Left Sidebar vs Right Sidebar – Which One Performs Better?

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Lots of people have lots of opinions on whether a left sidebar or a right sidebar is better for conversion.

There are a bunch of posts about it across the web but no one ever backs it up with data.

So I decided to run an experiment on this blog to see which performs better, a left sidebar or a right sidebar.

Personally I’m expecting the left sidebar to perform better than the right sidebar, but let’s see if I can back that opinion up with some data.

Left Sidebar Vs Right Sidebar – Fight!

I setup a split test on this blog, all I had to do was change one CSS value from right to left, and another CSS value from left to right – simple!

This is what the blog looked like-

sidebar split test

I think the left sidebar looks pretty ugly to be honest, which is actually a good thing.

I don’t know why but for some reason ugly designs generally convert better – I suppose the same is true in the pub when you think about it ^^

Desperate nerd humour, I’m here all week!

Anyway – I setup the test on May 13th and let it run until May 24th exposing both setups to a total of 8,428 unique visitors.

Left Sidebar vs Right Sidebar Test Results

I decided to look at how the change in the left sidebar and right sidebar affected key metrics such as-

  1. Bounce rate
  2. Visit duration
  3. Pages per visit
  4. Conversion (email subscription/affiliate click/resource downloads)

I also decided to segment the data in 2 ways-

  1. All Visitors – A look at all traffic both new & returning
  2. New Visitors – Just new visitors – it is likely that returning visitors are already ‘trained’ to use the site. New visitors provide a ‘fresh’ look

You can click on any of the images below to get the full versions.

So first of all let’s take a look at how it affected all visitors.

All Visitors

Bounce rate, visit duration & pages per visit are up first-

left sidebar vs right sidebar engagement results

And then conversion…

left sidebar vs right sidebar conversion results

Let’s break it down in table format to make it a bit easier to read, digest & compare.

Sidebar Pages/Visit Visit Duration Bounce Rate Goal Conversion
Left 2.35 00:03:56 60.76% 7.88%
Right 2.39 00:04:00 61.42% 8.13%

As you can see the differences really are marginal at best. The right sidebar does seem to perform slightly better, but its nothing to write home about.

Perhaps this is because my returning visitors are already ‘conditioned’ or ‘trained’ for the blog to look a certain way.

Let’s take a look at how new visitors react to sidebar alignment.

New Visitors

Bounce rate, visit duration & pages per visit are up first-

new visitors traffic engagement

And then conversion…

new visitors conversion

Let’s break it down in table format to make it a bit easier to read, digest & compare.

Sidebar Pages/Visit Visit Duration Bounce Rate Goal Conversion
Left 1.89 00:02:39 70.92% 6.27%
Right 1.92 00:02:54 71.22% 6.32%

As you can see there really isn’t much in it!

Although the right sidebar does perform slightly better as seen with the all traffic segment above.

Wrapping It Up

Based on my data I’m lead to believe that the sidebar position is mostly irrelevant.

Although the right sidebar did offer better pages/visit, visit duration and goal conversion there was barely anything in it.

Kinda feel cheated now after reading all of these exciting theories on which performs better =/

I’ll be honest I did expect the left sidebar to perform better due to the way we scan content and take it in.

It seems that as web users have become more savvy and particularly in this niche people are pre-trained to certain elements.

So as long as the sidebar is where people expect it be, at the side – it doesn’t matter if its left or right aligned!

You would be much better off worrying about the colour of your buttons or identifying & focusing converting traffic instead!

What Are Your Thoughts?

101 Responses

  1. I was wondering about this because I’d read an article about how moving the side bar to the left creates many more conversions. I was thinking about changing to the left side bar on my sites but wanted to research a bit more; this is how I ended up here. Helpful information, much appreciated.

  2. This is interesting to me as i have been experimenting with my side-bar orientation also! The results indicate that we obsess about the wrong things, window dressing is a factor but only if the content is appealing and valuable to begin with!These days we are all very much more aware of being manipulated, if that is your intention I think you are always going to be found out!

  3. “they tend to do better the uglier they are for whatever reason. Perhaps that was part of the reason why Scott got some better results.”? Not sure if that’s a reference to Matt’s assertion that left sidebars are ugly or a brutal criticism of Scott’s site

  4. I don’t think people want to be remarketed immediately comming to a page they just clicked on for specific information. The sidebar should be secondary and if the information is relevant and informative the sidebar on the right will succeed better.

