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Left v/s Right Sidebar – which layout works best?

Answer: none. Using Visual Website Optimizer on my blog, I tested the layout of sidebar to see if it has any effect on bounce rate. Particularly, I tested whether the sidebar in right (default on many blogs) works better than the sidebar on left. The answer for my case turned out to be that it doesn’t really matter. (Though it may differ for you – you should A/B test it, it is really quite simple). Here are the versions I tested:

Control – Sidebar on the right (click to expand)

Variation – Sidebar on the left (click to expand)

Both versions had surprisingly similar engagement rate of around 22%. Engagement rate is inverse of bounce rate, so in a way this means , irrespective of sidebar positioning, bounce rate of my blog remains 78% (quite high, by the way). If you want to see actual results, here they are (click to expand):

Since the test involved changing the layout of blog across all posts, if you are curious that this would have involved digging into WordPress or PHP code – the answer is no. In fact, the took just 5 minutes to implement. Using the advanced code mode of VWO, all I did was to define the Left Sidebar variation with this CSS: #sidebar { float: left; }. Yes, just that! VWO took care of the rest.

Founder and Chairman of Wingify.

Comments (13)

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    1. Yep, 100% agree. That is why I wrote in the post:

      >(Though it may differ for you – you should A/B test it, it is really quite simple).

      A/B testing results (even Jakob’s) should never be implemented without testing on your own site. Though A/B testing case studies give ideas and set a good benchmark using which you can compare your own results.

  1. > bounce rate of my blog remains 78% (quite high, by the way)

    A bounce rate of 78% seems to be quite high for starters. But when I consider my own behaviour when reading blogs, it’s all about reading one post and leaving (or bouncing) when I’m done with it. So I guess that engagement or bounce rate is not the most suitable parameter to be tested for blogs – unless you test for some very intrusive alterations, like Smashing Magazine for example does by oftenly inserting a paragraph which is actually off-topic, beginning with “by the way:” and referring to other topics within their site.

    Much more interesting for your blog might be, whether your post has been read up to the end and people didn’t bounce after reading the first paragraph. Hence one apparently more suitable parameter to be tested seems to be the time users spend on reading your post (which might be hard to measure).

    Another interesting conversion goal might be to convince people to subscribe to your RSS-Feed or to follow your Twitter feed. I assume that tests for those parameters were much more telling.

    Bounce rate oftentimes seems to be quite overrated.

    Keep up your impressive work, Paras!

    1. Hi Rainer,

      I totally agree that bounce rate is overrated. Better metrics are conversion rate, which for a blog could be subscriptions to RSS and comments on a post. Your idea of reading the full post can also make a powerful conversion goal!

      -Paras

  2. GetClicky.com recently changed their definition of a non-bounce to include people who stayed on the site for longer than 30 seconds. When you take that into account, the engagement rate goes up a lot.

    It would interesting to be able to test against something like that. No, it’s not a feature request. Just food for thought. 😀

  3. We’re an online publication that currently gets about 10 million page views/month and a key initiative for 2010 is finding ways to create more engagement with our users to increase our page view/visit number.

    I’m looking at several different A/B testing platforms to help us with this initiative and it’s nice to see that you can measure engagement rate with your tool. So many A/B testing tools are focused on specific goals the user much reach, that’s great for an e-commerce site but as an online publication we don’t define our goals the same way and it’s refreshing to see you that you offer engagement as a goal.

    Thanks for this post.

    1. Thanks for commenting Nick! Yes, we realized that visitor engagement is a great metric to optimize for a lot of websites where no direct conversion goal stands out.

  4. This is just my two cents, but for me it makes more sense to have the side bar on the right. My reasoning for this is that for the main content when your eyes return to the beginning of the line to continue reading, I think it’s better to have a more definitive stopping place. Having the edge of the page there rather than the edge of a side bar just feels more well defined and concrete. It seems a more natural place for your eyes to return to when you’re reading.

    Furthermore, having the sidebar (not your main content) on the right makes it feel more like a reference place. For example, where you might look to get more information on the author, or a rolling news feed, etc. Anyone else see a certain kind of logic to my reasoning?

  5. Bounce rate is totally subjective. What I am getting at is if a site is designed for a low bounce rate, i.e. about.com where every article is separated into too many smaller pages the bounce rate is going to be lower than a site with long pages.

    Personally I think a visitor stays on site for 5 minutes reading the info they were looking for, and bounces, it is far better than someone skimming through 10 pages for 60 seconds total.

  6. Nice post! Have you tried to put a navigation bar to the left side? Because what I see from your experiment is that there’s no navbar on the left and without a navbar on the left, it’s meaningless to put the sidebar to the left in terms of bounce rates. My hypothesis is: a navbar on the left increases page impressions, thus reduces the bounce rate. But I don’t have a tool to prove that. I’m still a newbie with a small blog (only 150-200 unique daily visitors but 600-900 page views, and % 3 bounce rate, with no ads, no outbound links). Normally I use Dynamic Views of Blogger (with sidebar on the left) but once I experimenting with my blog template and switched to a colorful, template with three colums and no navbar on the left, my bounce rate increased to % 65 in one day! After I switched back to the dynamic views it reduced to % 11 also in one day. Now, it’s around % 3. And I’m still wondering about the reasons behind this drastic change in the bounce (is it the navbar on the left or is it because of the design in general?). Dynamic views ( with left sidebar) template allows the visitors to scroll down easily to check out your content. Here you can read my article about it: http://ashleyusher.hubpages.com/hub/Design-is-Queen-How-I-Reduced-my-Bounce-Rate-from-63-to-15-in-one-day

    I wish there are more experiments like yours. One more thing as far as I can see from your site there are no calls for action to read more. Sure there are a lot of inbound links, but may be you can invite your visitors at the end or articles to read also about x and y, or read more about that etc. to reduce the bounce rate. Some people may not even notice your inbound links if there are no specific call to read them (Your greyish-bluish text background also makes them invisible). I’m not an expert, just my two cents.

    1. @Ashley: thanks for your suggestion. Yes, call to action for further articles is something we should definitely add. Great suggestion!

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