February 27, 2006

The Right-Side Column: Just Noise?

If it is your side column on your website you want it. But does your user see or even read it? You might argue that the side column is a common standard. So we do need it. Do we?

Do you miss the side column right now? I don’t hope so, as this would mean that you are bored, before you know where I am really heading to.

Eyetracking

Jakob Nielsen from the Nielsen Norman Group asks the following interesting question:

Is “text-box blindness” getting to be as bad as “banner blindness”? We don’t know yet, but in our eyetracking study, users didn’t look at the Google ads in the right-hand margin of this page any more than they did banner ads.

The picture has been created with the help of an eye tracking device. It illustrates that people don’t look at Google ads, but it also shows which parts of a website users generally look at: They seem to ignore the right side column. This is not so surprising when you reflect on your own experience. Do you care about side columns when you read?

The only side column you look at is your own side column

If it is your side column on your website, you need it, like it, maybe you even love it, as you need, like, love everything on your own website. But as a user, you only care about what you are reading right now. It’s a bad sign if you care about the rest. Do you miss the side column already?

The supposed function of the sidebar

The supposed function for the sidebar is: If the user finishes the article, or if he gets bored, he needs something to click. Now ask yourself: Where is the user, if he finished the article or if he gets bored. Either he clicks away or he scrolls down to see if there is something coming down there.

Well, in that case, I’d say, provide him with something juicy below the article. It’s the footer you reach when you finish the article. And it’s the footer you scroll to, if you get bored.

On article pages the sidecolumn is nothing but noise that makes it hard to focus on the text. On overview pages of course a coulumn layout can make sense.

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