  5. Ok i do believe that the left sidebar is read by google first then the article then the right side bar so you need to think carefully about what’s in the side bar. I’ve just set up a website with left and right sidebars, left is going to be related articles so its like a menu and right is going to be for everything else like adverts and such, What’s your thoughts

    1. It depends how the site is coded, you can have the sidebar on the left or right but in the code have it load as the very last thing on the page.

  6. Just wanted to say that left sidebar ads above the fold is forbidden from google adsense now. So right sidebar is the best way if you have blog with navigation in the header. If your navigation is in the sidebar .. left one is bette. For adsense.. go for the right one

  7. I wonder if the site overall style has anything to do with it. Like think of Facebook. All the main tools we access are usually from the top nav or the left side bar. I’m working on designing an online app / site and I’ve been battling with the best approach for the side bar. Been trying to find the best stats.I personally like it on the right side, but that’s because I like the look for the content I want in the top left of the page and then look at the side bar after I get the content I want on sites.Good article overall. Thanks for sharing your findings.

  8. There’s a reason behind this, and it stems from print advertising and book design. When we read a line of copy it’s natural to swing back to the left side of the copy block and start to read the next line. When an ad, or image, or anything that holds our attention is placed on the right side of the copy block the natural flow of reading is interrupted. In book design this is not a good thing, as we want the reader to be able to comprehend the story and not be distracted. But in advertising some distraction is good, especially if what is distracting them is a call to action. The guy who taught me direct marketing, Marty Edelston, called this the sand that creates the pearl, and believed that making the reader too comfortable lead to fewer sales.

  9. Awesome experiment Matthew! I also think all the time to put left or right sidebar but after so much experiments like your. Left perform more for “Ads” and right sidebar perform more for “Powerful users experience” so i decided to take right sidebar for more users happines.

  10. I just switched my sidebar over to the left today. I don’t like the way it looks, but curious to see if it changes anything. I think I’m just used to seeing sidebars on the right. We’ll see . . . 🙂 Thanks for posting your results!

  11. Hey Matt, left or right, as long as you keep publishing great content like this, I will always be on your side! LoL!On a serious note, have you got a tutorial on Google Analytics that shows us how to set the goals like you have done above?Thanks Matt!

  12. I see a clear winner! 🙂 great test! I don’t know why no one else sees this but look at the email subscriptions, left side all visitors up 21% and just new visitors up 42%! That is a big difference that means you have more people subscribing to your website.

  13. Thanks for your time – appreciate your overview. I think I will stay right since that seems more natural – even though I have read left might perform better – right just seems natural in viewing.

  14. Interesting study, but what motivated me to try the sidebar on the left is the google adsense CTR – i can’t wait to see if it has any results…

  15. how do I get the visitors to my blog to go to my main page? (i dont even have a sidebar). at the end of each post, i put a link to my main page and a short explanation what it’s about. what else can i do? out of 800 visitors, only 97 had seen my main page.

    1. Have you got header navigation with a ‘home’ link left aligned? Is the logo in your header linked to your home page?

  16. I personally Like Right sidebar(guess I’m conditioned to it over the years), Unless one is looking to monetize blog through adsense, it is better to have a Right sidebar(from readers perspective). And Matt, YOUR BLOG HAS SUCH WONDERFUL CONTENT, IN-DEPTH TUTORIALS, I don’t think having a right/left sidebar really affects your readers ;-)(Not a right blog to perform such tests :p )Thank you,Ashwin

  17. It’s good to know someone has done some testing on this. It’s faster to find the answer when you’re setting up a website. But how good a site would look whether the sidebar is on the left or right I think still depends on the theme and the number of widgets displayed. Thanks for this!

  18. Great article. Exactly what I was hoping to find in googling “Left or right sidebar?”. I had mine on the left but I will be moving them to the right after being convinced. Thank you!

    1. Hi Alexis,I would suggest testing it for yourself – I believe outside of the IM niche a left aligned bar would be better when users aren’t as web savvy/trained

  19. Matthew…Stunning Post.. and it helps my quest …. a question though. How does a site compare which have two sidebars left or right ? against a site with a sidebar left and right? ie.. the main body content in the middle as to left or right. Have you had any thoughts on that?

    1. Personally I would never use that because it gives to much choice to the user and removes control

  20. I’ve tested left vs right as well, Matthew, and my findings were similar: the difference were negligible. I left my bar on the left to stand out. Going against the grain might be a good thing sometimes. lol

  21. Hi Mark,Just integrated the Q2W3 after another read emailed me about it – check it out ^^Could you email me a link to what you are describing?

  22. I am using WP and use Q2W3 Fixed Widget plugin. My theme supports 2 sidebars (one on each side of content area) which must be used to do this.On the left, I make a “menu” in html and use the text widget, then make it fixed using the check box the plugin adds to widgets.On the right, I just use widgets as normal.That being said my blog is still work in progress and I am no expert. Just enough knowledge to be dangerous to myself.

