The Well-Tended Sidebar: How Three Sites Use Widgets Effectively

Whether you’re building a website for your bagel shop or a portfolio where you share your carpentry projects, there’s a non-trivial chance that at some point you wondered about widgets.

Questions around widgets — those nifty little tools that sit alongside your content and add functionality to your site — often revolve around quantity: “How many widgets should I add?” Today, let’s look at three sites to explore a different, more important question: “What do I want my visitors to do?”

Keeping things streamlined at Red-Handled Scissors

Tip: You can add, remove, and tweak widgets at any time by heading to My Sites → Customize → Widgets.

Haley Pierson-Cox, based in Brooklyn, is a multidisciplinary maker who focuses on sewing and knitting (her first book, on cross-stitching, is coming out in Fall 2018). Her homepage at Red-Handled Scissors keeps visitors grounded, an effect Haley achieves through a clever, minimal use of widgets.

A couple of things stand out here. First, the prominent sidebar gives readers exactly three options to choose from: listen to her recently launched podcast, visit and follow her various social accounts, and subscribe to email updates.

Like the look of Haley’s site? It uses the Make theme, one of thousands of WordPress themes available with the Business plan.

This strict choice complements the main welcome message on the left column of the page, which also includes three custom buttons (to reviews, tutorials, and the very same podcast). There’s an invitation here for the visitor to choose their own adventure, but each path is well-defined and promotes a specific goal.

Tip: You can control which widgets appear on which pages by fiddling with your widget visibility settings.

The other thing you’ll notice if you visit Haley’s site — and who wouldn’t like to learn how to create a DIY hanging planter? — is that this sidebar is short. It does its job, then stops: the next section on the page highlights two tutorial videos. Other areas of the site — like said planter tutorial — have longer, more traditional sidebars with many more widgets, including the Facebook Like Widget and the Twitter Timeline Widget. But the homepage guides us to one of a small handful of outcomes, and does so without feeling pushy or overbearing.

The Zero-Waste Chef wastes no opportunity to share older posts

When you’re a prolific writer like Anne Marie, an environmentally conscious food blogger in the San Francisco Bay Area, your blog’s stream of recent posts can get quite long, inviting readers to explore more articles on fermentation, maintaining a zero-plastic kitchen, and reviving old kitchenware. A long, immersive scroll comes with a tall sidebar — which Anne Marie has filled with useful links, quick access points to even more content, and updates from her social accounts.

The first two widgets in the sidebar accomplish the highest-priority actions a future Zero-Waste fan could take: subscribe to follow Anne Marie’s blog via email, and visit her Media/Press page to get a better sense of her bonafides in the field of sustainable cooking. As you scroll farther down, the focus of the sidebar shifts, and includes other widgets.

From the Top Posts & Pages Widget to the Archives Widget, the main goal of the lower sections of the sidebar is to expose readers to older, evergreen posts. It also brings in activity from Anne Marie’s various social accounts to her central hub — her site — with additions like the Twitter Timeline Widget and Instagram Widget.

At Dance Music Northwest, it’s “goodbye sidebar, hello footer!”

Sometimes, the best approach to a sidebar is to not have one. Case in point: nightlife and electronic-music magazine Dance Music Northwest, which delivers event and DJ listings, news, and music recommendations to fans across the greater Seattle area.

What does the site do with the real estate it wins back from the unused sidebar? It invites visitors to focus on recent posts, displaying them in a highly readable, full-width stream. Post excerpts that might’ve seemed long and cramped on a homepage that includes widgets instead feel airy. They also increase the chance a reader might click through to read the full article.

Tip: If you’re not sure where a theme can display the widgets you need, look up the theme’s name in the Theme Showcase. Each one has its own documentation, including all the details you’ll need on its sidebar, footer, or other widget areas.

Going sidebar-free doesn’t mean you have to forego the benefits of widgets. You might just need to find a different, better-fitting spot for them on your site. Many themes come with widget areas beyond the sidebar — including the footer, which is where the Dance Music Northwest team chose to add a well-curated selection.

With two Text Widgets (featuring a breezy “About Us” description and links to key sections on the site) and a Follow Blog Widget to encourage email subscriptions, the site makes a bet that those passionate readers who’ve made it all the way to the bottom of the page might be the most likely ones to click on yet another button or link.

Have you customized your sidebar or other widget areas on your site? Have any tips to share with others? Leave a comment below!

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June 21, 2018Design, DIY, Food, Inspiration, Jetpack, , ,