Website design trends: Sidebars

From its inception, WordPress has been built around the idea of using a sidebar on a website, seen as far back as the Twenty Ten theme. WordPress announced widgets for the sidebar in 2006, a feature that still exists today. But given the changing landscape of website design, is a sidebar still a good choice for a website today? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of using sidebars.

Why are sidebars helpful for a website?

Using a sidebar gives you the ability to offer a lot of extra functionality to your users. From a search box to links to other pages on your site, the sidebar is like an extra menu on your site. You can even customize the sidebar based on where someone is on your website. WooCommerce allows the use of a separate sidebar for your online shop that provides links to your cart and checkout pages, for example.

As mentioned above, widgets make the sidebar infinitely more useful. Plugins also provide even more options, giving you the ability to include almost anything you want on a sidebar.

Why might you not use a sidebar on your site?

One of the biggest changes from the early WordPress days until now is the development of mobile devices. Unfortunately, a sidebar does not translate well to mobile or tablet devices. One consideration you have to make is what happens to the information on a sidebar when viewed on a mobile device. Do you want it to show up at the bottom of the screen? If so, how will the elements of your sidebar look? Instead, would you prefer the sidebar to simply not display at all on mobile devices? If that’s the case, you don’t want to include anything too vital in the sidebar.

Sidebars also garnered a negative reputation as the place where ads would be featured on a website. Because of this, many users developed so-called “sidebar blindness,” ignoring content on sidebars. The term banner blindness was coined as far back as 1998, so this is no recent phenomenon. At this point in the internet’s progression, it is certainly unwise to implement a sidebar for displaying ads.

However, for other purposes, a sidebar can be quite useful. One major advantage on a desktop site is makes the best use of a large display. You don’t want your content to stretch from edge to edge on a large computer monitor, because it is too wide to read comfortably. That’s why newspapers display text in columns. You can reduce the width of your content — as we do on this site — but then you’re left with blank space on the sides of pages on desktop. A sidebar provides something to fill this empty space, but there’s something to be said for white space as well.

There are plenty of arguments to be made for and against sidebars. Ultimately, the choice is up to you, but be sure to think through your decision instead of simply utilizing it because it’s there or turning it off because you don’t want to be bothered with customizing it.