Sidebar: Left Or Right?

sidebars

Lots of modern websites have sidebars. The sidebar is the smaller of a two-column webdesign, usually used either for navigation or for secondary information. Sometimes, it’s on the left of the main column, sometimes it’s on the right.

Which is better?

This is something I’ve been flip flopping on for quite some time now. I decided to place it to the right, because I live in a part of the world where we read and decode information from the left to the right. As such it made sense to present primary information first. Even so, when Wikipedia has decided to place their sidebar to the left, it feels right.

One could argue that it’ll always be a question of deciding what information one wants to present first. In my experience though, once a website has been decoded and the basic mechanics interpreted, the smaller of two columns is always mentally classified: less important. Sometimes to an extent that it’s hard finding any information solely placed in the sidebar.

Where’s your preference: left, or right? Or none at all?

18 thoughts on “Sidebar: Left Or Right?”

  1. Matt says:

    I think it depends on the situation and the information being delivered. In the examples you cited, your site and Wikipedia, the sides bars are being used in very different ways. In your case the side bar, at least on the journal section, is used to display recent comments, secondary information.

    Wikipedia on the other hand uses it’s sidebar in a more utilitarian fashion by using it for navigation, searching, tools and languages.

    Now I personally find myself preferring navigation being presented on top or on the left hand-side, which is not to say it can’t be successfully implemented on the right. This may also be related to the whole reading left-to-right thing. But I find, at least in comparing the examples you cited, the purposes behind the side bars are completely different.

  2. Chris says:

    I found this great article a few years ago

    http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/challenging_the_status_quo_audi_redesigned

    which looks objectively at both left and right hand navigation.

    I personally use right navigation when i want the content to have more emphasis and left navigation when i want the put a focus on the website structure (normally information heavy sites).

  3. Stephane says:

    I’m not a big fan of sidebars, but I’ll admit to their utility. The position of the sidebar is, to me, dependent on its content. Since western culture generally reads top to bottom and left to right, I find that content should have a matching hierarchy. My own blog is organized in that fashion, i.e. elements on the right side have more importance than those to their immediate left and those above are more important than those below (with the debatable exception of the search function). As such, it seems wrong to have a main menu on the right hand side of your content. However, links of lesser importance can fit there just fine. Does that make any sense?

  4. Joen says:

    Wikipedia on the other hand uses it

  5. Robin says:

    I always put my sidebar on the right — I’ve only designed for blogs, for the most part, and the part that I wanted to attract the most attention to was the content, which was on the left. Mostly, left-side sidebars have (as far as I’ve seen) been used for navigation, which makes sense, but most people (including me, and it seems you) put the navigation in the header, so that’s a moot point.

    I’d say right.

  6. lm says:

    I like to have a sidebar on a left side (having skip to the main content link right after h1).

    Only when blogs appeared, suddenly they move sidebar on a right, so it seems like blog-like websites have right sidebar, the rest still have it mostly on a left arent they?

  7. Ranjani says:

    Since most people read from left to right, I put the sidebar on the right — assuming that the sidebar has content. However, if the sidebar has links, it wouldn’t hurt to put it on the left, so that people will see it first. As long as your content is more prominent, it shouldn’t matter, but I still have a preference towards the right 🙂

  8. Joen says:

    I like to have a sidebar on a left side (having skip to the main content link right after h1).

    Only when blogs appeared, suddenly they move sidebar on a right, so it seems like blog-like websites have right sidebar, the rest still have it mostly on a left arent they?

    I think blogs “appeared” pretty much at the same time people started designing good websites (HTML/CSS) instead of Flash sites and the like. Perhaps that meant moving it to the right, I don’t know.

    By the way, you may want to check up with your registrar on your domain bill… your site seems to be camped by a link farm. 🙁

  9. James says:

    I’ll throw my vote in with the “sidebar on the right” crowd. As a native left-to-right reader, I tend to focus on the content to the left first, and therefore prefer the primary content on the left and the secondary content/navigation on the right.

    In fact, I just noticed that I sit more towards the left side of my monitor. Maybe I’ve been reading too many blogs lately.

  10. lm says:

    I’ve fixed my website link ( thank for reminding me – it was my old domain).

    I wonder if there is a statistic about sidevars, but again I see that on regular or business websites sidebar is on a left side, and blogs all have it on a right..

    I would agree that bloggers ( or people who make blogs websites) are more advanced in web design so may be right sidebar is a way to go.

    Though if I’m looking for information on a big website, i need to go through nav bar and links first, find the right button and click on it – so for me as a website visitor, secondary content ( links and navbar) are more important at first.

    In blogs you look for latest post first and then may be go through categories and archives( so the other way around)

  11. mo says:

    I like how your website is designed and I think it functions really well.

    In case of Wiki and noscope they both have a left margin and I believe that’s important for the readability of the page. In noscope’s case that margin is empty while in Wiki it is used for some links; links probably never used. From my experience Wiki is only a lookup, read and leave page. Actually I didn’t even know what those links pointed to till now. So I think they are trying to save clutter by putting them there as to a left justified page, a right sidebar with links would just make them look off center.

    In blogs and news channels I always like the side info and extra links on the right!

  12. Dennis says:

    As a fellow Dane I have to agree that it also feels more natural for me to place the sidebar on the right, so that’s what I do. Almost without exception. I’ve tried… I’ve experimented with the left side, but it usually feels all wrong and I end up going back to the right side. Lately I’ve been thinking about going sidebar-less or having the sidebar in the footer. Is it even still a sidebar then? I don’t know if I could pull it off though.

  13. Generally good points all round.

    I’d like to add one more viewpoint to the discussion though: interaction.

    Since browsing almost always means scrolling, I find that my mouse cursor is mostly at the right side of the page, by the scrollbar. Assuming the same applies to most other people too, the right-hand side is the natural and logical place to put a sidebar.

  14. Joen says:

    Counting the “votes” (and completely ignoring the rather clever replies that are otherwise given here), we get the following rather unscientific result:

    • Left: 2 votes
    • Right: 6 votes
    • Either side: 1 vote

    While all replies have been more complex than one or the other side, this still points ever so slightly to a western dogma, or at least that’s how I’m interpreting it.

    Interesting.

  15. lm says:

    my vote was really not a vote, but rather observation of the fact that all blogs have it to the right and the rest of websites not neceessarily. I could agree with the point that thinking people shift it to the right and some just draw it whereever it fit with their design( even in a footer).

  16. Vindberg, A. says:

    Interesting point regarding the mouse and scrollbar. I think the main reason Wikipedia has a left-sided sidebar is because the content often has its own right-sided bar.

  17. Waisybabu says:

    I used to have it on the left, but after noticing how it basically attracted unwanted attention (I want the reader to focus on the content) I put it back to it’s rightful place: right.

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