I've seen a lot of nonsense around the web on the subject of
left hand columns vs. right hand. Much of it is written by
people who really don't have a clue what they are talking
about. There are people who don't even know anything about
basic HTML handing out advice about the mechanics of page
construction.. and of course their lack of knowledge leads
them to foolish statements.
For example, you can find a lot of people parroting wisdom
similar to this:
Web pages tend to load top to bottom, left to right, so a slow loading widget in a left column could block the site content until it is fully loaded.
That was true when people used table based layouts, but nowadays
almost everyone uses CSS. The left column that you see on this page
actually loads LAST - if you "View Source" you'll find that it is
actually at the very bottom of the page. It wouldn't matter what
I put in that column: the main text will load and display before that.
By the way, you probably don't need to know anything about CSS. Most
(if not all) popular blogging platforms use CSS for positioning: if
you select a left hand column layout, the actual code for that will
almost certainly be found at the bottom of the HTML source.
Another common contention is that left or right is preferred by
Usability and navigation are affected by left versus right.
Interestingly, you'll find people arguing both sides of that
question, some insisting that left is better and some just as
firmly arguing that right columns are better for users. The
conventional wisdom in the blogging community is that left
hand columns are bad (usually bolstered by the "pages load top to
bottom" nonsense), but other Internet denizens tend to argue for
This study expected to find that right hand columns were better for usability
and navigation, but the results showed no advantage to either side.
A quick look at any newspaper or magazine probably should have told
them that: both sidebars and ads often are found in left or right
hand columns. If one definitely worked better, you wouldn't
see the other.
Though when it comes to placing effective ads, Google is
strongly in favor of the left hand column. They of course have
a lot of real data to back that up: they know what positions work best.
However, there's something to be said about "ad blindness". If
people are used to seeing ads in certain positions wherever they
wander on the Web, having your ads in a different position could
be smart.. but you need to test to know that.
By now you've probably noticed that I use left hand columns here. I
do that because my testing has shown that left hand placement works best for
me: it increases page views per visits and ad income. But that
doesn't mean that you should use left hand columns - and it doesn't
mean that you shouldn't. What you should do is experiment, track and
record so that you KNOW what works best for your site.
Don't listen to so-called "experts" (especially the ones with no
knowledge of technology). Test, test and retest. Tools like
Google Analytics make that easy to do.
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© 2012-07-16 Anthony Lawrence