Why It’s Finally Time to Get Rid of the Sidebar on Your Blog Posts

After reading some case studies about the benefits of getting rid of a website’s sidebar, I decided to give it a try on two of my blogs.

In the end, getting rid of the sidebars on two of my blogs improved my sites’ bounce rates, pages per session, session durations, % exit, and even ad CTR in one case, based on twenty days worth of data. Note, I only removed sidebars on blog posts. Other types of pages such as feeds and the home page still have sidebars on this site.


Case Study #1: Webtricks (This Site!)

The first site I removed the sidebar on was this site – the one you’re reading right now. Note again that I only got rid of the sidebars on the blog posts, not the pages such as the Home page. And, on this site and the next site, the sidebars were sticky (not sure if that matters or not).

Here is the analytics data for 83 days before getting rid of the sidebar (12,158 pageviews), and 20 days after (2,497 pageviews):

SidebarNo Sidebar
Avg. Time on Page3:242:35
Bounce Rate89.92%87.25%
% Exit82.92%75.45%
Ad Click Through Rate15.59%19.56% WOW!!!
Google Analytics stats before and after removing the blog sidebar

The first stat doesn’t look good for the “no sidebar” argument, with the Average Time on Page much larger for the blog with the sidebar. If you understand this stat, however, you’ll find it’s a pretty unreliable metric for measuring real time on page, partially because Google Analytics has no way to measure the length of your last page view on a site, among other things.

For all of the other stats, the “no sidebar” version wins, in some cases pretty handily! What’s really amazing is that the ad click-through rate is higher for the no-sidebar version, because the sidebar that I removed actually contained an ad. Thus, the version with one less ad had a better CTR! Amazing!

But, how do we know this data real and not just coincidence? The way we can verify the accuracy is by looking at mobile analytics. On mobile, the sidebar is pushed to the bottom, so we would expect to see almost identical stats on mobile before and after getting rid of the sidebar:

MobileSidebarNo Sidebar
Bounce Rate94.4%95.12
Pages per Session1.081.09
Session Duration0:200:14
Google Analytics stats on mobile

Yup, the first two stats are darn close, confirming the validity of the data. The third stat, Session Duration, is another unreliable one (see previously linked article), so I treat that difference with a grain of salt.

We’d expect to see a more pronounced difference in stats on desktop. Here’s what I got:

DesktopSidebarNo Sidebar
Bounce Rate89.2286.07
Pages per Session1.211.36
Session Duration0:430:56
Google Analytics stats on desktop

Wow, here on Desktop, “no-sidebar” is a clear winner in every category, with significant improvements in Bounce Rate and Pages per Session!

Conclusion: Bounce rate went down by 3.5% and pages per session increased by 12.4% on desktop with the sidebar removed! Ad click through rate increased by a whopping 25.4% even though the sidebar ad was removed!!

So overall, we’ve shown that the control data is good: mobile stats before and after getting rid of the sidebar were unchanged. Desktop stats were significantly better after getting rid of the sidebar!


Case Study #2: Disable My Cable Blog

The second site I tried this on was my other blog, DisableMyCable.com. For this analysis, I isolated just the blog section of the site. Here are the results for 49 days before I removed the sidebar (37,321 pageviews) and for 20 days after I removed the sidebar (9,988 page views):

SidebarNo Sidebar
Avg. Time on Page2:482:59
Bounce Rate80.64%80.47%
% Exit72.97%72.97%
Ad Click Through Rate3.95%3.83%
Google Analytics stats before and after removing the blog sidebar

On this site, the overall stats are a bit more even. “No sidebar” wins Average Time on Page, but we already know that is an unreliable stat. Bounce Rate is just barely better with no sidebar, and % Exit is exactly the same. This site is mostly viewed on mobile, so this is somewhat expected.

Ad Click Through Rate is better with the sidebar, but on this site, I was monkeying with ads while doing these tests. I ended up reducing the overall number of ads during the process so unfortunately, that stat is not really accurate either. (If anything, it’s still a strong case for no-sidebar since the click-through rate decreased by so little in spite of reducing the overall number of ads).

Separating out mobile and desktop gave some clarity. Here are the stats for mobile, which we would hope would be nearly the same:

MobileSidebarNo Sidebar
Bounce Rate81.05%81.26
Pages per Session1.311.31
Session Duration0:581.03
Google Analytics stats on mobile

Yup, the numbers are nearly identical as we would hope and expect, confirming the validity of our data. Now on to desktop!

DesktopSidebarNo Sidebar
Bounce Rate80.25%78.62%
Pages per Session1.311.49
Session Duration1:021:18
Google Analytics stats on desktop

Here we see pretty impressive improvements across the board in Bounce Rate, Pages per Session, and even Session Duration (which we take with a grain of salt).

Conclusion: Bounce rate went down by 2% and Pages per Session increased by 13.7% on desktop with the sidebar removed!

Overall Conclusions

If you delve into these numbers, you’ll see a pretty consistent and significant improvement in Bounce Rate and Pages Per Session on desktop with the sidebar removed on blog posts. I think that makes sense. Removing the sidebar gives the site a cleaner look on desktop, more like Medium, causing more readers to delve further, whereas a sidebar filled with related articles, ads, social icons, and so forth gives the site a more spammy feel.

Bottom line, if you want visitors to view more of your blog posts on desktop, get rid of the sidebar! Of course, on mobile, this doesn’t apply.

Another Benefit

Before I got rid of them, I saw the sidebar as a page’s “dumping ground”, where I would put miscellaneous stuff that had nowhere else to go such as social links, email list signup form, related posts, my bio, and so forth. Eliminating the sidebar forces you to really think about what is important and what isn’t. If it is truly important, you should embed it right in your content. Even if you don’t eliminate your sidebar, you should do this exercise because most mobile users won’t see your sidebar when it is pushed to the bottom.


Notes and Test Conditions

I did not remove my sidebar on this site’s home page, because that is just a blog feed where people are just scanning, as opposed to reading content. There may be other cases where it makes sense to have a sidebar. In this article, I’m just talking about blog posts.

You may be wondering what I had in my sidebars. In both cases, I had a Most Popular Articles widget and a tower ad. I removed the ad altogether and moved the Most Popular Articles widget to the footer. In Webtricks, I also had a blog subscription form, which I moved to the footer. I don’t have stats for blog subscriptions before and after removing the sidebar, but it’s an interesting question.

I hope this was helpful. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! – Brian

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