Ditch the Sidebar on Your Website and Increase Conversion Rates by 26%

Bryan Harris —  Bryan Harris /

How often do you click a website’s sidebar?

I’ll tell you.

0.3% of the time.

In other words, for every 1,000 people who come to your website, 3 people will click on the sidebar.

THREE!

In case you were wondering…

Yes, that is really lousy.

By comparison, 200 out of every 1,000 people who came to this blog post clicked the call to action and opted in to my email list.

So, what would happen if you removed the sidebar and focused your readers’ attention solely on the content instead?

Recently Devesh and I ran an experiment to find out for ourselves.

What happened when we ditched the sidebar on the Videofruit blog

The #1 action I want a new reader to take when they come to my site is simple…

Subscribe to my email list.

The most effective way I’ve found to do that is by offering specific pieces of premium content in a blog post in exchange for an email address (i.e. content upgrades).

My theory going into this test was that by removing the sidebar, the readers’ attention would be more focused on the content and the opt-in rates of the content upgrades would go up.

Before I share the results, let me show you what we did.

A typical Videofruit blog post looks like this…

In our experiment, we used the split testing tool Optimizely to send half of this post’s readers to our traditional format that included a sidebar. The other 50% of readers went to a variation without a sidebar.

This is what that page looked like…

Then we measured the results to see which page produced the most email signups.

The results?

The version with no sidebar produced 26% more email signups than the version with a sidebar.

Here’s a look at the split testing data…

Does this mean I just rip the sidebar off my website?

Maybe.

For this test to be statistically relevant, we needed a 95% confidence rate, and we fell 1% short. We should also have at least 100 – 200 conversions per variation.

This is mainly due to needing more traffic to the post.

So, we are running a site-wide test over the next month before permanently removing the sidebar.

We’ll report back the results when it concludes.

Also, if the experiment goes as expected, we’ll lay out the step-by-step process you can follow to properly test and implement this strategy

PS: Have you ever changed up one element on your blog and seen major results? I would love to learn from you. Share in the comment section below.

  • Carl

    Interesting stuff, Brian. Quick heads up though – the links in the post don’t seem to be working 🙂

    • Thanks Carl. Fixed now 🙂

      • Carl

        No worries, keep up the awesome work! 🙂

  • Mike Becker

    So the big question is…why do I see you using the sidebar?

    • I talked about that at the end of the post. Did you read it?

      ‘So, we are running a site-wide test over the next month before permanently removing the sidebar.”

      • bratling

        I see the sidebar is back this month. Are you still testing?

    • Probably because of this Brian said in the post:

      “For this test to be statistically relevant, we needed a 95% confidence rate, and we fell 1% short.

      This is mainly due to needing more traffic to the post.

      So, we are running a site-wide test over the next month before permanently removing the sidebar.”

    • Because the experiment continues? I guess 🙂

  • Interesting point Bryan.

    I deal with a different audience, however. And have seen a different result. Recently added Ad Sense and category links to my website.

    The result was a big increase in page views and the ads turned into a ton of money. It think our RPM is over $15.

    Why do I do this?

    While, the adsense money is spent right back on our highest converting Facebook ads. This lets me build my audience quicker and faster.

    Plus, my site didn’t see any drop in our conversion to email through the process.

    I think a lot of these tests vary greatly on who your audience is.

    • Good insight Tyler.

      I wonder if your ads would perform better if they were baked into your content as opposed to being on the sidebar. That’s the case with FB itself.

      Sidebar ads get 0.2% CTR while in feed ads get 2%+.

      In content is the moral of the story.

  • Interesting stuff here Brian – this side bar stuff is the reason I opted into your list in the first place and it’s great to see you revisit this.

    I have significantly reduce the content in my own sidebar from time to time but didn’t have proper tracking in place. Optimizely seems like a viable solution and I like how analytical it is.

    Looking forward to seeing the results.

