April 18, 2017 | Kayla Hollatz
*Cue the dramatic sunset*… Since the dawn of blogging in 1997, blogs have featured sidebars of all sizes and orientations.
Most commonly found on the right side of a website, a sidebar is simply a static column to share your professional bio, a headshot, or links to other relevant content and platforms to connect with you on.
When blogging began, having a blog sidebar was a no-brainer, but now the digital space has evolved.
Websites have gone from complicated, elaborate designs powered by Flash (thank heavens that trend died!) to clean, minimalist designs with simple layouts.
This shift to minimalism and a “less is more” mentality in web design has led marketers to enter into today’s debate: Sidebar or No Sidebar?
Sidebars: Good or Bad for Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)?
So what would happen if we got rid of our blog sidebars?
Would conversions increase? Would they decrease? Would anyone even care?
This is where conversion rate optimization (CRO) comes in handy, especially with split testing (or A/B testing).
What’s split testing, you ask? It’s a set of controlled experiments that are conducted with the specific goal of directly improving call-to-action (CTA) conversions.
In regular human speak, it’s comparing one variation to another to see which performs the best.
Because blogs are often used as a central hub for educational, thought leadership-based content (like ours, *nudge nudge*), is a great place for turning trust into conversions.
Back to sidebars…
Bryan Harris at VideoFruit experimented with removing their blog’s sidebar.
His goal? To see if conversions increased without the distraction of a sidebar.
He planned to do this by using quality content to entice readers within the blog post to take one simple action: sign up for their email list.
After putting their email opt-in form inside the content, they saw a significant lift from their conversions.
For VideoFruit, the blog version with no sidebar resulted in 26% more email signups than the version with a sidebar.
Okay, done deal. We should all get rid of our sidebars today, right?
Neil Patel, the co-founder of CrazyEgg, heavily supports blog sidebars. Since he receives 100,000+ unique monthly visitors to his blog, we’re listening.
Here’s why he love sidebars:
“Sidebars can [be used] to promote products or services as well as to get users to do anything else you want.” – Neil Patel
Anything you want, you say?
We’re good with that.
Along with promoting your products or services, your sidebar can also act as another level of navigation tailored to your specific blog audience.
Take our blog, for example:
We use our blog sidebar not only to give a nod to our email list, but also to share our blog categories.
If a first-time visitor is interested in learning about what we do, it’s clear from looking only at our categories that we love all things digital marketing and web design.
If a repeat visitor wants to peruse our blog once more, they can directly find what they need.
Sidebars can also be search engine optimization (SEO) gold.
Neil says the SEO benefits you get from your blog sidebar can be even greater than the email list conversions.
“I link to all the popular guides and posts on Quick Sprout. It helps pass search engine juice to all those pages, and it causes them to rank highly in Google.”
Search engine juice for the win!
A more tailored user journey = more time on site = more trust = less bounce rate = thumbs up from search engines.
Sidebar or No Sidebar: Call it a Truce?
Before you touch your sidebar, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
When in doubt, test!
Who doesn’t love a good CRO experiment? Although it’s great to get advice from leaders in the industry on what’s worked for them, no one can predict exactly what your audience will prefer.
We always recommend our clients test how different copy and design performs, especially in landing pages for pay-per-click campaigns (PPC). Solid data always wins.
Make sure you have ONE call-to-action (CTA)
When you decide to do a split test, make sure you have only one call-to-action.
Having multiple CTAs leads to choice overload and dismal conversions…not a combination we love. Also, if you try to test too many option changes at once, it’ll mess with your results big time. Keep it simple.
Always have your strategy in mind
A non-strategic sidebar will be less powerful than no sidebar and vice versa. It all comes down to how you use it.
First, determine your blog goals and understand your highest priority. Is it for visitors to sign up for your email list, comment on your blog and use it as a forum, sign up for an upcoming webinar, follow you on social media, or something else entirely?
Then make sure your call-to-action is clear as to what you want your audience to do next. When it aligns with your blog goals, you’ll be able to tailor your blog layout accordingly.
Do you have a sidebar or have you removed it from your blog? Why? Let us know in the comment section below!