Build the Perfect Sidebar for Your WordPress Blog
Let’s be honest, most default WordPress sidebars suck.
Alphabetical lists of post categories?
Ugly and pointless tag clouds?
No thanks! Your WordPress sidebar can be so much more useful and effective.
All you need is a little inspiration and some pointers on how to achieve sidebar nirvana. Let’s get started!
Before we dive into how to build a great WordPress sidebar, let’s look at a few common questions that always seem to crop up.
Are Sidebars for Blog Posts, Pages, or Both?
Great question, I’m glad you asked.
Sidebars can work great on both blog posts and static pages, but there are some important things to consider.
First, the choice to include a sidebar or not should be driven by these questions:
- Will a sidebar help users or distract them?
- Are there real business benefits to displaying a sidebar?
- Does a sidebar fit with your design choices?
Second, just because you choose to feature a sidebar on some posts or pages, doesn’t mean you have to include them across your entire website. WordPress lets you assign a template to each post or page, so it’s possible to be selective about where sidebars are displayed.
And third, remember that you can feature entirely different sidebars across pages and posts, meaning you can offer content-related navigation to blog readers, while featuring business-focused calls-to-action on your static pages.
Here’s a few more examples:
Of course, there’s no rule that says you can’t feature your popular articles in the sidebar of your pages, or your operating hours on your blog. The choice is yours to decide what works best for your business and audience!
But it gets even better – there’s also no rule that says all blog posts (or pages) must use the same sidebar.
Thrive Theme Builder gives you the power to design and assign entirely different sidebars to groups of posts or pages.
- Display different sidebars for video posts vs. written articles.
- Display different sidebars for podcast episodes vs. interviews.
- Disable sidebars on long-form content to allow for full-width images.
The bottom line is that you can achieve any sidebar strategy with the combination of WordPress and Thrive Theme Builder. Again, you have full control.
Left or Right Sidebars?
Here’s another common question that crops up a lot when discussing WordPress sidebars… Which sidebar alignment performs better, left or right?
Truth be told, it doesn’t seem to matter much in terms of measurable performance. Moving your sidebar probably won’t noticeably impact visitors time on site, page views, or conversions.
Usability best practices suggest a right-aligned sidebar lets readers get to the content faster, but it certainly isn’t a binding rule. It’s just a sensible suggestion based on what we know about how people scan web pages.
In general, you’ll notice the following trends:
- For published articles and pages, sidebars tend to be aligned to the right of the content.
- For structured content such as courses and eCommerce listings, sidebars tend to be left-aligned.
But the most important advice is to be consistent. Don’t change the alignment between pages unless you have a really good reason – find something that works and stick with it.
The good news is that Thrive Theme Builder lets you quickly switch between left and right aligned sidebars to find what works best for your website. Simply edit your template and select the sidebar in the ‘Section Options’.
Scroll down a little and find the ‘Position’ dropdown. Here you can toggle between a right-aligned or left-aligned sidebar.
Here's an example of a real-life website built with Thrive Theme Builder that uses a right-aligned sidebar on its theme controlled posts & pages from WPkind.com (in this example, its Category Page template):
How Can You Customize Your Sidebar in Thrive Theme Builder?
Most WordPress themes force you to “build” your sidebar using widgets.
I say “build”, because it’s a frustrating, slow, error-prone process that resembles building in the same way it’s theoretically possible to build a house wearing mittens and a blindfold.
The default widget sidebar process is totally disconnected from how it looks on your website, meaning you have to repeatedly switch back and forth between browser tabs to see if you’ve come close to achieving your aims. It also greatly limits the design and layout… if you’re not a CSS wizard, then you’re stuck with whatever sidebar you’re given.
Thrive Theme Builder flips this on its head.
No more tweak-save-tab-reload-repeat!
No more !important;-infested DIVs and SPANs!
No more patchwork Frankenstein plugin abominations that you’re scared to update!
Thrive Theme Builder feels like you’re editing your live website. Simply add, remove, move, and customize any element you want.
Here’s the default method of editing your WordPress sidebar...