  23. Its worth looking into ugly design from conversion – I will do a case study eventually using banners/media buys

  24. That’s a good point Matthew and perhaps that had something to do with it. For adsense sites, they tend to do better the uglier they are for whatever reason. Perhaps that was part of the reason why Scott got some better results.Interesting case study Matthew.

  25. Why not try a combo of both? Menu on one side that always stays above the fold while the other side has all your other goodies?

  26. I’ve been wondering if sidebar placement makes a difference as well, but it doesn’t seem like it based upon your study. Maybe you should try testing for a full month and see if there is any change in significance? 11 days just seems a bit short.

    1. length of time is irrelevant, it had over 8,000 uniques through the experiment which is more than enough for a simple a/b test

  27. I would have thought the left would have performed better too given some other things I’ve read on this. I’m with you though, I think the left sidebar looks ugly; I prefer the right.

  28. My personal preference would be not to have sidebars, in general they really take away from a sites overall design, but for the user experience having navigation etc is necessary, and advertising of course (have to pay the bills), until the day the computer somehow connects to our minds. 🙂

    1. I have to agree, a single column design allows you to control the flow of information much easier 🙂

  29. For some reason I have a real aversion to left sidebars. I have to make dozens of WP blogs a week for clients, and I can never bring myself to put the sidebar on the left 🙂

  30. Hi Matt,I’m just wondering, are you using the right metrics to test performance of the sidebar?When you talk about a sidebar performing better on the left or the right, surely that should be measured by interaction with the sidebar itself and not the content on the page itself. So for your site, did it make a difference to your social button clicks, subscriber sign ups, sponsered ads etc?Cheers,Carl.

  31. Definitely looks cleaner to me with the sidebar on the right. I’m quite happy that the left sidebar results weren’t amazing cause I’d have to start looking at how to fit those in without them looking horrendous!

  32. I’m no techie, but when I re-designed a site I had with a responsive layout, I put the sidebar on the left side. Then I tested it on a mobile phone and realized that all the sidebar “stuff” would come before the actual article on a page, and it actual made me think I’d gotten lost a few times.Of course, there’s work-arounds for this, but since I’m no designer or coder, the simplest thing to do was put the sidebar on the left. Then on mobile 1-column platforms, that stuff would be below the article folks are looking at.

    1. Hahaha nice to see I’m not the only internet marketer that can’t code to save their lives =D

  33. Interesting stuff Matthew, I have been wondering about this.However, visitors who uses other devices to browse the internet (rather than desktops) are increasing everyday, I got the feeling that sidebars are more likely to disappear in the future.

    1. Well responsive themes usually remove sidebars but I’m going to be revamping my navigation in the near future anyway 🙂

  34. Right it is. On something off topic, Matt what is it you are drinking in that picture top right?

  35. Hey Matt,Interesting article which hit at the right time as I have been wondering about the conversion in sidebar displays. I actually thought the left would have converted better since users are used to seeing sidebars on the right. It would be cool if there was a place for everyone to share their data on split test from their own websites and there can be discussions over the findings (hmm might create this)Also Matt I wanted to share with you a study done to research how people read Internet pages. They tracked eye movements and there were some interesting results. Check it out here http://nichcy.org/dissemination/tools/webwriting/reading

    1. Hi George,Don’t forget the IM niche is more ‘trained’ than other niches so the results might not be the same. I’ve worked with eye tracking companies before and seen the results live – interesting stuff!

  36. It actually feels weird to the eye having it to the left. I will go with right on this one!

  37. Interesting… I agree, left sidebar is very ugly.I knew right sidebar would yield better results. Great post.

  38. Hi Matthew,Great article. Just wanted to let you know that the first link isn’t working. Inbound.org says that the article doesn’t exist. Just letting you know 🙂

    1. Yeah, I always think of the sidebar as a ‘side note’. It’s not the main content, it’s an addition to it, so it should go on the right. Only when it’s something important like a menu or filter for the main content should it go on the left. Great stuff, though!It would be interesting to do a comparison by different markets and types of sites, though.

  39. No clear winner in conversions on your site, that’s for sure.The important thing is that we are just talking about your site. I tested this on one of my sites that I have adsense on. My CTR was way higher by having my sidebar on the left side.But that could be completely different for the next guy that tests it because his ad placement is completely different.

    1. Hi,That is true – you do need to test these things for yourself and the average person visiting this site is more ‘internet trained’ than others

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