How to Make Custom Sidebars in WordPress

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From courses to category pages, you can use custom sidebars to tailor your pages further to your readers interests. Have you been using your site’s sidebar to its fullest potential?

Any good WordPress theme allows you to create a sidebar by simply dragging Widgets into a predefined space from your admin panel. This sidebar is then used on every page that has it enabled throughout your site.

With such massive visibility, you ought to fill the content of your sidebar the most relevant and important pages and offerings you can. But is this always the best way?

See, rather than creating complex layouts to show different kinds of content across pages, all that really may be needed is a way to switch out sidebars when you need to. That way you can simply support the main content of the page with a tailored sidebar.

Imagine these scenarios:

Scenario #1: Think of creating a custom sidebar that shows on all posts in a category called “Food Recipes” and filling it with Widgets that link to your recommended cooking products (with affiliate links of course).

Scenario #2: Or think, if you have a course on your website and each page has a sidebar that links to other sections of the course.

Don’t you think using a tailored sidebar versus your generic blog sidebar in those scenarios will vastly improve the usefulness of those pages?

I think so, and I brought this power to life by building MD Simple Sidebars for you.

Here’s how it works:

1) Create and Manage Sidebars From the Widgets Admin Panel

MD Simple Sidebars Widgets Manager

Many 3rd-party sidebars plugins add bulky interfaces to create custom sidebars, amongst tons of other stuff. In many cases these features are an overkill, and who wants to jump from page to page to manage sidebars?

MD Simple Sidebars makes managing custom sidebars simple and adds a small “Edit Sidebars” button to the top of the Widgets admin panel.

By clicking this button, the Sidebars Manager slides down so you can easily create new sidebars. To make this interface even more useful, you can assign your custom sidebars across different post types in just a few clicks.

Neat, simple, compact, right from your Widgets admin panel.

2) Set Sidebars Across Categories

Category Sidebar Manager

While it’s useful to set sidebars across post types from the Sidebars Manager, you may be wondering if you can do the same on categories.

My answer to you is: of course!

Simply edit any category from the Posts admin panel to assign a sidebar to the category page itself. For even more power, you can set a custom sidebar on all posts in the category from this page as well.

Think of the power! You can make your category pages far more useful by creating a sidebar for each category as well as automatically swap out sidebars for all posts in the category!

The content you put into those sidebars is up to you, but rest assured that once you put the system into place, MD will take care of the heavy lifting from there.

3) Use MD Widgets and Helper Classes to Build Content-Heavy Sidebars

Marketers Delight comes with four valuable widgets out-of-the-box that you can use to create beautiful sidebars. Those widgets include:

  • Content Spotlight
  • Easy Email Form
  • Text + Image Widget
  • Quotes Widget

On top of the default WordPress widgets, and the vast amount of free plugins out there, you can build your custom sidebars any way you want to.

Even better, you can pair the WordPress Text widget with MD Helper Classes to build custom widgets right from your admin panel. It’s remarkable how a system like MD Simple Sidebars opens up your site for truly tailored content pages.

Bonus: Activate Other Custom Post Types With This Simple Filter

Marketers Delight child theme filter

By default, MD Simple Sidebars accounts for Posts and Pages in WordPress.

However, you may want to extend this power to your custom post types once you start installing plugins and building up your site.

Because of my goal to keep Marketers Delight as flexible as possible, you can open up your custom post types to custom sidebars through a simple filter in the MD Child Theme.

All that you need to make this filter work is to grab the custom post type ID from your admin panel.

Let me show you the filter works in full:

Step 1: Get the Post Type ID

In this example, I’m using my favorite eCommerce plugin Easy Digital Downloads. From my admin panel, I go to the “Downloads” tab the plugin adds and once there, I look at the URL to find the ID.

Easy Digital Downloads

In this case my custom post type ID is download.

Step 2: Add Filter to child theme functions.php file

Now that I have my post type ID, I can simply plug it into the md_filter_sidebars_post_types filter in my child theme’s functions.php file like so:

 * Filter into MD's sidebar data and add custom post
 * types to Sidebars Widgets Manager.
 * @since 1.0

function md_child_theme_sidebars_post_types() {
	return array(
		'download' => array(
			'archive' => true,
			'single'  => true

add_filter( 'md_filter_sidebars_post_types', 'md_child_theme_sidebars_post_types' );

Tip: for quicker reference in the future, you can grab this snippet from the Snippets library.

You’ll notice the post type ID is set as an array and inside are 2 keys: archive and single. Based on whether your custom post type has an archive page (think of your blog posts homepage vs. Pages) you can choose whether or not you’ll need both select fields in the Sidebars manager.

In the case of EDD, the plugin creates a listing to show all of my downloads and creates single post entries, so I activated the filter to target both scenarios.

Step 3: Save Filter, Upload Child Theme, and Set Your Custom Sidebars

Once you add the filter to your child theme, save and upload it, you can begin adding sidebars to custom post types!

What did this filter accomplish? Go check out the Sidebars Manager:

Filter custom post type sidebars

As you can see, you can now control the sidebar on your custom post types right from the slick new MD Sidebars Manager.

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About Alex

Alex is the 28 years old creator of Marketers Delight.

8 comments add your comment

  1. “I got really tired of referring people to third party plugins”
    HA HA, I love it! This is an amazing update.

    Bye-Bye Custom Sidebars plugin; Hello MD Simple Sidebars.

    Are you slowly transitioning MD from a Theme to a full blown platform? This is a big update bro.

    • Those are the kinds of things that weigh on you as a software developer! Too many conversations when something like:

      “Hey, does MD have custom sidebars?”

      “Yes, but you can only…”

      Now I’m trying to think of what you can’t do with MD Simple Sidebars.

      As for MD the platform, I have some big ideas in mind for child themes, templates, and more Drop-ins that will show people just how powerful building websites on top of MD is.

      For anybody interested in a more detailed response, check out my vision for MD in this thread over at the forums.

  2. Alex, this is awesome! Easy to use. Updated some unique ones I had done and am now thinking of new ways to use sidebars! Thanks.

  3. Great update Alex. I was spending a lot of time copying the same sidebars for different posts. Thanks!

    • No problem, that workflow was so bad I just had to release this. Glad it’s working out for you!

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