And here’s the Thrive Theme Builder method...
Which one would you prefer to use?
Professionally Designed Sidebar Templates
Just because you can design your sidebar from scratch doesn’t mean you should.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could choose a stunning design with a few clicks, and tweak it to fit your brand?
Open the page template you want to edit in Thrive Theme Builder, select the sidebar section, and click the ‘Select a Design’ button.
You now have access to 19 templates created by our team of professional designers!
Each template is fully customizable, and works great with our Smart Color technology… making it a breeze to fit your website color branding.
Sidebar Ideas for Personal Branding Content
Personal branding websites focus on a person, story and personality, so the best sidebars should promote all these qualities while still guiding visitors to take action… whether that’s signing up to the email newsletter, buying a product, or simply exploring some of the great content on offer.
Here’s some sidebar additions that lend themselves to a personal brand website:
Mini Personal Bio
Smile and tell everyone about yourself! This mini bio element is perfect for reminding people about your story and message, and providing a relatable human face.
It’s also a good opportunity to include links to your regular social media platforms.
Email Opt-in Call-to-Action
The goal of many personal branding websites is to grow an email list of subscribers, and continue to deliver valuable content and offers directly to their inbox.
While it’s possible to add a lead generation form to your sidebar, there isn’t a lot of room to play with. Instead, one option is to include a beautifully designed, compelling call-to-action box that triggers a popup (also known as a lightbox, overlay or modal). This keeps everything looking neat and professional.
People love personal brand websites because they enjoy reading what you have to share – your stories, tips, recipes, reviews, interviews, rants… your loyal audience just can’t get enough.
But new visitors can feel overwhelmed scanning through pages of blogroll. They need you to guide them to your very best content.
Don’t rely on an automatic list of posts sorted by date. That’s a needless duplication of your main blog homepage. Instead, you should carefully pick and display your 4 - 8 pieces of top content, or use the built-in Featured Content List.
This sidebar element works great for authors who want to showcase their best selling books.
Here’s a great example from Tim Ferris’ website. It adds a lovely splash of color and reminds visitors to buy his books.
Sidebar Ideas for Published Content
OK, what exactly is published content?
Blogs, news, magazines, podcasts, videos… these are all online businesses that primarily focus on publishing and monetizing content. But the truth is that most successful websites are content publishers to some degree, even if they only feature a supplemental blog or some buyers guides.
That’s why these sidebar ideas can be applied to anyone who runs a WordPress blog, regardless of their business model.
Top Content Picks
We’ve already covered this in the personal branding section, but it’s a super common and misunderstood sidebar application, so it bears repeating with another inspiring example I cooked up in Thrive Theme Builder.
This is so much more enticing than a list of recently published posts.
Adding your latest (or greatest) video to your sidebar is easy with Thrive Theme Builder.
Just drop a Video element into your sidebar, choose a few simple options, and you’re good to go!
How simple is it to set up a video element exactly? Like really simple.
Select a source, paste in your video URL, and make some optional customizations. Thrive Theme Builder will handle the rest to give you a playable video in your WordPress sidebar.
Subscribe to the Podcast
So we’ve covered articles and videos, but what about podcasts?
Tim Ferriss is back with an example of how he uses his sidebar to encourage visitors to subscribe to his podcast.
These are simple buttons with icons, linked to the various podcast platforms. You can achieve exactly the same effect with Thrive Theme Builder’s button element, by selecting the Add Icon toggle in the button options.
You can choose any icon from our massive library of designs. With over 7,800 icons to choose from, I recommend using the search feature!
Categories and Tags
Maybe I was a little harsh on sidebar categories and tags earlier. Sometimes they deserve a place in blog sidebars to give readers an alternative set of navigation options.
But the default WordPress design is boring, and doesn’t offer any control over which categories and tags to display. If only someone could build a better system...
Can you see where this is heading?
Thrive Theme Builder gives you total control over which categories and tags to display, which to hide, how to sort them, and how many to show.
Plus our pre-designed templates will make your sidebar look professional right out of the box.
But wait there’s more!
