The Pros and Cons of Having a Sidebar on Your Blog
The decision to 'ditch the sidebar' is becoming more popular, but should you do it?
In my post last week about my update to The Cornish Life's website design, I mentioned that I'd got rid of the sidebar on the blog, and I promised to discuss why and how it's worked out.
'To sidebar' or 'not to sidebar' is a common debate at the moment in the blogosphere, with many big bloggers (from all industries; tech, lifestyle and business/marketing!) removing their blog sidebar in favour of full-page blog posts with no distractions.
Below I've outlined some of the pros and cons of having a sidebar on your blog, and then I'll go on to talk about my experience:
Pros of having a sidebar on your blog
You can feature snippets of information about you or your business/blog
(so people who land on your articles get some context about who you are)
You can display a newsletter or RSS sign up form, or social media links
(so that people can follow you easily)
You can add links to paid products/services (eg. ebooks)
(to encourage people to buy from you and make you money)
You can include links to recent and popular posts on your blog
(to keep people clicking around to more page on your website)
You can feature sidebar adverts or affiliate links from third parties
(as a way to make income from your blog)
Cons of having a sidebar on your blog
Your readers have constant distractions as they scroll
(meaning they might click through to something in your sidebar and not read your full article)
Using sidebar adverts or linking to third parties takes people away from your site
(meaning less pageviews and readers, and less money from products/services they may purchase if they stayed on your site)
It can make your blog look cluttered and busy
(which may not work well if you have a very minimalistic brand)
Why I Removed the sidebar on The cornish Life
After re-assessing the brand, I decided that I wanted to focus on high quality images, minimal design and a relaxed feel to the website. Something truly aesthetically pleasing rather than full of information, which meant having a sidebar felt too cluttered.
But I was concerned that if I got rid of it, people wouldn't stay on the blog for as long! The old sidebar had links to recent and popular posts to entice people to keep clicking, so I was worried what would happen when those weren't there.
Would they just read a post and leave again? How would people possibly cope without being directed around by my sidebar 'signposts'?!
So the next step involved me checking Google Analytics for The Cornish Life. I wanted to see exactly what the bounce rate was and how many pages per visit people were viewing (FYI, the 'bounce rate' on a website is the percentage of people who leave after viewing just the one page they landed on).
My bounce rate on TCL has always been very low; around 2% (aka. only 2% of people leave after viewing the first page they see), and the pages per visit average around 3 - 4.
Pair these numbers with the fact that my blog design allows me to showcase 'recommended posts' at the end of each article to keep people reading, I thought I could probably get away with testing how having no sidebar would affect these stats for a month or so!
Has it made a difference?
Well in terms of design; I do love the new layout! And I've had lots of positive comments and compliments about it since updating, so that's always a good sign. But in terms of my analytics?
Somehow my bounce rate seems to have decreased - which is amazing! And my pages per visit/session seem to have stayed more or less the same.
It's great to see this as it really shows that not having 'signposts' up and down my sidebar to encourage people to stay on my blog really doesn't matter. Visitors are still reading and enjoying the content enough to stay!
Will I remove the sidebar on this blog?
With all that being said, it's easy to question whether I should remove the sidebar from this blog on byRosanna. However, I wouldn't expect the same results...
The main reason is this: the goals of my website and blog here on byRosanna are very different to that of The Cornish Life. This website is my business; my main source of income, and this blog is my main marketing tool! So it very much matters whether people stick around to find out more about me or my services.
Knowing what I know now and how removing a sidebar on The Cornish Life has had little effect, I'd certainly be more open to the idea of testing the removal of my sidebar here, but at the moment, I'm not unhappy with the design and look of my blog - so why fix it if it ain't broke, right?
Key Considerations & Questions to ask yourself
1. What are the goals of your blog/website?
Do you want people to read your posts and become loyal visitors? Do you want to sell products or advertising space? Prioritise these goals, and see whether having a sidebar could be helping or hindering you achieving them.
2. What are the values & personality of your brand?
If your brand's values center around simple, minimal living, for example, then a sidebar would be contradictory to your essentialist values. But if your brand personality is fun, helpful, inspiring and quirky, it may not make a difference whether you have a sidebar or not.
3. What are your current analytics?
Go into your website traffic analytics and find out your current bounce rate and pages per visit numbers. If your bounce rate is already high (over 60%), it may be difficult to tell what difference not having a sidebar will make, as many factors could be contributing to this number. However, if your pages per visit is high (3+) and bounce rate is low, it could be the perfect time to experiment!
4. What does your blog design allow?
Depending on the design of your current blog, it may not actually be possible to remove the sidebar (or it may require a developer to help you to get rid of it!). If you can't be dealing with that, or a change in design, then assess how important a change is to you, or whether you just want to keep up with trends. Is it really going to help your brand and goals, or could you wait until you want a full redesign?