The sidebar of your WordPress site is a crucial part that needs optimization with care. When used properly, it can help you get double or more email subscribers, page views, sales, etc.
In the WordPress sidebar, you can certainly add whichever widget you like to achieve your purposes, for example, displaying ads to make money, showing recent posts to generate traffic, and displaying a search box to improve site search. Also, you are able to use as many widgets as you like and arrange them in the way you want.
However, there is a big difference between a “good” sidebar and a “bad” one. The former gets you closer to a success, while the latter drives you away. So in this tutorial, we will offer some tips to help you optimize the use of WordPress sidebar.
Tip 1: Learn the Most Popular Usages of WordPress Sidebar
If you are uncertain about what to display in your sidebar or planning to add some more widgets, you can learn the popular usages first, and then select the ones that suit your need. Below are some of the widgets that you probably also want to take advantage of.
Email subscription form
If you are careful, you should have found that many popular blogs have put a subscription form in the sidebar to enable their users to receive updates easily. Such a form helps a lot in building a healthy email list and carrying out an email marketing campaign.
Enabling the search function on your site is important because it contributes much to the user experience. Through the searches, also, more page views are generated. Such a search box is usually displayed near the top of the sidebar. To add one to your WordPress site, use a search plugin or integrate Google Custom Search.
Going social builds your credibility, promotes your site, and increases the interactions between your users and the site. This is why so many bloggers choose to display several social sharing icons at a prominent position of the sidebar. If you have built up profiles on social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, you can do this, too.
The popular posts are the most valuable contents on your WordPress site. Showing these posts to the first-time visitors helps them discover your value, which brings more possibility for them to convert.
If you release updates regularly on a content-heavy site, a recent posts widget makes it easy to locate your new content, which in return increases page views and reduces the bounce rate.
In the case that you are promoting or selling services, you can display ads in the sidebar to gain more revenue easily. However, when doing so, you must pay attention to the design and size of the ads to make sure they fit in the site design and do not upset your readers.
Tip 2: Display the Top Users on Your WordPress Site
If you value your users’ participation and rely on them to build a better community, you can make use of the widgets in the sidebar to encourage the interactions and users’ contribution. Depending on the goal you want to reach, we have the following suggestions.
Display a top commenter list
By using the Top Commentators Widget plugin, you are able to add a sidebar widget to show the top commenters on your homepage easily without editing any file. This widget is good for those who are eager to get more comments.
After installing the plugin, you can simply go to Appearance > Widgets, then drag and drop the widget named “Top Commentators Widget” to a widgetized area to make it work. Before saving the widget, you may need to change the settings to your needs. Leaving them to the default is also OK.
List the most active users in the sidebar
A good way to increase user engagement is to gamify your site, which you can achieve by adding a points system. With such a system, users gain certain points when they complete the actions defined by you, such as registering an account, visiting your site, submitting a comment, receiving a comment, and publishing a post. You can decide the point value of each action by yourself.
As most plugins offering a points system are built with a widget, you can show the top users gaining the most points in a certain period of time in WordPress sidebar without much effort made.
Tip 3: Add an Archives Widget in the Sidebar
Nowadays, a lot of bloggers have added archives on their blogs, but to be honest, few of them have realized the full power of an archives widget. By displaying posts based on the publishing time, an archives widget offers an easy way for you and your users to discover the posts on your site.
Some bloggers would like to display archives in the footer section, but we would recommend the sidebar more. WordPress comes with a nice archives widget by default, so you can just drag it to the sidebar to get it activated.
With the built-in widget, you will get the following archives.
The shortcoming of this widget is that it does not allow you to decide the months to display, so that blogs with a long history could have an endless archives list. In this case, you can use a plugin like Annual Archive to gain better functionality. This plugin extends the default archives widget with many more options.
Tip 4: Make the Right Decision of Sidebar Location and Widget Order
To begin with, you need to make the proper choice between the right sidebar and the left sidebar. After all, the proper sidebar location can effectively increase the chances for people to check and to interact with the sidebar contents.
To make this decision, you need to consider the common reading habit. When checking a webpage, our eyes will move from the left to the right automatically, which means our final attention is on the right hand. In this case, if you hope people can engage with your sidebar more, you’d better switch it from left to right.