Even though we’re looking at categories and tags here, you have the option to add any of the following to your sidebar, with exactly the same powerful filter rules:
- Recent Comments
Sidebar Ideas for Course Content
Structured online course content is a special sidebar case. Unlike typical published content, online courses need a dedicated sidebar.
While it’s possible to recreate structured course content by stringing together WordPress pages, we really don’t recommend it. It’s messy and there are much quicker solutions.
Thrive Apprentice will help you quickly build and publish your course, and provides a great learner sidebar experience straight out of the box. This includes:
- Course menu
- Teaching information
- Lesson list
- Progress bar
Of course, you can still add other elements if you choose, but this gets you off to a great start!
Get access to Thrive Apprentice
Everything You Need to Build Professional Online Courses — Straight Out Of the Box
Sidebar Ideas for Membership Content
Membership sites usually publish 2 types of content:
- Members-only content
- Public content to encourage people to subscribe
Both types of content need different things in their sidebars.
Here are some great ideas to inspire your membership content.
New Members Content
Suitable for: Members
Recurring membership subscriptions often depend on new content being added. Use your sidebar to remind your members that their membership constantly grows in value.
Courses and Workshops
Suitable for: Members and Non-members
If your membership business offers community events to increase its perceived value, then your sidebar is a perfect place to keep this front of mind with a compelling call-to-action element. For existing members, it’s a good reminder of the value they receive. For non-members, it shows what they’re missing by sitting on the fence.
Become a Member!
Suitable for: Non-members
It’s no use offering fantastic membership content if no-one knows about it.
Use your blog post and page sidebars to encourage visitors to become paying members, with a prominent, compelling call-to-action. Be sure to test different messaging and designs to find what converts best.
Here’s a great example from The Membership Guys...
Sidebar Ideas for Local Business Content
If you run a bricks-and-mortar shop, workshop, office or showroom, there’s a few inspiring ideas to add to your WordPress website sidebar.
Most local businesses hide away opening hours behind a footer link, but they can work great in a sidebar too. This sidebar element is better suited to information pages, rather than your website’s blog posts.
If you welcome telephone or email enquiries, why not make it super easy for visitors to get in touch?
Take it a step further with Thrive Theme Builder’s powerful Click to Call feature. Like the name suggests, this lets anyone with a smartphone, or a desktop VOIP calling service, simply click on the phone number to start dialing.
It’s easy to make your phone number interactive. Just add your number as a text element and make it a hyperlink... but instead of linking to a normal URL, add the following:
Embed a Google Map
I love this idea, because it instantly makes your local business website look more professional.
It’s very simple to add an interactive map to your sidebar with Thrive Theme Builder and Thrive Architect. Just drop in a ‘Google Map’ element, set your location, and choose your preferred zoom setting.
Et voilà! An instant, responsive map that links to a full-screen version in the Google Maps application.
Sidebar Ideas for Service Providers
Get in Touch
Whatever your main conversion goal – booking a call, scheduling a consultation, requesting a quote – you should make it ridiculously easy to achieve across your whole website.
Combined with our sidebar sticky scroll behavior, you can guarantee that your visitors always see a way to get in touch, even if they scroll down a longer page of content.
Displaying success stories from happy clients is a great way to build social proof, and ultimately convert leads. Your sidebar is the perfect location to feature testimonial snippets to build trust with potential new clients.
To make them even more effective, try linking them to a dedicated testimonials or case study page, and include a photo of your client to give readers a human face to relate to.
Time to Choose a Side...
I’ve shared some inspiring ways you can use your WordPress sidebar to guide visitors to important information or actions for your business.
But we’re just scratching the surface… your only limit is your imagination and creativity. I encourage you to try new things with your sidebar. Make it work for your unique audience, website and personality!
Thrive Theme Builder makes it easy to visually customize your sidebar, without touching any code or mixing together some unholy collection of bloated one-trick widget-based plugins. I honestly believe that it offers the simplest, most intuitive sidebar builder for WordPress. Ever.
So give it a try and show off your sidebar with a link in the comments below.