Show Popular Posts in the WordPress Sidebar

Why show popular posts in the WordPress sidebar? Well, when a visitor arrives on your site, you don’t usually want them to look at one page and then leave. Instead, it is almost always in your best interest to keep them on your site, browsing around and looking at multiple pages.

There are a lot of reasons for this. If you display any kind of ads, such as Google AdSense, the chances of your visitor clicking on an ad during their visit increase with each page they view. Even if you haven’t monetized your website with ads, a more engaged visitor is more likely to sign up for your mailing list, follow you on social media, or even purchase your services compared to a visitor that bounces right away.

To keep visitors moving around your site, it is a good idea to practice good internal linking habits. For example, by linking to related content on your blog from within each article, you are giving them related information to check out. You can use a related posts plugin at the end of your article to dynamically suggest other on-site content they may be interested in once they’ve finished reading the article in front of them. Furthermore, your sidebar is prime real estate for linking to your best content – this is a great place to add links to your most popular posts.

If you’re new to WordPress, it can be confusing to add popular articles to the sidebar. However, be following the steps below you’ll learn the quickest and easiest way to promote your most successful content to your readers on every page of your website, from the WordPress sidebar.

How to show popular posts in the WordPress sidebar with Jetpack

Jetpack is a plugin by the creators of WordPress, Automattic, that contains a lot of bonus features that don’t come with WordPress by default. One of those additional features is a few extra widgets you can use on your site, including a popular posts widget.

Using this widget is the easiest way to display links to the most popular posts on your website, especially if you already planning to install Jetpack.

So let’s get started with our guide on how to show popular posts in the WordPress sidebar. If Jetpack is already installed and configured, you can skip ahead to step two.

1. Install Jetpack

If you use the WordPress installer provided by your web host, Jetpack often comes automatically included and activated with the base install; you just need to connect it with your WordPress.com account to turn it on.

If it isn’t there, just go to Plugins / Add New and it will be in the list of “Featured” plugins. Click “Install Now,” then “Activate Plugin”:

WordPress popular posts plugins featured

You will see a bright green banner at the top of your Plugins page prompting you to connect to WordPress.com. This allows the Jetpack services that are run through their servers to function on your website. This includes the Site Stats and Publicize modules. Click the “Connect to WordPress.com” button:

How to Show Popular Posts in the WordPress Sidebar

If you do not have a WordPress.com account, it will guide you through the account creation process. If you do, and you’ve logged into it recently, it will just ask if you want to connect to that account. If so, click “Approve”:

popular-posts-jetpack-connect-wordpress-com

Next, Jetpack will prompt you to “Jump Start,” which turns on recommended features. You can click the blue button to quickly get started, or click “Skip” if you prefer to customize the settings you want turned on or off. Either way, you can edit the settings later, so unless you are already familiar with Jetpack I would suggest just clicking “Jump Start”:

popular-posts-jetpack-jump-start

On the next screen, you can edit which settings are turned on or off and edit them if desired:

popular-posts-jetpack-settings

2. Configure your widgets

Now that you’ve installed Jetpack, connected to WordPress.com, and configured your settings, we are ready to show popular posts in the WordPress sidebar.

Navigate to Appearance / Widgets. This is where you can drag-and-drop items into your sidebar and footer. Every theme is a little different and some have many widget areas while some have just a few.

Scroll down your list of available widgets until you see one called “Top Posts & Pages (Jetpack)”:

popular-posts-sidebar-widget-options

Drag this widget up into your sidebar configuration at the top of the page. It will expand to reveal a full set of options for how you would like to show popular posts in the WordPress sidebar:

popular-posts-sidebar-widget-settings

From the top, there are a number of settings that you can change to customize how your popular posts sidebar widget looks.

The title is optional. If you do not enter a title for the widget, it will simply appear in your sidebar without a heading. If you’d like to add a title, some example titles you could use are “Popular,” “Trending,” or “Top 5.”

The next box determines how many popular articles appear in your sidebar, up to ten. Remember that the more posts you include, the longer this section of the sidebar will be, especially if you choose to include images. Whatever you choose, make sure you view a few of your shorter pages and posts to make sure the sidebar doesn’t extend ridiculously far beyond the page content.

The next option lets you choose which types of content to include in your sidebar. If your website is set up like a blog, with the majority of the content added as Posts, I recommend unchecking Pages here.

The final option has the biggest impact on how your widget will look.

  • “Text List” is the simplest and most self-explanatory option; it will simply display a list of links.
  • “Image List” is probably the most popular option, displaying the post title and a thumbnail of the featured image for each post.
  • “Image Grid” will skip the post title altogether and just display a grid of featured images – which users can roll over with their cursor to view titles for.

Here’s an example of how your widget settings might look once they are all filled out:

popular-posts-sidebar-widget-options-final

If you would like to customize where the popular posts do and don’t show up, you can adjust these settings by clicking the “Visibility” button.

Click “Save” and you’re all set up. You can now visit your website to check out your new popular posts sidebar widget.

Wrapping up

Now you know how to show popular posts in the WordPress sidebar. Displaying links to popular articles in your sidebar is a great way to encourage visitors to stick around and see more of your website. Jetpack’s Top Posts & Pages widget is one of the easiest ways to add this functionality to your WordPress website.

It is worth mentioning that your list of popular posts can take a little while to update. It is based on the last day or two of Site Stats, so if a post suddenly spikes in traffic, it likely won’t be reflected in your sidebar for a few hours minimum.

What is your favorite way to show popular posts in the WordPress sidebar – with Jetpack, or do you prefer another plugin? Share your favorite method in the comments below!

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