I hate sidebars

Send this page address - CLICK HERE - to a friend !

I absolutely HATE sidebars!

To me, they are merely a distraction. Give the visitor too much eye candy and he'll read NOTHING. The only time I use them is on my sites that are designed to drive customers away. Yes, you read it right. I design sites with Google Adsense adverts in sidebars with the sole purpose of encouraging the visitor to click on an advert and leave. (Oops!)

In the case of a site where you want to keep the visitor as long as possible you do NOT design the pages like the classified adverts in a newspaper, with different things in little boxes in columns. (Do you know how few people read classifieds like this, unless they are searching for something specific?)

You don't want your visitor to search or to get bored, confused or angry! You must guide him to read what you want him to read. That takes structured page design. The most natural structure is a single column of text that goes down the page, with no distractions on either side. (If you've got his attention, why distract him?)

It's OK to put your main text in columns like in a newspaper provided that this doesn't force the reader to scroll up/down, left/right. You can have 2 to 4 columns flowing left to right, provided that the whole article fills up just one screen.

The thing I dislike is little "advertorials" scattered seemingly at random around the main body of text.

Here's a silly example, just to show what I mean:


I want you to read the central column of text right to the bottom. When you reach the bottom, click on the link to the next page.

Please bear in mind that I put these pages together in just a few minutes. They are not intended to be examples of page design - just basic principles of layout so that you guide your visitor to do what you want. There's lots of room for improvement but I think the pages serve to make the point.

It's good to have a clear idea of where you want to guide the prospective customer. Remove anything from the front page that does not guide him/her in that direction. Add words or pictures that help to guide/persuade the prospective customer to do what you want. Most web designers end up with a front page that looks pretty but confuses the visitor, rather than guiding. Someone asked me to appraise his site, recently. It was full of notes beginning with "we" this and "we" that, with links scattered everywhere. They were at the top of the page, bottom, left, right and centre. There was no guidance at all. It was really confusing and all the "We's" made me feel unwelcome. It seemed very pompous. It's very important to see the prospective customer's viewpoint and emphasis "You" not "We". This is what I told him:

Imagine you want to get to the zoo. You reach a large roundabout with many exits. All around you are large signboards with pictures of animals. There are signs with phrases like "Welcome to the best roundabout in Hertfordshire." "We created this roundabout for your convenience". "We have been designing roundabouts for 50 years". "We hope you like our roundabout." "We really appreciate your using our roundabout." "We'd love to have your feedback about our roundabout." "We use secure payment systems." "Securely fenced zoo."

The roundabout exits are signposted "Browse Zoo manufacturers", "Newest arrivals", "Snakeskin bags", "trading cards", "pretty animals", "Exit", "Home", "Map", "Contact zoo", "Search zoo", "Log in", "Zoo news", "How to pay", "Terms and conditions", "Zoo news" (again), "Privacy statement", "Add to favourites", "Register", "Get password", "Auction house", "Other routes", "Subscribe to our newsletter", "See our blog".

Which exit will you take?

OK, now do it again but this time you are heading for a pet shop. You just want to buy a pet. you have ten seconds to decide which exit to take. How likely is it that you'll pick the one that leads to the shop?