Many WordPress designs allow you to choose whether the sidebar is displayed on the left hand side or the right side of a page. Which is better?

I looked into this issue recently whilst creating the design for a new forum I’m launching though the principles of where a sidebar is placed apply to any type of website. As you are probably aware, the vast majority of blogs place a sidebar on the right hand side of the page. Most forums don’t use a sidebar on thread pages but those who do tend to use a right hand sidebar as well (though this is certainly influenced by the fact that the default design of most forum software places the sidebar at the right hand side). Many popular websites such as Wikipedia and Facebook use a three column design with navigation on the left hand side and additional navigation or ads on the right hand side.

Should Your Sidebar Be On The Left Or Right?

With blogs I generally place the sidebar on the right hand side though I don’t have a major preference if I’m honest. I’m a member of forums with left sidebar and right sidebars and I read blogs with left and right sidebars too so it doesn’t really bother me which way it is.

Left vs Right Sidebar

I’ve been reading about the issue and most people tend to agree that, due to western users reading from left to right, a sidebar on the right hand side is better as your eyes naturally look at the left hand side of the page when reading. On the other hand, due to people reading left to right, websites with sidebars on the left hand side tend to make more money from advertising (all other things equal) as people are more inclined to click there. The heatmap from Google which advises where to place Google Adsense seems to back this theory up.

Right Sidebar for readability

I tend to agree with the thought that right hand sidebars make it easier to read content and left hand sidebars are better for placing advertisements. I’m using a three column layout with a sidebar on the left and right of the page on two of my adsense websites and the adsense ads in the left sidebar tend to make more money (some days it’s the other way around but on average ads on the left hand side perform better).

Left sidebar for optimal ads

This raises the question as to whether you want to give a better experience to your readers or optimise ads. For most bloggers, the idea is to gain more subscribers (whether it’s via RSS, Facebook or Twitter) as over time you can build up a loyal readership and make money through other means such as releasing products and services. If your blog solely makes money through advertising though I believe that placing a sidebar on the left hand side could be worthwhile if it increases revenue from ads significantly. With adsense websites I’d certainly be inclined to place the sidebar on the left hand side of the page as ads perform better there.

Google provides advertising optimising tips for Google Adsense users for bloggers who use a left and right hand side bar. These heatmaps have been created using information from the most used advertising network on the internet so in my opinion they are a great reference for optimising any type of advertising.

It’s interesting to see that the best ad positions for a blog home page are not identical for designs for designs with left or right sidebars. With a left hand sidebar they recommend a 160×600 advertisement underneath your navigation area and a 728×90 advertisement above your articles and another in the centre of the page (i.e. one ad in the sidebar, two in the main content area).

With a right hand sidebar they still recommend a 728×90 advertisement above your content but 300×250 ad blocks in your right sidebar (i.e. two ads in the sidebar, one in the main content area).

Home Page Optimisation

Google Ads Prefers Left Sidebars

Google recommend almost identical advertisement layouts for blog pages though. The only difference being a longer 160×600 advertisement on a left sidebar and integrating a 300×250 advertisement between two navigation areas (e.g. page links and then category links).

Content Page Optimisation

Left or Right Sidebar – What do you prefer?

If you are building a website using WordPress to make money through Google Adsense or through promoting related affiliate offers, I would recommend using either a 2 column design with a sidebar on the left hand side and content on the right or a three column design that places a sidebar on the left and right and content in the centre of the page.

Blog designs are a little different. A 3 column design may be a good solution for some as it places the content in the centre of the page and allows you to place advertisements on the left and/or right hand side of the page. I tend to prefer a 2 column design myself as the content area in the centre of a page of a 3 column design isn’t big enough for large images and everything looks a little squeezed in.

If you are willing to design a website beyond 1,000 pixels, a 3 column layout is appropriate as you will have more room to accommodate navigation, content and advertising. A great example of this is Smashing Magazine. You need to bear in mind though that wider designs look terrible on browsers with low resolutions as the dreaded horizontal scrollbar rears its ugly head.

If you are planning on using a 2 column design you need to ask yourself some questions:

  • Does placing a sidebar on the left hand side of the page make it difficult for a visitor to read your content?
  • Do you see a significant increase in advertisement revenue from placing ads on a sidebar that is displayed on the left hand side of the page?

In my experience, ads do perform better on a left sidebar, and this is what most web developers see online too. Though it could be worth doing a test to see if this is true on your own website.

To help you decide which sidebar position makes reading content easier, have a look at the demo of the Genesis Framework that uses a right sidebar.

Right Sidebar

Then look at the demo of Genesis with a sidebar on the left hand side. Which one of these designs do you think is better for reading content?

Left Sidebar

Another thing that you should consider is sidebar width. Most blog sidebars are around 250 to 300 pixels in width. A left sidebar that is 300 pixels in width pushes the beginning of sentences to the centre of a page. This is what makes reading the page a little more difficult. If, however, your sidebar was only 150 pixels in width, the content would be aligned more to the left hand side of the page and will therefore be easier to read.

Whether your sidebar is displayed on the left hand side or right hand side of a page may seem trivial to many of you though it’s something that many web developers and bloggers need to decide on if they want a good balance between a good user experience and optimising advertising revenue. I personally believe that a right sidebar is better for blogs however with other types of content websites you will need to weigh up the pros and cons of placing a sidebar on the left hand side instead of the right. Every project is different so it may depend on the design you have chosen, the type of website you want to develop and how important ad placement is.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue 🙂

Thanks for reading,

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