which can often be generated dynamically.

In this post we will look at some ways you can power-up or enhance your site’s sidebar area and make it an even more useful and valuable space. By the end of this guide you should be able to transform your sidebar area from simply being an area showing the same links and content on each page of your site, to something more dynamic and useful to your visitors.

Making the Most of the WordPress Sidebar Area

These tips, often executed with the help of a free plugin allow you to make the most of your sidebar area and use it in a more thoughtful way. From creating a floating widget, to displaying adverts, and even hiding the sidebars on specific posts, there are plenty of ways you can boost the functionality of the default WordPress sidebar area.

Create a Sticky Widget

Making one of your sidebar widgets sticky, or floating, means that it will always be visible to your readers, even as they scroll down the page.  This is a great tactic to deploy if you have an important widget that you want to ensure is always on display.  This approach should help increase the chances of your readers interacting with that widget, whether that is to sign up to your newsletter, click on an advert, or visit other pages on your site.

The type of widget that could be a suitable candidate for being made sticky or floating, could be any of the following:

  • An important navigational aid such as a list of your best posts
  • A newsletter optin signup form
  • Adverts for products or services
  • Social network buttons

Making a widget sticky or floating is very easy thanks to the use of a free plugin. That plugin is Q2W3 Fixed Widget (Sticky Widget) and it’s very easy to use. After installing this sidebar plugin, all of your sidebar widgets will now include a check box to make them fixed.

Improve Sidebar Sticky Widget

While this means that all of your widgets could become sticky if you wish, this probably isn’t a good idea and we recommend making just one of them a floater to avoid overwhelming and confusing your readers, while also diluting their power.

This is an effective tactic and is one that can be implemented very easily, so it’s definitely worth trying out if you want to improve your WordPress sidebar.

Monetise your Sidebar

One great way to make money from your WordPress site is to display adverts in the sidebar. These could be adverts for related products you are an affiliate for, which would earn you a commission should someone click on the advert and then buy the product.

You could also monetise your side by selling advertising space with a plugin like BuySellAds which connects your site to that particular service. By using BuySellAds you can easily find relevant advertisers to feature on your site. Alternatively you can manage the sale of the space on your site yourself, by using a plugin like WP Ad Center.

To find out more about managing the sale of adverts on your site, read our guide to the best ad management plugins for WordPress.

Remove the Sidebar

Even though this post is about using your widgets and sidebars more effectively, sometimes it can be appropriate to remove this feature from your site. The good thing about WordPress is that it can be done on an individual post or page basis, as opposed to removing them for the whole site.

Hiding the sidebar for an individual page is easy enough, but doing it for posts isn’t quite as straightforward. How you hide the sidebar for an individual page can depend on your theme. However, most good themes come with a full width page template which can be selected from the WordPress page editor, usually on the Page Attributes metabox. The name of the template can vary depending on your theme but look for one that indicates that it’s full width or doesn’t include a sidebar.

Improve Sidebar No Sidebar

When it comes to hiding the sidebar for an individual post, it’s not quite so easy. A good option is to install the free Custom Post Template plugin. This plugin allows you to select a template for individual posts in the same way you would for pages. The only downside is you have to create the post templates yourself.

To create a post template which doesn’t include a sidebar follow these steps:

  1. Make a copy of your current theme’s single.php file
  2. Name that copy single-nosidebar.php
  3. Add this comment to the file Template Name Posts: No Sidebar
  4. Remove the line <?php get_sidebar(); ?> from the file
  5. From the post editor screen, select the ‘No Sidebar’ template from the new Post Template metabox

Improve Sidebar No Sidebar Posts

Examples of when you might want to use this approach could be for pages or posts which require a wider content area, such as those containing large photos or videos. Another good time to use this technique is when you want to remove all distractions from the user experience.

While sidebars can be great for helping your visitors find their way around the site, a sidebar that is too eye-catching and distracting can cause visitors to leave a post before they’ve finished reading it. By removing the sidebar for important posts, such as product pages or landing pages, you can improve the chance of them reading all the way to the end. On those posts you can still feature the widgets by displaying them in the footer or even inserting them into the post itself.

Insert Widgets into a Post or Page

By default widgets can only be displayed in specific areas. With most themes this is usually limited to the sidebars and footer widget areas. However, by installing a free plugin such as Widgets on Pages you can easily insert them into posts and pages.

The plugin allows you to create additional sidebars which contain widgets. Then by using a shortcode, those sidebars can be inserted into posts and pages. By using a column layout plugin such as WP Easy Columns, you can add columns to your posts to arrange your in-content widgets more effectively by adding columns to the post layout.

Displaying widgets on a page or post has many good uses, such as easily inserting lists of posts such as recent posts, or those from a specific category, by inserting the corresponding widgets. Other options include streaming photos from your accounts on other sites such as Flickr, or by displaying your Facebook feed via a plugin.

Post-Specific Sidebars

By default WordPress allows you to create one main sidebar area which is displayed for all posts. However, this isn’t always the best approach. Sometimes you might have a sidebar widget that contains information about you or the site. If the user then visitors the about page on your site, it doesn’t make sense to display the ‘about widget’ as well.

Creating multiple sidebars, each with their own widgets, which are then only displayed when the visitor is viewing a specific post, can help you display more relevant information to your readers. One good way to make use of this approach is to create a widget that displays adverts that are relevant to a particular category on your site.

For example you could have a category related to web hosting. Then each time a visitor is viewing a post from that category, a widget could be displayed with links to the best web hosting providers. If the visitor then views a post in the plugins category, a widget could be shown with links to the most popular plugin posts on your site.

By making the sidebar widgets relevant to the post the reader is viewing, you can increase the chances of them clicking on the links in the sidebar, which could either take them to another page on your site, or to an external site.

The free Content Aware Sidebars plugin is a good choice for creating post-specific sidebars and assigning them to posts.

Conclusion

Hopefully you’ve now got some new ideas for making the most of the sidebars on your site. With plenty of free WordPress sidebar plugins available, adding extra functionality needn’t cost you anything and in some cases could even earn you money.

How are you using your site’s sidebar area and have you added any new functionality to it?