The key to modern blog design: promote UX by retiring your sidebar
Let us take a look at and discuss the often aesthetic bane of the blog design, sidebars. Sidebars have been with us for years, and it is sometimes hard to think of a blog design out there on the web without one. But they do exist. And they exist in style. Some may think that usability must be in some way compromised, or worse, sacrificed on these sites that have gone sidebar-free, but I assure you that’s not the case.
These sites remain user-friendly, fully functional, and still keep all the information on hand that users need and/or expect; they’ve just creatively relocated it so as to not clog up the side of their site. Because while it is true that you can fit a lot of info into the sidebar, they take up valuable space on your page and run right along side the content that the viewer is currently reading, acting as something of a detractor to the content itself.
Once we get readers engaged with our content, why would we want to divert their attention elsewhere?
Chances are they aren’t going to stop reading to click on one of the links in your sidebar, nor should you want them to; but visually, that is the competition for focus we have created with this setup. Generally speaking, the goal of any blog is to get people to come by and read through the content on offer. Typically it’s promoting the brand, persons, or project behind the blog. Once we get readers engaged with our content, why would we want to divert their attention elsewhere?
This post stands to make the case to remove the sidebar altogether from the common blog design for a more aesthetically pleasing, directly focused design. Thereby allowing us to widen our main content area giving more room for large, readable type and big, clear images to engage our readers. As for the content that would normally be in the sidebar? We can easily place all of these things in a more relevant and useful place for the reader than directly competing with our content for their focus.
A search box is generally the first item you see in a side bar since, and with good reason. People tend to want it front and center. Giving users the ability to search your site for exactly what it is they’re looking for is a must and an expected element of usability that no site should be without. But that doesn’t mean that we have to load it into the sidebar.
Why not slyly slide the search box into the header of the site, or coupled with the main navigation? These approaches would make much more sense, after all what’s more front and center than that? And including it alongside the navigation fits ideally with allowing users to freely and easily surf and search your blog. Yet, we rarely see examples of this on the web. Instead, we keep the searches often pushed off to the side.
Presenting the reader with more relevant posts on your site is a great idea for keeping them engaged and on your site for longer periods of time. This is an idea that not many would argue against. But once again, why would we want to begin pitching our readers other featured posts while they are in the middle of one? Do we not trust in the power of our content to hold their attention throughout the post? And if we do trust in that power, why would we put anything alongside it to be ignored?
Do we not trust in the power of our content to hold their attention throughout the post?
But speaking specifically of featured posts, why not present them to the reader below the post? So they come to it in natural progression when they have made it to the end? Doesn’t this make the most sense? Simply offering a list of similar posts at the bottom of each article would go a long way with regards to building engagement. And if you still feel the need to showcase other featured posts, such as the most popular posts on your blog, place that list in your footer. It just seems there are ways around this that make more sense than putting this information in a sidebar.
The call to action where you are trying to get users to subscribe to your content are far too important to get lost in a sidebar that many never even look at (especially as we mentioned if your content is doing its job). Perhaps placing these subscribe buttons in two separate places on the blog would actually serve the blog much better. Perhaps it would even give these calls a slightly higher success rate than if they were buried in a sidebar (or even than when included in a stylish floating box that inadvertently ends up in the reader’s way).
In this case, we could easily place one subscribe button in the header where the reader will see it right away, and one at the end of each post where they can subscribe if they have enjoyed the content. These are still unobtrusive, non-competitive placings with regards to the content. This also gives them a reminder as they finish the post, to compliment the encouraging call they got upon their arrival.
Much of your sidebar space might be taken up with various types of archives. Specifically archives by date, categories and tag lists. This is a popular approach, because we figure that this information has to be included somewhere on the site. But is there not somewhere that makes more sense than in competition with our content? The answer is, yes. There are two ways to effectively deal with these sections.
You can create an archive page which you link to in your main navigation, condensing all of these areas into one centralized, useful location. Or, you can present metadata within each post putting it where the user would find it most useful. Here it is not a distraction from the content, but a tool to further the impact of the content as users can easily click and open this in a new tab to explore at their convenience.
We can link the author’s name to their author page, list the category (or categories) and tags of the current post and link the date to your archives by date. All of these options are implementable and keep your links presented completely relevant to the topic that brought the reader to your site.
Not every blog has to worry about finding space for advertising, but some are very concerned with this monetization element. If you can find ways to monetize a blog without advertising, it’s highly recommended (by this author in any case) to do so; mainly for all of the reasons we have already discussed of content competition throughout the post. However, if ad space is a must, perhaps getting a bit more creative with it is the key.
Just as advertising detracts from content, content detracts from advertising.
There are many other places to include advertising other than alongside your content, that could prove just as effective, if not moreso, because there is less competition with the content users came for. Just as advertising detracts from content, content detracts from advertising. Try placing adverts between blog posts on your home page, beneath the post title on individual posts, or at the bottom of individual posts. These are all examples we have seen on the web (for those surfing ad-block free). Footer ads would most likely be the least desirable, but are still a good unobtrusive place of natural progression to offer; it is often where the reader ends up anyway.
Of course the final option is to go completely minimal and omit all of these extraneous things altogether, but as we know from experience, that is not always an option. The key thing to remember is that anything we place in a sidebar conflicts with the focus we want for the reader. Instead, including these elements in places where the reader is more naturally directed should always be our first instinct and choice location for placement. That is generally never in a sidebar.