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Sidebars, footers, main content – what does it all mean?

scattered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle

In a WordPress website you have several areas – sidebars, footers, etc – which get edited and managed in different ways. Once you know what they are it’s easier to plan your content and shape how your site will look. It also helps you plan how users will navigate their way around it and to serve up useful information in helpful and intuitive ways.

Main content/body

The main content area or ‘body’ content area is the section of the page that you access when you go into the WordPress dashboard to edit a page or a post. Your theme will define exactly how that area looks – what the background colour is, what font the text is, what the headings look like, and various other aspects of the design as well. When you think of the most important content that is unique to a page then the main content area is where you will find that.

The Header

This area generally sits across the top of each page and would typically include the branding/logo, any site title (eg ‘ABC Accountants’) and tag line (eg ‘good with numbers…’). It may include a banner image (which may or may not change according to what page you are on – this is defined by the theme) and the primary menu. Often a banner image will be wide and sit right across the top of the page, but this isn’t always the case – your theme defines how this image will display.

There can often be a style of header that is set to appear on the home page, and a slightly adapted version that appears on other pages of the site. If this is the case then the home page header is more likely to include a big image, with other pages having no image or a smaller image. Again, the theme you have chosen will define the layout and image size.

The Menus

The primary, or main, menu is the central menu for the whole site. It would typically include a small number of top level pages, with other pages below those in ‘sub menus’ or ‘drop down menus’. The style (font, colour, etc) of these is defined by the theme, but the content is usually edited outside the theme in the menu area of the WordPress dashboard.

Menus can appear in other locations – footer and sidebar. Social links menus (links with icons for each social media account you have, which take you to that social media homepage for your organisation) often appear in the footer or sidebar areas of the site.

Sidebars

A sidebar is usually a column which appears on the side of your page – can be either left or right – and some themes allow you to vary the width of the sidebar. It contains information which then appears on each (or most) pages of your site – for example it could contain an author profile, important links, testimonials, small photo galleries, links to online shops, etc. It can also contain adverts or sponsor logos. The content of a sidebar is defined in the widget area of the WordPress dashboard, although the styling (background colour, font, etc) is defined by the theme.

Footers

This is the section at the bottom of your page and content for it is defined by the widget area in the WordPress dashboard. It is often treated a little like ‘stationery’ and would typically include business address, email and phone number, any charity or Companies’ House registration numbers, details of insurance or membership of national/international bodies, social links, etc. It typically also includes copyright information and can include much more. Different themes and plugins will allow different widgets to appear in this area of your site.

Widgets

Widgets are small blocks of content which you can have displayed in the sidebar and footer of your website. When you set this information to appear in a widget that is set to appear in a sidebar it will then appear in ALL of those sidebars on each page. So it’s important to be sure that things you put in widgets are acceptable on all pages of your site.

The content can be static – a single image or piece of text. It can also be dynamic – a calendar that updates with new events, a gallery that scrolls through images, testimonials that cycle through a sequence, etc. Often it might include a ‘latest ten blog post titles’ or list of ‘categories’ that you have your blog articles classified into.

Mobile-friendly / responsive websites

Websites nowadays need to be easy to read and navigate round on a variety of devices. Your users may be sitting at a desk with a large screen or using a mobile phone whilst out and about. They may be on a tablet or a variety of other devices. Your site needs to adapt how it displays information – simply shrinking the site to fit a smaller screen leads to illegibly small typography and buttons which are too small to tap on without also tapping on surrounding clickable areas.

A mobile website will get around this problem by presenting information in different ways on different screen sizes. So, instead of fitting in both the main content AND sidebars next to each other (in two columns) the sidebar content will appear below the main body content on a mobile phone. Menus are often graphically different so they take up less space, etc.