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Is It Time To Phase Out Your Sidebar?

It seems like sidebars on websites have been around as long as websites themselves.

Initially, they were meant to improve the usability of your site. They often had navigation menus, links to blog posts and other popular content, and displayed offers and things you wanted your visitors to find.

Yet sidebars have always created clutter. What’s more, they’ve been a distraction from the main reason people come to your website – to read your content.

And that’s because over time they’ve been hijacked by marketers looking to display opt-in forms, ads and other promotional content that doesn’t always add much value to the visitor’s experience.

I know, I sound like a heretic saying that sidebars create clutter and don’t add to the visitor’s experience. After all, we all know that we need out email list opt-in in our sidebar. How else will people find it and subscribe?

I’ll get to that in a bit.

Because in theory you believe your sidebar helps people find things on your site. But what do sidebars help them find? Stuff they want? Or stuff that you want?

Remember your website isn’t created for you. It’s created for the people who would want to do business with you. So while you want to make sure they see how to subscribe to your list, they may not have any interest in subscribing. And so your sidebar becomes a distraction.

Or worse, they simply ignore your sidebar.

In reality, that’s what our friends at ConversionXL have found. According to heat map studies they’ve done very, very few visitors will use your sidebar. Therefore, there’s little reason to clutter your design with a sidebar that won’t deliver the results you want.

The idea of removing your sidebar holds even more water when you consider people viewing your site on a mobile device.

In most mobile-friendly website design your sidebar will drop to the bottom of your website. This makes it likely that it won’t be found in the first place. And if it does, it’s a long way from where they began at the top of your site.

With more than 50% of your visitors using a mobile device to view your site your sidebar becomes nearly useless. And if you’re relying on your sidebar to get subscribers that’s bad news.

Of course everyone’s needs are different. And it may seem extreme to get rid of your website’s sidebar. After all, where you gonna put all that stuff like recent blog posts, social media buttons, your latest offers and the most sacred cow – your email subscription box?

But give it a try. Phase our your sidebar and see what happens. Make your content the most important element on your pages. Without a sidebar your visitors have much less to focus on other than you content – which is why they found your page in the first place.

The great thing about website is they very often can change easily. You may even have a WordPress theme that allows you to (temporarily) remove your sidebar on pages and posts (the Genesis Framework does this natively). So you can test it and put your sidebars back if you find not having one doesn’t work for your visitors.

So where do we put that all-important email subscription box?

There’s actually many places. But begin by changing your thoughts of displaying your subscription form. Instead briefly tell people about your free offer and provide a button to click to a short landing page. On that short landing page you have the space to describe the value and benefits of what they get from your free offer.

Today this method coverts much better than a signup form in the sidebar – or anywhere else.

So now that you don’t have to make space everywhere for your subscription form, you can actually put your email subscription offer and button in many places.

The two most valuable places to put your email subscription button:

At the very top of every page of your website. It’s the most valuable real estate on your website. This can be done in a number of ways. Contact your web designer to ask how.

The second place is just after every single article or blog post on your site. That way when someone finishes reading your blog post – and find it useful – they will find another useful thing – your free offer.

And don’t forget that you can put a link or button to your email subscription landing page anywhere in your content – pages, posts, etc. Anywhere there’s context for it.

So many sites I look at only have the email subscription box in the sidebar. So what’s better? One subscription box in a sidebar that’s either not seen or completely ignored or having 3 or 4 places on each page or blog post where your visitors can find a button to signup?

In closing, you may ask about me, my past suggestions and my own sites. Well, websites are evolving – and me with them. I’ll still build websites with sidebars if that’s what my clients really want. But they’ll know how websites are changing.

As for my own sites, I’m working on new designs that will not have sidebars.

Questions? Comments? What do you think of your website not having a sidebar?

And think about how you use websites. Do you tend to use the sidebar or do you ignore it most of the time?

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