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!

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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:

  1. Will a sidebar help users or distract them?
  2. Are there real business benefits to displaying a sidebar?
  3. 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:

Sidebar Elements Ideal for Blog Posts:

  • Most popular articles
  • Newsletter opt-in form
  • Latest video
  • etc.

Sidebar Elements Ideal for Pages:

  • Business contact details
  • Opening hours
  • Lead generation call-to-action
  • etc.

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.

Left-aligned sidebar diagram
Right-aligned sidebar diagram

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’.

Click the eye icon to make sure your sidebar is visible

Make sure your sidebar is visible (indicated by the green eye icon).

Scroll down a little and find the ‘Position’ dropdown. Here you can toggle between a right-aligned or left-aligned sidebar.

Select your sidebar alignment

Choose a right or left-aligned sidebar in Thrive Theme Builder.

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):

WPkind category page Thrive Theme Builder sidebar design example

Here's an example of a category page design from WPkind.com (a site built using Thrive Theme Builder) that uses a sidebar to display a Mini Bio Box, Top Content, a Lead Generation Form, and even Customer Testimonials.

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.

Visual Editing

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...

The default WordPress sidebar management area is abstract and hard to manage

The default sidebar options are so far removed from the final result, that it’s almost impossible to know what you’re building.

And here’s the Thrive Theme Builder method...

Thrive Theme Builder makes sidebar design & management easy!

Thrive Theme Builders feels like you’re editing your live website. Suddenly you’re designing at the speed of your creativity.

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.

Click on the sidebar diagram in the left sidebar and then click the "Choose a design" option that appears

You now have access to 19 templates created by our team of professional designers!

Thrive Theme Builder sidebar template options

Each template is fully customizable, and works great with our Smart Color technology… making it a breeze to fit your website color branding.

Thrive Theme Builder's Smart Color Technology applies to your sidebar designs too!

Choose a primary brand color and your sidebar will update to match. Now that’s Smart.

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.

Add a mini bio box to your personal brand site sidebar

A mini bio box is a great addition to any personal branding blog sidebar.

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.

Add a lead generation form to your sidebar design

An embedded lead generation form should be simple to make use of the limited space.

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.

Add a Call to Action to your sidebar design

This sleek call-to-action design is included in Thrive Theme Builder’s block library.

Top Content

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.

Choose your Top Content manually using the Post List element for display inside your sidebar design

Books

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.

Get creative with how you showcase your "Getting Started" content!

Featured Video

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!

You can even embed videos in your sidebar design!

Yes this is a real video. Shane hasn’t finally lost the plot. Check out ‘This is why online marketing isn't working for you.’

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.

The Thrive visual editor makes it easy to embed your videos

Adding a video to your theme sidebar is easy with Thrive Theme Builder.

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.

Use your sidebar design to promote your 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.

Add icons to your Button elements

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!

Choose from our massive library of icons

Add icons to your buttons with Thrive Theme Builder.

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.

Thrive Theme Builder's pre-designed sidebar templates look awesome straight-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:

  • Categories
  • Tags
  • Authors
  • Months
  • Metas
  • Pages
  • Recent Comments
  • Posts

Sidebar Ideas for Course Content

Structured online course content is a special sidebar case. Unlike typical published content, online courses need a dedicated sidebar.

Here’s why...

  • Learners rely on the sidebar for important navigation and progress information.
  • It’s important to eliminate distractions from your course content sidebar.
  • Consistency is critical… learners can feel overwhelmed with new information when taking an online course, so the sidebar should feel like a reassuring, familiar touchpoint.

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

Thrive Apprentice video thumbnail

Sidebar Ideas for Membership Content

Membership sites usually publish 2 types of content:

  1. Members-only content
  2. 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.

Encourage members to renew by demonstrating new value to their membership.

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.

Encourage new people to join your membership with a sidebar design

Link to more information and encourage non-members to join.

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.

Opening Hours

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.

Display your operating hours in your sidebar

Keep opening hours simple. There’s no need to list similar days individually.

Contact Details

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.

