There’s this thing where people remove the sidebar space from their blog site. People do it for design reasons. They do it for hipness reasons. Some sidebars simply melt into extra footer spaces, others are divvied up and integrated into other spaces. Others simply disappear. What does this trend look like? Should you think about taking out your own sidebar?

Sidebars That Suck

Typically, blog sidebars catch the calls to action, advertisements and other information that doesn’t fit the true body of the page content. They take up one-fourth to one-third of the page width on the left, right or both sides of the body content. Old blog designs often use a sidebar on the homepage to contain menu navigation.

Sidebars are inherited from days when computer screens were no wider than most toasters. Web designers coped with size restrictions and a flood of new computer users by squeezing page layouts to avoid scrolling. Sidebars collected smaller nuggets of information into one place so it stayed on-screen, but didn’t interrupt body content.

The fastest way to ID an old site is to look for that boxy sidebar. Over time, navigation items moved to a horizontal layout and designers re-purposed the sidebar for advertising and promotion. More ads, more money. Things got cluttered. You might remember websites which looked like this.

TheOneRing.net in 2004

Sidebars That Don’t Suck

Carving out space for contact information, additional navigation links and promotions is just fine. It’s overstuffing the space that gives me headaches. Thankfully, there are plenty of websites doing a great job balancing promotional efforts with useful content. Bioscience Advising promotes their customer satisfaction guarantee and the phone number most customers use to order.

Bioscience Advising

Roundpeg helped Bioscience Advising choose sidebar items to make an impression without bugging research-oriented readers. Knowing the audience is teachers and scientists, we kept the focus on reading. But some blogs take focus one step further.

Sites Without Sidebars

Following a content-first approach, some personal and business blogs removed their sidebar to focus on the words and pictures in their body content. Blogging platform Medium doesn’t give its users a sidebar and won praise early on for its focus on community and crystal-clear design.

With no sidebar to design for, designers treat web pages like real pages. Text becomes larger and body text uses easy-reading fonts typically reserved for books. Check out Band Aid’s post on the importance of design.

The commitment to content elevates these blog sites to experiences like sitting down with your favorite magazine or a deluxe coffee table book.

Sites With Sidebar Alternatives

Personally, I still want a little sidebar love. Just a little place to plug an upcoming seminar or the blog’s companion podcast. With a built-in sidebar, there’s no question where to insert those items. Without one, it’s harder to tell.

Impact Branding and Design positions items that ordinarily work in the sidebar at the bottom of the post. There, readers find a neat download offer and author information.

I’m also a big fan of using call-outs and inserts. Check out Aeon magazine for a great example. It’s never pushy, just nicely styled text that links to a closely related article. Finding and adding this link is extra work, I’m sure, but it feels more natural than displaying the same list of five popular posts in the sidebar. This screenshot includes an email signup right in line with the body text one-third of the way down the page. That’s just the point when readers get hooked.

Aeon Screenshot

Decide Your Sidebar’s Fate

Time to re-evaluate your own sidebar. What’s in there now? Do people use it? Check out your website analytics to see how often those links are clicked. Gather as much data as you can about your customers’ activity. Whether you’re a business blog, personal blog, or something in between, you want to know if what you share in the sidebar is being seen.

You can go deep into audience profiles user experience design, but I’ll end with this guideline for short. Personal blogs may benefit from the focus gained by dropping the sidebar. Business blogs with a wider scope are better served by retaining a sidebar or sidebar-like space around their posts.

Take Action

Content with your blog’s design? Gonna leave it where it is? Fantastic! As long as that’s working for you, keep on keepin’ on, sidebar or not.

But if you want to shake things up, we’ve got a little work to do. Action at this point depends on the design framework and content management system working behind the scenes of your blog. I can’t speak to the specific tasks needed to alter your design. But in principle, there are three big steps to take.

  1. Assess the existing blog design with your marketing team, including the web design pro. Does what you have work, only-sort-of-work or not work?
  2. Design and implement an alternative blog design. Don’t delete or remove the old one just yet!
  3. Test the new design against the old one. Does it actually work better? A/B testing is your friend.

Once you’ve run tests on the new design for a while, decide to keep it, go back to the old one or keep trying alternative layouts.

Recommended Reading

Design is hard. It’s fun and hard. It’s personal. And hard. Big website decisions cost big money too. But design that fits your audience and fits your strategic goals is a worthy reward. Chase after it and see your blog’s value increase.

Check out the articles below for more information to inform your decisions.

Does Your Website Need a Sidebar? – Another perspective on sidebar design from Emily Anderson.

Is It Time to Retire Your Blog’s Sidebar? – More about choosing or loosing your sidebar.

What to Do When Your Sidebar Goes Mushy – Know your sidebar’s bad? Tips and examples to make it better.

Make Your Entry Pages Sparkle – Most visitors come in through your homepage, about us page or blog posts. Make sure these pages are awesome.

Boost Your Blog With These 3 WordPress Tricks – Design with columns, call-outs, embedded media and more. Great dressing up sidebar-less blog posts.

Editor’s note.  Since this blog post was written we have removed our sidebar.  What do you think?