In addition to the location, you also need to consider the order of each widget on your sidebar. In most cases, people are much more likely to be engaged with the top items and may skip through the central part and scroll down to the bottom quickly.
Due to this, you’d better make sure that the items you want people to pay attention are displayed on the top of the sidebar, such as the advertisements and the opt-in form.
Tip 5: Don’t Stuff Your Sidebar with Too Many Content
It is your freedom to add all your wanted widgets in the sidebar. However, we don’t suggest filling the sidebar with 5 or more widgets because this makes your site look cluttered and spammy, especially when you display too many ads.
You have to keep the sidebar clean by only serving the most important purposes, for example, the subscription form, search box, and recent posts. Those less-important widgets like maps, chat box and little games should be avoided.
A good sidebar working for almost all blogs could include a search box, followed by social icons, a recent posts widget, and then a popular posts widget. When you display ads in the sidebar, you have to pay more attention to the placement. A/B split tests may help you make the decision.
To check your sidebar widget, you can enter the WordPress admin panel and hit the Appearance button for navigating to the Widgets section. Here, you will find all the widgets that are currently showcased on your sidebar and you can painlessly remove them by clicking the Delete button.
In addition, it is possible that you do not display too many things on the sidebar, but your sidebar still looks busy and cluttered without the enough spaces between different widgets. In this case, to break up this clutter situation, you can put up a thin border between each widget.
Tip 6: Display Different Sidebar Content on Different Pages
The sidebars on your homepage and other pages don’t need to be the same, and in fact, having different sidebars on different parts of your site works much better than keeping a single one.
If you are working on displaying different sidebar content, the Display Widgets plugin can help a lot. Instead of creating multiple sidebars, this plugin makes changing the sidebar content easy by allowing you to hide and show the widgets displayed on different pages, custom taxonomies and categories.
After the plugin is activated, you can find that many extra options are added to each widget in your sidebar, so you can simply check the pages on which you want the widget to show or hide. This plugin is very easy and smart to use.
The Easy Custom Sidebar plugin is also a great option to try. With it, you can create multiple custom sidebars and replace them with your default sidebar.
Here, you can click the Theme Sidebars button after the plugin installation. And then, you can create the new sidebar by giving it a name and clicking the Save Sidebar button.
Once you have created your custom sidebar, you can choose where to apply the sidebar replacement. For instance, you can show it for all or some of your posts and pages, all the posts in some specific categories, all the posts that bear the particular tags and many more. Note that this plugin achieves the AJAX search function that allows you to easily and quickly find the target posts, pages and categories that you are looking to apply this replacement.
In addition, it is possible that your website already has multiple default sidebars. If so, you need to determine which sidebar will be replaced with your custom ones.
Now, you can click the Widgets button to target your newly created sidebar, and then, drag your wanted widgets into it.
Tip 7: Make a Sidebar Widget Sticky When Necessary
If you have multiple widgets displayed in the sidebar, a strategy to highlight one of them is to make the widget sticky. However, you must note that sticky widget is not suitable for any content. You’d better use it only for things like the email subscription form, social sharing buttons and some free services. And you should avoid making ads sticky because this can annoy your visitors.
To enable sticky widget, simply install a plugin – Q2W3 Fixed Widget. When activated, it adds a checkbox of “Fixed widget” in the widget options. For the widget you’d like to stick, check the option and save the widget. That’s all.
Tip 8: Selectively Display Some Sidebar Widgets for Different Posts
This tip is a little bit similar to the previous one, but can save you a lot of efforts without the need to create an entire new sidebar. Instead, depending on the different contents people are looking for, you can show them different sidebar information by hiding some widgets based on different situations. Generally, this can have a huge impact on how your readers interact with your website sidebar.
This time, we highly recommend you to try the plugin of Display Widgets. With it, you can modify the sidebar contents for different posts, categories, pages and custom taxonomies easily. This can help you avoid generating multiple sidebars and copying the sidebar widgets.
In addition, this great plugin allows you to showcase different widgets for different users. For instance, if you want to showcase the promoted information or some special website activities to your logged in readers only but not the common visitors on the sidebar, this feature can be useful.
Now, you simply need to install the Display Widgets plugin and click the Widgets button. Here, you can click each of your sidebar widgets to decide who can see this widget and which page can display it totally based on your needs.