The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
Better Web Design Practice For 2017: Remove The Sidebar
About 2 years ago, for those of you who remember us, and for those that do not, when we first began, as all websites do, they evolve, but we actually started off this website with a sidebar.
Confessions of the Professions was designed to be minimalistic, mostly white with plenty of open space, uncluttered, and with very minimal distractions, as the most important part of any website is the content. That is how design should be, most of the time. There are some websites that have pulled off other looks, but for the most part, simple and minimal is better. With the sidebar, it seemed to serve a purpose for a time, but as we began to look at the design, it really was noticeable how much a sidebar takes away from the content.
A sidebar is filled with unnecessary clutter that usually only has significant meaning to the person running the website. Unless the sidebar serves the purpose of an actual navigation menu, there is no reason for a sidebar. If you look at any website with a sidebar, you notice a trend: There is not a whole lot of anything of significant importance on them. You might get a few links and then the most meaningful thing to the website owner: the advertisements.
When it comes to the advertisements, they are often from Google Adsense, and very rarely does anyone ever want to click them, or feel the need to click them, because they hardly have any relevance to the website. Meanwhile, on the other side, the content sits there and becomes an eye sore because the attention is taken away from it. Not only do visitors have short attention spans, but by having a sidebar on your website, you have doubled the shortness of their attention span, which decreases every year. It is around 2-3 seconds, but by adding the sidebar, you have now likely shortened your visitor’s attention span to even less.
In 2014 — that’s right – we have been without a sidebar for over 2 years now — we took a long look at our sidebar and began getting rid of things that we felt were unnecessary, things that we barely clicked. Then we thought about: What are our visitors likely to click on in this sidebar? Off came the links that we believed they would not click. Off came the social media sharing option which was incorporated into the content itself. Off came the text ad links and any advertisements that were really just there to try and bring in some revenue to this website. Any important additional links were incorporated into the main top menu, which was built from scratch. Finally, we were left with just one link: A way for our visitors to submit confessions to the website. Hardly a reason at all to keep a sidebar. This too, would be incorporated into our top navigation menu. We did away with our sidebar. Through CSS, we changed the entire website design, opened up the content so it was wider, and we were even able to make Confessions of the Professions responsive, which would have been a lot harder with a sidebar.
In addition to removing the sidebar, we began to remove “word” links and changed them into font icons. Whereas before, there were hardly any article contributions, people who submitted confessions to the website were finally noticing the icon of a notepad () and actually using it and our contributions increased by… a lot! Before the change, most people were emailing us and we could not understand why they were not using the submission form. The most logical explanation for this: They were ignoring the sidebar completely. It seems that font icons have been more effective for Confessions of the Professions than regular text. By reducing additional “words” on the menu, we were able to get our visitors to focus more of their attention on content, and reducing the focus on our actual top navigation menu. The only remaining text on our navigation menu was to list the most important categories of the topics we have on this website. Unfortunately, there are no font icons that could take the place of “confessions”, “articles”, “ebooks”, or “infographics”. Everything else was turned into a font icon and readers seemed to notice those more than they did the actual text!
We rely solely on our Top Bar Navigation Menu and we rely on putting things within the content itself, whether we add our advertisements above the text, within it, or below it. We expected complaints. Maybe someone would miss the sidebar. Maybe someone would email about it asking us where it went. Not a single email came at all. Nothing about a sidebar. Sidebars are a thing of the past, useless, and unless they are truly a part of the official navigation menu, they are unnecessary clutter and serve no purpose, other than to take away attention from the real purpose of your website: the content.
If you really look at the sidebar and the content from a distance, you will see that the two areas are actually competing for eye attention and one of them is going to win and one of them is going to lose. The eye will actually drift towards the white space, so then you will lose your visitors off your content faster. By providing a more open-range space of content and removing your sidebar, there is plenty of room for the eyes to focus and your visitors will still remain on your content.
