How websites look these days is light years away from past web design standards. Two decades ago, AOL was a big name in the internet, while Microsoft was on its way to introducing Windows 98. Google wasn’t even around that time, and it was only in 1998 that they were launched into the virtual world with a simple design because they focused on function rather than form.
Over time, the web design industry has undergone so many updates and upgrades. Along with these changes is the shift in how visitors become prospective clients of an e-commerce site such as Shopify or followers of a blog. One of the biggest and most influential upgrades in the past few years is the rise of content management system (CMS) frameworks such as WordPress to make website creation as easy as pie.
The rise of the sidebar
WordPress was one of the pioneers of the use of sidebars. In the past, the sidebar is a non-negotiable section of a webpage for the sole purpose of offering a much more convenient way to add new content and expand the functionality of a website.
However, things have really changed dramatically for web design. Gone are the days when you had to follow standard structures such as a sidebar menu and a main column for content. In recent years, different kinds of website layouts have sprung up, many of which don’t make use of a sidebar.
The need for a sidebar
The question for any website developer or business owner is this: “Do I need to put a sidebar on my WordPress website?”
To answer this, you need to know what your goals are in making the site in the first place. From this mission, you can already determine whether a sidebar is necessary or not.
Elements of the sidebar
WordPress sidebars come in many variations, but all of them have one thing in common: widgets. The power of the sidebar comes with the ability to expand the content and enhance the layout of a webpage by reserving some space for other important parts of your site.
Here are some of the common items found in most WordPress websites:
- Email subscription form
- Social media accounts of the blog
- Popular posts
- Archive of previous posts, usually presented by month and year
- Blog statistics
- Site visitor’s location
- Search box
- Author box
- Related posts
These items are usually placed in the sidebar as widgets, for easier insertion, editing, or removal. Take note that these are just a handful of widget possibilities for the sidebar.
Advantages of the sidebar
Website owners have enjoyed the benefits of using a sidebar, some of which include the following:
Connection to social media
Promotion of your company or blog’s social media profiles on a sidebar may increase the probability of being followed on social networking sites. This allows the reader to get updates about the website or blog. The goal of this technique is really to increase followers and gain traction in terms of popularity and lead generation.
Adding social media links on the sidebar is very useful when you want to create a huge fan base for an advocacy or brand awareness.
Lead generation and potential conversion
An email subscription form on your sidebar allows your site visitors to receive newsletter updates about your company or website. This is useful to increase readership, disperse information on updates about upcoming activities, and connect with your loyal followers.
Additional space for more information
Some readers may want to get additional information or related posts about the article on a page in your website. Presenting internal links and related information about the page that the visitors are viewing will increase the chances of them staying longer and even returning for more. If readers see that your website is able to provide what they are looking for, their loyalty and potential for returning will become stronger.
Disadvantages of the sidebar
However, while there are advantages, there may also be some drawbacks in putting a sidebar on your site. Here are some of them:
Disruption in site design
Sidebars may become a distraction to the overall look of the website. Some website owners feel the need to put everything on the front page, leading them to put more than 4 sidebars on a single page! Having too much content on a single page could be overwhelming for your site visitors, and may even turn them off and lead them to visit your competitor websites instead.
Website owners who want to focus on clean and minimalist design may choose to forego sidebars so that the attention of the reader goes directly to the main content.
Redundancy of information
Some web developers have the tendency to emphasize the message of the main content by either repeating the thought on the sidebar or crowding the sidebar with keywords. Although this may appear as a good SEO strategy, having repetitive content on the main window and the sidebar may put off your site visitors, and consequently bring your search ranking down.
No intended use
If your main purpose for putting a sidebar on the site is to merely follow some trend or make use of what the default WordPress installation is offering, then a sidebar may not be necessary for you. No matter how many widgets you put, there is no point in adding a sidebar if it looks unnecessary in relation to your main content.
Ultimately, it boils down to one important point: The use of the sidebar depends on the intention of the site owner. If you think there is a need to make use of the sidebar, make sure that you choose the right widgets to enhance your content rather than create fluff.
Here’s a final tip for those who are still hung up on the need to use sidebars: You don’t have to put a sidebar on the homepage or landing page. A lot of WordPress themes already allow the placement of sidebars in specific pages or sections where they may be relevant to the content.
What really makes a visitor interested to stay on a website is a good balance between content and design. Make sure that the sidebar contributes to that objective instead of destroying it.