Sidebars can have their purposes, but in most cases there is probably a better way to give your users the same functionality and create better conversions.
The post + sidebar layout is fairly common across WordPress themes. With widgetized areas allowing site owners the ability to add all kinds of functionality, ads, Twitter feeds, and more along the side of their site.
Often times at the expense of pulling the users attention away from the content they landed on the site to view in the first place.
Typically sidebars are used to drive users to additional content or serve up ads, if that’s your revenue stream. But you also want users to view your content. Not bounce off to a third-party advertiser, right?
Sidebars distract users from your content
Most sidebars are going to be laid out at the top of your page alongside the beginning of your content. Best case scenario: Someone reads your entire article and scrolls back up to view your sidebar.
Just kidding. That doesn’t happen.
So rather than showing your user related posts in a sidebar before they’ve even read the current post, you can add them after your post when a user is ready to move on. Or you can include a link to a related topic inline the post in a relevant area so the user can get more in-depth on a subject.
This can even be used for advertising. If an ad is shown inline with the post (and is relevant) a user is more likely to click through getting you that sweet, sweet advertiser money. 🤑
Users don’t use sidebars
For much the same reason I don’t like sliders, I don’t like sidebars. It adds too much noise for the user to deal with when determining the next steps you want them to take. If you can’t decide what’s most important for your site adding, 5 things isn’t going to convert better.
But do sidebars even convert?
Videofruit did a case study ditching their sidebar and saw conversion rise 26% increase in email signups. While their sidebar signup was hitting something like 0.3%.
For every 1,000 people who come to your website, 3 people will click on the sidebar.
– Bryan Harris, Videofruit
Sidebars suck on mobile
If you’re viewing a typical post on the left, sidebar on the right layout on a mobile device, chances are the sidebar is stacking below the entirety of the content. Essentially invisible to your user.
But if you have your relevant information interspersed within your post then mobile users will still see it.
And users do scroll.
Sidebars are not as nice looking
One of the cool new features of the upcoming Gutenberg editor in WordPress is the ability to use full and wide alignments on images and blocks.
Good luck making those work with a post constrained by a sidebar next to it.
Freeing up the space allotted to a sidebar let’s the designer do more with the space available to the post content. Not to mention get creative with Inserting the items you may typically have included in a sidebar.
Now I know what you’re saying, “Jason, your site has a sidebar on the blog archive.”
And that’s true. That sidebar is in a place for content discovery. And it is the only sidebar you’ll find on my site. I don’t have anything in my sidebar linking to external sources. Currently it’s being used for navigating down into specific topics on my blog and a newsletter signup that really needs a redesign.
My main gripe with sidebars is stealing valuable screen real-estate and more importantly user attention from the true purpose of your page. If you’re on a post you want the user’s attention on your content. If you’re on a product, you want the user looking at the information and making a decision to buy. Sidebars can pull that user attention away from where you want it, and that’s no good.
And I’m not just saying this so I don’t have to style widgets. I generally avoid sidebars in my themes, and will continue to lean away from them in new themes.
I’m not saying sidebars aren’t useful in any case. I’m pushing for you to consider if the use of a sidebar is really helping to improve your user’s experience.
Research on sidebars
Want to read more research based findings on sidebars? Check out theses posts.