One of the more staple and traditional elements in a blog, particularly WordPress blogs is the sidebar. Normally, and with the exception of special layouts, sidebars had always been a pre-requisite for blogs, and there are times where we even see two sidebars.
However, since the advent of popular blogging sites like Medium, the question of the importance, or even the necessity, of the sidebar has been put to the test. And because of all these content-first themes, more and more WordPress themes have been discarding the use of the sidebar.
But of course, we cannot help but wonder and ask if there are repercussions to these design decisions. Especially with usability, and reader experience. Can a WordPress blog actually remove the sidebar permanently and still maintain its functions?
This article shall attempt to answer such questions.
Why does this sidebar question matter? I’m not a blogger.
The first idea that may have popped into your mind may be this. And you have all the right to think about it. After all, you’re not really a blogging-foucsed person. You’re a web designer, and this may not concern you.
It does matter. As a web designer, this is a concern for you. You’re the one who will be affected by the possible death of the sidebar. The impact of a change in such a blogging staple will mean a total revolution in the way you see blog theme design. So you have to learn about this.
Do Personal Blogs Still Need Sidebars?
The answer is no. Personal blogs are really growing these days. With access to a domain name, and host becoming cheaper, everyone can basically set up a WordPress site whenever they wanted to.
But what about sidebars on personal blogs?
Think of it this way: you post a blog about the amazing experience you had at the Hamptons. So you write it, and put the pictures you took, publish it, and share it on your social networks. Your friend clicks on your post and tries to read. Do you think he’ll look at the suggestions in the sidebar? If you think this is the case, then you think that your article is not good enough for your friend to even read. So what is the sidebar doing there? To look at it another way, is it likely that you take a look at the sidebar first, before reading a personal blog post?
All of these cases lead to one thing: your readers (or you, depending on who owns the blog) don’t need to read the sidebar because it simply won’t do you much good.
For personal blogs, I think the sidebar does only one thing: distract readers. So it has to go.
But where do all my sidebar items go?
Ah yes. The sidebar was useful because it can serve as a storage space for the “everything else” in your design. These elements are the ones you can’t include in the navigation bar or for the other areas of the page for some reason.
The Search Bar
The first item in the list is a search bar. Of course, we know how important search bars are to user experience. Most blogs prefer to put it in the sidebar because it can be easily seen. So, keeping it there might just be a good idea. After all, if you want your users to discover the other pieces of awesomeness you wrote, letting them search it is the best way.
There’s only one problem. Generally speaking, the search bar doesn’t belong in the sidebar. It’s recommended that you put it in the header, or even the footer. The reason is that your readers will most likely search for more articles before they read your article or after they have read it. Does that make sense?
The Recent/Popular Post
This one is probably one of the most popular widgets bloggers use. And it’s hard to argue that this widget doesn’t have any use, because it does. Basically, it encourages your users to click on more stories, thus improving bounce rates, and times they spend on your website. And that is okay.
But like the search bar, your recent/popular post widget can be strategically placed somewhere else to avoid distracting your reader.
The best place can be at the end of your article. You can put widgets like Related Posts and Post Suggestions, and you won’t even go to much trouble to do this. We have WordPress plugins (like Jetpack) for that.
But more importantly, this is where you need to make sure your content is good. Quantity of suggested posts don’t really correlate to more click throughs, so much as quality. If your articles are well-written, you can encourage readers to click through your suggested posts even if you just have two or three.
Subscribe and Newsletter Stuff
Lastly, one of the more common elements put in the sidebar are subscription and RSS-related widgets which could be important in acquiring new audience. Everybody needs this. But if you are paying attention, you may notice a patern: is the sidebar the best location for this?
But What about Advertisements?
Now that’s a difficult argument to counter.
If you are a niche-specific blog that runs advertising as the primary revenue model, then adding a sidebar can make sense. But it isn’t a necessity. If you really want to be consistent and creative and avoid the sidebar, you can place your ads at the beginning, middle, or end of your article. You can also use them in the banner area (if it’s available) next to your logo, or at the footer. The point is that we shouldn’t just assume the sidebar is the only place for ads because it is the most common.
Let’s Answer: Is the Sidebar Dead?
The short answer is: not yet. It’s not yet dead, but it’s hanging by a thin thread.
Personal blogs, which started getting rid of the sidebar had started its decline, but I predict niche-specific blogs will follow soon. And I’m not saying that because I hate the sidebar. I think the design principles we understand today are way different than just few years ago. And, sadly, the sidebar is a remnant of the distant past. As web design evolves and shifts its focus on user experience, content, and speed, sidebars will be gone eventually. With mobile, and even wearable technology becoming more popular, this future without the sidebar may come sooner than we expect.