Do yourself a favor and re-examine the sidebar on your website. Ask yourself if keeping those ads on the website that are bringing you pennies every month, even a few dollars, is really worth keeping. Since removing the sidebar, while I cannot tell you about the exact correlation, as we removed our sidebar in the second year of Confessions of the Professions, the number of visitors to this website did increase from its first year with the sidebar to its second year without the sidebar. I can only assume that people who can read the content will stay and continue to read content, and keep coming back to read more content, especially when it does not annoy them. When your website annoys people, they are likely not going to return. When your website offers people comfortable reading material and is not an eye sore, they are likely to keep returning.
We are in 2017 and along with pagination, the sidebar is yet another thing that web design once thought was a good idea, but has now become obsolete. I am not asking you to remove your sidebar. I am telling you to remove it because your visitors are not web designers. They actually do like good design, and while not everyone is a web designer, most people have an eye for good design in websites. Your visitors aren’t going to tell you how to design your website because it is not their place to do so. I will be their voice for them though, because really, they want you to remove it.
Many web designers have already hopped on board and already see that it is worth it to get rid of the sidebar, to do away with pagination, and it is actually more beneficial to get the visitor on your website “in and out” as quickly as possible. This might sound like a bad thing, but for example, I offer Quick Glimpse on the left hand side of every confession on Confessions of the Professions, not to get rid of visitors quickly, but to help them understand what is on the page, even if they choose to use it as a summary. If you are like me, you might open up a dozen tabs all at once, and then you skim through them, and you start weeding out the ones that had great headlines, but weren’t that interesting, and then you start narrowing it down to the juicy ones, the ones you actually wanted to read, and they actually ended up being good. If I can help a person read a page on my site and they stay for only 2 minutes, I feel I have helped them actually succeed.
I want everyone to be on Confessions of the Professions all day long, but I must admit, even I am only on my own website for no more than an hour or two a day, whether I am reading through a few new articles to get them processed for you, or I am looking back on old ones for some research I am writing for a newer article. I am busy doing other things, working on other side projects, like MyPost, or working on something for a client of mine for my freelance business. Most people are busy. The last thing I want to do is take up too much of someone’s time, and that also includes my website, Confessions of the Professions.
Get in, read the information, acknowledge it, absorb it, get out. Come back tomorrow for more. That is my motto. If you invited someone over for coffee, you would expect them to stay there and maybe keep you company for an hour or two, but after that, get out, am I right? If they stay longer than that, wouldn’t you think they are overstaying their welcome? I got other stuff to do and I am sure you do too. No reason to keep you for any longer than you need to be here.
If you come across one of our articles in a Google search, I’m glad we were relevant to your search! About 5 to 10 minutes on any website is long enough to be on that website for the day, whether you are skimming articles, or reading in-depth articles, usually no website requires much more than that. If a person spends under 2 minutes, it is a bit questionable, because you cannot do much in 2 minutes (hold your quickie jokes!), but nothing out of the ordinary, and if someone is spending hours on your website — unless you are Netflix, YouTube, or Facebook, Pinterest, or some other social media site, your chances are very slim. Enjoy the few minutes of a person’s day that you do get from them and make their time worth it on your website. Ensure that it is the least annoying experience possible.
Please remove your sidebar and focus the website on your content. Get rid of the distractions. Minimalism and white space is good. Content is great. Keep it relevant and to the point. 500 to 2,000 words is usually enough to get your point across. Some images are great, but not overkill. In your defense of the sidebar, why are you so self-conscious about your content that you need a sidebar to cover it up?
Think about it for a moment: I go speak in front of a hundred people. There is a podium in front of me. Every part of my being wants to stand behind that podium not because I need to, but because it makes me feel safe because my whole body does not have to be exposed to all the people in the room, but in reality, it actually is exposed and they can all still see me, but the podium is just creating a distraction, albeit a simple distraction, away from me and the topic I am focusing on. That is what the sidebar is doing to your website and your content. It is making you feel safe, but causing a much bigger distraction than you know. Remove that podium, and you are fully exposed. Guess what? The audience is still paying attention to you, and more so now than before, because they are now forced to look at you, your body, your face, your eyes, and now you have to rely solely on your body, your body language, and the power of your words.
GET RID OF THE SIDEBAR NOW.