    – Lewis

  • Sue Anne Dunlevie

    Hi, Bryan,

    Love this A/B test! I was surprised that NO sidebar is winning out, so far.

    I hate websites that have a million things (badges, products, etc) on the sidebar (can you say mommy blogs?) They take away from reading the post.

    I like your welcome gate and I have a feature opt-in box. They both work better than any optin box on the sidebar.

    Sue

    • Thanks Sue. It’s been really interesting to watch it.

      I have a few ‘sidebar replacements’ in store if things go as planned.

      Kind of excited about them 🙂

      • Sue Anne Dunlevie

        Cannot wait to see them!

        Sue

      • Great post Bryan

        Your sidebar replacements sound intriguing – I’ve been thinking of stripping out my sidebars because my in-post content upgrades massively outperform the signups at the side.

        Looking forward to seeing what you’ve got here 🙂

        Cheers!

        Loz

  • I like the idea very much – it makes perfect sense. I’m no statistician, but is 94% confidence not enough? Sounds pretty high to me.

  • Hey Bryan,

    just yesterday, when I went through buffer blog, I’ve been thinking about it and few hours later I see in my box – rip your sidebar off 🙂

    It sounds like it works extreeemely well for you, looking forward to more info with more data.

  • Mihai Herman

    Love it when I find ideas that are so out of the box and you are one of the go-to persons for very interesting ideas and “methods” as you like to call them!

    Really looking forward to see how the experiment will go 🙂

  • Awesome stuff! I see a big trend of “no sidebar” blogs and I think it does wonders for usability, it’s great to see it’s also helping with conversion rates.

    I think I might finally make the switch.

  • Hey Bryan,

    Cool stuff!

    Quick question: You said you needed more visitors to have a higher confidence level and there for a more meaningful test… What kind of traffic are you testing? Is it random visitors, only new visitors, both new and returning, only completely new (meaning it’s their first time at your site), only referral new folks, only search engine visits that are either/or new/returning?

    Just curious about normal distribution and if that’s being considered through some sort of randomness or not.

    Again, excellent info! I’m looking forward to the results.

  • Interested to see the final results of your test. I think Tyler’s comment reinforces the importance of the audience that is visiting your website in terms of whether or not to include a sidebar. I think what is important is to test your own website to see if removing the sidebar does effect conversions, page views, etc.

    • Totally agree.

      Process looks something like…

      1: Clearly define what you want your visitor to do
      2: Test to see what best produces that result

  • Nice breakdown of the experiment! Low traffic is one of my main hurdles for A/B testing, but I’ve applied other CRO techniques (like behavior flow analysis, etc) to optimize even for sites with low traffic or less than 200 conversions.

    Glad to see you are being a stickler on the math even though 94% CL *seems good enough* 🙂 Wouldn’t expect anything less than that from Devesh!

  • Agree with you Bryan! Sidebar sucks…what I mean by that it is not as effective as it used to be. This can be caused due to mobile experience throwing the sidebar way beneath the content or, in case of non-responsive sites, marginalize the sidebar out of screen.

    As you already pointed out it generally gets fewer views due to banner blindness, in which users are cognitively trained to not notice at ad-centric portions of a web page.

    Have you tried no scrolling social sharing buttons? I mean just adding them at the bottom of the post?

  • Awesome idea! I thought about that maybe there is too much going on for a reader to focus with all the shiny widgets. I’m going to try my own experiment too. Thanks for sharing!

  • Interesting. I’ll be curious to know if the results site-wide are significant in favor of ditching the sidebar.

    It makes sense though – basically you are treating every blog post as a landing page, and what you are wanting on a landing page is a sign up to your list.

  • Interesting. I know Noah Kagan did a similar test and ended up removing the sidebar. I’m curious what your results will tell you. 🙂

    Duraid

  • Great Stuff Here bryan. I’ve been noticing this on a few of my sites as well. People seem to just be paying attention to the content and not the sidebars (no matter if they have links, email sign ups, etc)

  • Should you test no sidebar/floating sidebar/static sidebar? Or does floating sidebar always beat static sidebar anyway?

