Widgets are a useful WordPress feature that can go a long way towards making your site more usable. They have been around for quite a while now, quietly establishing the use of sidebars as a common design element in blogs and site pages. As of today, they are a mandatory occurrence in most sites, and are used to display useful information or navigation links. In this article we will take a look at some of the best practices to create an effective sidebar that complements your site nicely.

The Purpose Of The Sidebar

First off, we must ask ourselves an important question: What do I need a sidebar for? Though the answer may be obvious to some, it is no less important to clearly define its purpose. The last thing you want to do is to randomly throw some widgets on it, just to fill it up with content– in fact, doing so will only hurt your site by adding clutter and noise to your pages.

The sidebar should be complementary to your content. That means it should contain information that is relevant to the pages the user is reading, and provide follow-up links or related resources that may be of use. This becomes the most apparent on blogs, where the sidebar is primarily used to list post categories, recent comment activity, or related articles. If you think about it, all of these elements are related to a single blog posts in one way or another, and may be a natural progression to invite a user to remain in the site.

For more complex sites, you should always keep in mind what is the main objective of the page— not the site as a whole, but the page itself. For example, in a contact page you might lean towards displaying additional contact information, or showing a small message regarding response times. In an about page that describes who you are, you might be more interested in displaying your most recent publications, what kind of services you offer, or your social media profiles.

Choosing Useful Widgets

When it comes to displaying widgets, you have a lot of options to choose from. In addition to all the core WordPress widgets, you can also have custom widgets by installing some plugins, such as the Mailchimp Newsletter. If you happen to use one of our premium WordPress themes, you have access to some custom widgets geared towards adding more diverse content in your sidebar.

It’s very important to choose the right widgets, especially the ones that go first. As you go down through the sidebar, they will become less visible to the user, so it’s generally a good idea to place the most useful ones at the top. Make note however, that ‘useful’ means the ones that are the most important towards achieving your site goals. For instance, if one of your main objectives is to make users get in touch with you, you should place your contact form widget at the very top. There is no point on catering to your audience if that means your site will have to close shop, so it’s a good idea to align your objective with what your visitors want.

Lots of WordPress Widgets

With a few plugins, you can add virtually anything to a sidebar.

Keeping Ads To A Minimum

If you’re a freelancer or a blogger, chances are you’re featuring a number of advertising banners in your sidebar. A word of caution on this: while generating advertising revenue might be one of your primary income sources, it’s wise to display them with moderation. Having too many ads cluttered in one place can both reduce their effectiveness and also make your site lose credibility. After all, your sidebar should be complementary to your pages, and not a disconnected area where irrelevant content is displayed.

If possible, you should always strive to make the elements in your sidebar a natural complement for your primary content area. If you can find a way to make your advertising banners a relevant element in your page, it may help boost your click-through rates and the value of those advertising spots.

A Matter of Trial and Error

Regardless of how they work, sidebars are still part of the design of your website. That means they are subject to the same rules of trial and error, and as such you should constantly strive to make small improvements over time. No matter what your objetive is, it’s always a good idea to go back and analyze whether your widgets are serving their purpose, or need a small tweak.

How do you organize your widgets? Do you have a set of favorite widgets? Tell us!