How to Create Custom Sidebars for Genesis Themes

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Remember my posts on free website builders? One of the biggest pitfalls I mentioned is that sites end up generic, both in looks and in functionality. If you’re reading this, you probably went with WordPress, and you’re probably looking for ways to enhance your site to fit the unique needs of your business or non-profits. Kudos! You’ve already made a good choice. Now let’s make another one! The Genesis Framework is a WordPress parent theme that allows you (among many other things) to build customizable sidebars. As you’ll see below, you can easily assign sidebars to individual pages or posts and even build sidebars that “follow” the tags you use with posts in order to improve the relevance of what you are showing to your site visitors. Let’s dive in! This post will cover everything you need to know to create custom sidebars using Genesis themes.

Get Started with the Genesis Framework

In my recent how-to posts I’ve talked about a number of different WordPress plugins, so I’ve already reviewed the procedure for getting those added to your WordPress site (hint: super easy). Genesis is a bit different. Genesis is a parent theme which means it installs in a slightly different way. First of all, Genesis is developed by the nice folks at StudioPress and it costs $60 bucks up front to get started. And no, they don’t give me any of that money to tell you about it. After you fork over three Jacksons (for my future readers, Tubmans) for the theme and download it, you need to upload it to your WordPress site. To do this, click on the Appearances menu in your Dashboard then Themes. Next, Add New and then Upload Theme grab the Genesis .zip file out of whichever random folder your browser downloaded it to and mash Install Now. Finally, click Activate and you’re in business with the Genesis Framework.

A note on the above if you are just starting your site: you will need a child theme as well. As I mentioned, Genesis is a parent theme. This means it’s the core functionality which supports other themes. Think of WordPress as your foundation, Genesis as the beams and rafters, and the child theme you select as the walls and furniture. The process for installing the child themes is the same as it was for Genesis.

The final move is to add and activate the Genesis Simple Sidebars plugin. This installs in the exact same way as other plugins that we’ve worked with.

Build Your First Custom Sidebar with Genesis

To harken back to my comparisons of free website builders, one of the greatest things about WordPress is the amount of customization available to you, the website builder. Genesis is another thrilling chapter in that highly-customizable saga. There are many different ways you could slice up a Genesis sidebar depending on the needs you have and how you want your website to work. I’ll be showing you the basics of how to do the basics and leave the rest up to your individual needs.

After following the installation steps above you will notice that the word Genesis now appears on the left-hand menu of your WordPress Dashboard. Hover over it, and from the options that now appear, select Simple Sidebars. The page you see now is both a column of text boxes to create new sidebars and a list of the ones Genesis has created before you ever got to this point. In the future, you will see any sidebars you have created on the right-hand list as well.

Go ahead, give your sidebar a Name, also give it an ID and a Description. These are visible only to you, so make the names functional rather than formal.

Next, hover over Appearance in the left-hand menu and select Widgets. You should see a list of widgets you have access too, both from WordPress and any other plugins or themes you have installed, as well as a list of sidebars that should now include the one you made above.

At this point, the world is your oyster. Select any of the widgets on the left and give it a click. A drop-down menu will appear that will allow you to assign that widget to the Sidebar you’re working on. While your options are plenty, for the most part I would wager you are going to want to use the Text widget. Considering that sidebars will sit alongside existing pages or posts, you won’t want to over complicate them and the Text widget will allow you to add relevant info in a simple and concise way. Additionally, the Text widget allows you to use HTML so you can include a bit of code from one of your favorite productivity tools.

In the image, you can see I added a scheduling widget to my sidebar. You can add multiple widgets to sidebars, but be judicious about this. You don’t want to cram too much in there.

Assign Sidebars to Specific Pages and Tags

The whole idea behind sidebars is to add functionality without making things difficult. The next step for us is to add a sidebar to our Pages. Select the page most deserving of your fantastic sidebar and hit Edit. You’ll notice on the right-hand side a new menu is available that contains the names of the sidebars you’ve created. This is where using the Name field for sidebars comes in handy, select the one that is appropriate to the page you are working on. When naming, give them a name that makes it easy for you to remember what they do. Once you’ve chosen, your work is done when it comes to adding a sidebar to a page. Click the Update button.

Now let’s look at doing this for tags. When you make a new Post in WordPress, you probably know by now that you can tag that post. This is useful for many reasons and today we are making it even more useful. You can assign sidebars to specific tags. When you do this, that sidebar will appear only on the archive for the tag you mentioned.

A good example of how to make use of this ties back to that scheduling tool I mentioned above. Say I write a post about a complicated feature of WordPress and I happen to have a business consulting with people about how to use WordPress well. I might tag the complicated feature posts consulting and link that tag to my scheduling sidebar. The process is nearly identical to the process for adding a sidebar to pages. Hover over Posts in the left-hand nav and select Tags. From there, find the tag you need and select Edit. Again, you will see a new menu option that allows you to add the sidebar. Pick the best one and hit Update.

Key Takeaways

Sidebars powered by the Genesis Framework are a great way to customize and extend the functionality of your site. Genesis sidebars are unique for being able to connect to specific pages and specific tags rather than just going on every single page of your WordPress site. After a small up-front charge and a bit of installation, setting up these sidebars is as easy as selecting the fields you want to show your visitors. The main thing to remember is to not go overboard. Use sidebars to enhance your site, not to build your site. And, as always, have fun.