Multiple Content Areas

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I’m closing the comments on this as it’s a very old technique that I no longer use or recommend. A much better option is to use Column Classes in your CSS file, then use the Div Shortcode Plugin to make it easy to create columns in your pages.

WordPress works great if you want to display a title and then a block of content, but if you’re using it as a CMS you’ll often be faced with the problem of multiple content areas. You might need multiple boxes on a homepage, or 3 columns of text on an inner page.

There’s many ways to go about this. Some of them include:

  • Including <div>‘s in your post content. This will work well for a developer who understands code, but for clients it is not usually a good option. They will typically work in the Visual mode, and can easily delete or break the<div>‘s, then not know how to add them back in HTML mode.
  • Using sidebars and widgets to display content. This is good for one-off things like sidebars (same across the site) or boxes on a homepage (only used once), but it doesn’t scale well – you don’t want 20 different sidebars for different areas of your site. It also disconnects the content from the page. It’s nice to have all the content that will appear on a page editable in the same place. (This goes back to my principle of making client’s sites easy to use and hard to break).
  • Using a shortcode to break content up into multiple columns. Ex: [column id=”1″] text in column 1 [/column] [column id=”2″] text in column 2[/column]. I think this is a great solution, but the solution outlined below is a little easier for  non-technical people to use.
  • Adding an additional WYSIWYG meta box to the page editor for the second column. Again, this is a good solution but I believe the one outlined below is easier. The solution below also allows you to determine the number of columns on a per-page basis rather than a per-site basis like a meta box.

For a project I’m working on now we needed two or three columns of content on every page (here’s an example on the client’s site). All the blocks of content are unique to that page. This solution was inspired by a post at kriesi.at, but I’ve modified it with the help of Chris Bratlien to make as many content areas as you like (the code from that post only creates a left column and a right column).

The Content

When you’re writing your content in WordPress, simply break up the content sections using an <h4> heading. I chose <h4> because it’s easily accessible from the menu bar. Select the text you want as your heading, click on the last icon in the menu( )  then click where it says Paragraph and go down to Heading 4. You could change this to whatever heading you’d like; I chose Heading 4 because for this project we only used <h1>, <h2> and <h3>.

The Code

In your functions.php file (custom_functions.php file for Thesis), paste the following code:

add_filter('the_content', 'multi_content');
 function multi_content($content){
 $columns = explode('<h4>', $content);
 $i = 0;
 foreach ($columns as $column){
 $return .= "<div class=\"column\" id=\"content-$i\">" . "\n";
 if ($i > 1) $return .= "<h4>";
 $return .= $column;
 $return .= '</div>';
 $i++;
 }
 if(isset($columns[1]))
 $content = wpautop($return);
 else
 $content = wpautop($content);
 return $content;
}

Here’s what that is doing:

  • $columns = explode('<h4>', $content); Break up the content into separate blocks every time you find an <h4>.
  • $i = 0; Make a counter (called i) and start at 0.
  • foreach ($columns as $column){ For every block of content…
  • $return .= "<div class=\"column\" id=\"content-$i\">" . "\n"; Add a div with the class of “column” and the id of “content-[i]”, so content-0, content-1…
  • if ($i > 1){$return .= "<h4>";} If this is any block of content except the first, add back the <h4> (our first block of content was everything before the first <h4>, so we don’t want to add an additional one)
  • $return .= $column; $return .= '</div>'; $i++;} Add the block of content and close the div at the end. Then move the counter up one and start again.
  • if(isset($columns[1])) $content = wpautop($return); If there’s only one block of content (no <h4>‘s were used), ignore everything we did and just show the content.
  • else $content = wpautop($content);  return $content; } If there was more than one block of content, replace the default WordPress content with the div’s and content we just did.
  • add_filter('the_content', 'multi_content'); Run this filter every time WordPress wants to see the content of a post or page.

You’ll then need to add the appropriate css to make it behave as you like. If you want to apply css to all the columns, use the class “column.” If you want to add css to individual columns, use their id’s. Here’s an example:


.column {float: left;}
#content-0 {width: 400px;}
#content-1 {width: 300px;}

I hope that helps some of you. I know I will be using it a lot for client websites.

Bill Erickson

Bill Erickson is a freelance WordPress developer and a contributing developer to the Genesis framework. For the past 14 years he has worked with attorneys, publishers, corporations, and non-profits, building custom websites tailored to their needs and goals.

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Comments

  1. Bill Erickson says

    My guess is that it's creating the div's but you haven't provided any styling to those div's. Add this to the custom.css:

    .custom .column {float: left;}
    .custom #content-0 {width: 400px;}
    .custom #content-1 {width: 300px;}

  2. Ashton Brown says

    Great idea. As a designer, multiple columns in the content area has always been my biggest challenge with WordPress. I've been working on a mulit-column css framework for the content area in Thesis. I'll have to show you when it's done.

  3. Alex says

    this looks really promising. I am currently working for a client, who wants 3 columns on all of his pages, so this might be the solution to that. gonna try it out immediately! great work.

    • Bill Erickson says

      If you're asking if this allows you to have a three-column blog post, then yes. If you're asking if this solution allows you to have three columns across which blog posts appear (different posts in each column), then no. For the latter, you'll need to create a custom page template.

  4. steve says

    Bill,
    Thanks so much for this! This is a KILLER way to break up content on a page quickly and easily. I have a question…I am making a landing page for a client and I am using your methodology and it looks great in chrome, safari and firefox..but son of a gun if it doesn't look weird in IE–am I missing something?? Here is a link to the page: http://specialoffers.stopsnoringbrez.com/

    Any help you could give me would be appreciated. Take care

    • Dee says

      Here is the link http://www.compitenthosting.com
      BTW I tried with just 2 <h4> content topics thinking the code you gave would just work with 2 columns but still it only shows 1 column in the diaplay. Please take a look and let me know how to get 3 colums showing . Thanks for your help.

  5. Dee says

    I tried what you recommended and its sort of works. BTW I added a fourth block using a <h4> tag since the 3 colums didnt look so good. besides a 2x2colum display would give a better balance to the page.
    Here is what I have in the custom.css as recommended.

    /* Added for custom content layout on front page */
    .custom .column {width: 300px; float: left;}
    .custom .format_text {clear:both;}

    It doesnt all look well. Could you please take a look at it and guide me what to do.
    Also where do I go make the changes within theseis so that the <h3> tags look similar to <h4> tags.

    I was reading your other posts and came across this bit of code:

    .[index_page] .column {float: left;}
    #content-0 {width: 300px;}
    #content-1 {width: 300px;}

    which I has earlier put in the custom.css.

    Shouldnt i be putting something that just gets this for the index page to look etc Since I do not want <h4> tags across the whole site to be effected.

    Look forward to your reply and Thanks a Ton for helping out. Cheers!

  6. Dee says

    Great!… Worked out swell. Now its looking good. Thanks a bunch for the help and showing me how its done. Been seeing some of your sites that you done line Harvest Eating and other … great job. BTW I do get your point about 4 columns being a booboo. Sorry maybe I was'nt able to express myself clearly, but luckily you got what i meant exactly… the way it is now.

    Just for my knowledge should I need to do one with a 3 column anytime what should be changed in the code thats now working – Or will it work right off the bat.

    Once again thanks for your help and time and I look forward to you educating me about the 3 column issue I just mentioned.

    Have a Fantastic Day, Cheers!

  7. Mahindra says

    Thanks Bill, I will test this out. I have been experimenting with different plugins to get this "multiple block" effect on pages.