Add a "click-to-call" link in your sidebar

Click-to-call makes it ridiculously easy for new customers to get in contact with you.

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:

tel:886444444

Like this...

How to add a "click-to-call" link inside the Thrive visual editor

Obviously use your telephone number here. Did you know you can add a click-to-call number on any element that supports links?

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.

Google Map element sidebar settings

Et voilà! An instant, responsive map that links to a full-screen version in the Google Maps application.

Google Map element example

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.

One option is to top-and-tail your content with blocks or lead generation elements, but another option is to add a compelling call-to-action in your sidebar.

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.

Use your sidebar to turn casual visitors into leads

Sidebars are perfect for converting casual visitors to leads. Link to either a contact page or a contact form popup.

Testimonials

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.

Display customer testimonials in your sidebar

These professionally designed testimonial sidebar templates are available in Thrive Theme Builder.

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.

Author: David Lindop

David is a writer who is passionate about ethical and sustainable online marketing. He relaxes by writing fiction, learning foreign languages, and making things out of wood - but probably not all at the same time.

  • Joel H says:

    Great ideas that have me rethinking my sidebars. Thank you!

  • John Seiffer says:

    What if I want an alphabetical list of categories in a side bar? Last I checked Thrive didn’t do that. Has that changed?

    • David Lindop says:

      If you want an alphabetical list of categories, then go for it! I’m just being a little playful in the opening section of this article, because that’s what usually comes out of the box on default sidebars.

      • Karen McCamy says:

        Just curious about your thoughts on this David…

        If we’re using the SILO method as recommended in SEO Sprint, it would seem to compete having categories in the sidebar… I’ve mirrored Shane’s ActiveGrowth “double-menu” (custom menus in TTB are awesome! :-D) and I show my Silos in the 2nd part of the Menu…

        Just thinking it would be redundant — and possibly distracting — to have them in both places…

        Great ideas in the article, especially loving the sidebar templates now included!

        First thing I thought about was having “SILO-specific” lead-gen & content links!

        Like Joel H. I’ll have to rethink my sidebar strategy… I’m not using any at all, but TTB makes it so easy to add them, I’m definitely going to reconsider!

        Thanks to the team who made this happen! <3

      • John Seiffer says:

        That’s not what I meant. When I tried this a while ago using the Thrive side bar I could get the categories to show up, but it wouldn’t alphabetize them. Tech support said that wasn’t an available sorting option. Has that changed?

      • Lorant says:

        You can use the dynamic styled list element, it will allow you to choose to display a list of categories and sort them in ascending order.

        https://help.thrivethemes.com/en/articles/4426232-how-to-use-the-dynamic-styled-list-element

      • John Seiffer says:

        The problem is when you select CATEGORIES as your element, the option to ARRANGE RESULTS BY is not available. So you can do it ascending or descending but not by title. (I’m not sure by what actually).

      • Lorant says:

        For categories we set it to only be sortable by title, that’s why the “arrange by” option is missing. But I checked, and you are correct that there is currently a glitch with how it’s working and doesn’t sort them properly. A fix for this will be available in our next release, sorry about that :)

  • Conny says:

    Hi, I love the possibilities to create nice side bars!
    However – I was wondering if it is possible to adjust the size (width) of the total side bar at all?!?
    It takes one third of the whole page and I’d love to have it smaller, like only one forth of the page?
    Thank you!

    • David Lindop says:

      Yes, you can customize the sidebar to be any width you want.

      Select the dotted area that surrounds the content and sidebar (like in the article above), and simply drag the dividing line to decrease the sidebar width.

  • Andy says:

    So….where are these elements you’re using? That’s unclear. Say, for instance, one wants a mini-bio. Where is that? It says use the “mini bio element.” What am I missing? Do we pick and chose from the templates and save the elements we want as templates? Thanks!

    • Hanne says:

      Hi Andy,
      You can either find this exact design in the pre-designed sidebar sections (choosing one of these will replace your current sidebar) so if you already have stuff in your sidebar, you might want to build something like this yourself using the “about the author” element or a combination of the “author image” “author name” and “author social link” elements.

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