What Is a Sidebar, and When Should You Use One?

Bev Feldman / July 25, 2018

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When creating a website, there are several design elements to consider, and a sidebar is one of them. If you’re new to the process, you might be asking yourself, “What is a sidebar?”

What is a sidebar?

In WordPress.com, a sidebar is a static column of widgets (small pieces of content and functionality) that appears next to the main site content. These widgets are tidbits of information that direct visitors to take certain actions, such as clicking on a specific link or signing up for your newsletter. They might include links and images that encourage visitors to read a popular blog post, check out your About Me page, or follow you on social media.

When viewing your website on a desktop, a WordPress.com sidebar appears either to the right, left, or on both sides of your content. If your website is mobile-optimized and someone views it on a phone, the sidebar usually appears below the content.

Here is an example of a sidebar as it appears on the WordPress.com website:

A WordPress sidebar

The sidebar itself is the column of text to the right of the article about Widgets. You’ll notice that this sidebar includes links to Support Home, the Table of Contents, and an option to upgrade your site. These three features are all examples of widgets.

How do you add a sidebar?

Plenty of WordPress.com themes come with sidebar capabilities. Go to My Sites and click on Themes. Here, you will find a large selection of sidebar-enabled themes.

To customize the widgets in your sidebar, go to My Sites and click on Customize. On the next screen — the Customizer — select the Widgets panel. Here you can add, remove, and organize your widgets to create a customized sidebar. WordPress.com offers a variety of ready-made widgets, including a search bar, blog categories, a Facebook page plugin, social icons, and more.

Why have a sidebar?

One advantage of having a sidebar is that it encourages visitors to take specific actions without distracting from your site’s main content. For example, you might want visitors to sign up for your newsletter, but you also want them to read your blog posts. You can include a newsletter signup form in your sidebar without having it interfere with the natural flow of your blog posts.

There are cases in which you wouldn’t want a sidebar. For example, if you already have a call-to-action on your landing page, a sidebar could become distracting and decrease the likelihood that visitors will take that action. In this case, it’s advised to either disable your sidebar or create a page that doesn’t have one.

While it may be tempting to add every single widget to your sidebar, choose a few that will improve your site the most. Is your primary goal to drive sales? Place a link to your sales page at the top of your sidebar, so visitors see it without needing to scroll down. Do you want people to follow you on Facebook? Add the Social Icons Widget.

With this guide in hand, you’re well on your way to understanding what a sidebar is and how you can use one to enrich your website.

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