  • Wow — just last week I decided to remove the sidebar for me new site. (In the process of a redesign). I realized all the blogs I love (for their appearance) have no sidebars.

    You just further verified my decision to go sidebar-less. Thanks!

  • Great insight, im certainly going to move my main focus away from the sidebar for my signups, lets see what happens

  • Fantastic post and smart test (aren’t they all?) How about using the sidebar for a different purpose (non-CTA) like stacking testimonials in there? Better use of the same real estate? Would love to hear your thoughts or see good examples of this if you have ’em…

  • Randy Dickinson

    Very interesting post. Seems intuitive. I fear we have become so caught up with the potential of plugins etc. we loose sight of our main vehicle, the post. BTW, I’m reading on my iPad and your shares tool that stays permanently on the left column blocks my reading.

    • I’ve quite often opted in on a side bar if the product or blog is something I am interested in.. what I would love to know is how you get your opt in to follow me when I scroll down the page – that is cool!

  • Hey Bryan,

    How about creating category specific CTA’s using Jetpack’s widget visibility element? Do you think you could push the conversion rate up by increasing the relevancy of the fixed sidebar offer?

    I’ve strongly been considering doing the same thing and your results might just be the final push I needed to clean things up :).

  • Very interesting and looking forward to your updated results. Read a while back somewhere that a lot of major businesses were switching to a one page layout. Thanks!

  • I’m moving away from a sidebar, too. Just doesn’t seem like it adds much value and people ignore them. Results have been nice so far, but not a lot of data points.

    As for your site, why would you need a sidebar when you have 4 other call to action items on the site already? I see a hello bar on top, sumome in the lower right and sumome on the left.

  • If you do end up losing the sidebar…the next step would be to increase the width of main content area I assume?

  • Carol Anne Olsen Malone

    My problem is my content doesn’t seem to be reaching anybody. It’s like I’m preaching to an empty church. I’ve also thought the website MUST have all the gadgets and gizmos to attract attention. I hope you’ll let us know the results of your study about dumping the sidebar stuff.

  • Justin Chaschowy

    So, any updates? Why is the ad back?

    • Still running the test. You’re seeing a variation WITH a sidebar. Plan to completely remove it soon.

      • Justin Chaschowy

        What I figured, thanks for clarifying.

  • Christopher Jan

    I’m looking forward to seeing the final results of this test. I just (semi) launched my website and didn’t include a sidebar. Hoping it was the right choice.

  • Just curious, what types of things would you recommend putting on your sidebar vs leaving off? On my blog, I have a litle teaser “About Me” that links to my About Page, a couple of ads, Instagram, Twitter, and some blogs I link up to. I could always leave this stuff off, but I feel like my page looks a little drab without a little something extra. Any thoughts?

  • Thanks a lot for a great case, Bryan.

    I tested it on one of my websites and was able to increase my AdSense CTR by 119% based on a 99% confidence interval. So thanks a lot for the tip, Bryan 🙂

  • Shaheen Adibi

    Seems to be less about ripping the sidebar off VS the value of inline CTAs. As has been written about before. I’d be curious to see the different between, sidebar with CTAs, inline CTAs, and inline CTAs + sidebars. Also, shouldn’t mobile traffic already give us a good sense of performance since the sidebar isn’t there?

  • Results?

  • Moving sidebar from right to left did it for me

  • Sidebar removal. It is really something that I haven’t imagined before. I ended up in your page, because, all my experiments with a variety of sidebars does not prove much fruitful.
    Adding thumbnails, colring links, adding CSS animation stuff. Whatever I try the results does not go up. It remained more or less same.
    At one stage, I felt, I am wasting lot of my time with Sidebar testing. So, here I am. It is good to know that it worked out for you. I am not very sure whether I will do the same to my blog. Confused.