I've seen studies about how ad blindness can prevent users from even noticing ads exist on a website, but are there any studies that perform the same research for the entire sidebar?

On some sites, like this one, I use the sidebar quite frequently as it has it has useful content relevant to the main content on the page. On other sites, like blogs, I find I very rarely ever use or even look at the sidebar. While these are my own personal browsing habits, I'd love to see some empirical data on what kinds of sidebar content is most engaging and whether there is such a thing as sidebar blindness.

  • 3
    You can't get empirical data on sidebar blindness without doing your own testing. The data will be about someone else's sidebar, and the design makes all the difference; your design is different, and you'll need to do testing on your site to see whether the layout is inducing users to miss the content. Commented Apr 20, 2012 at 22:27
  • @MyrddinEmrys - I definitely agree that it's always best to test your own site because every site is different. That said, perhaps there is some helpful data from someone else's study that could help me. Commented Apr 21, 2012 at 5:36

3 Answers 3


It can be, if you answer yes to anyone of these questions:

  • Has your sidebar remained the exact same for the last 3 months?
  • Does your sidebar exhibit signs of “sidebar creep” ?
  • Was there a time when people clicked around in your sidebar, but now you’re thinking you might have dreamed it?
  • Do you have more than 4 affiliate buttons showing at one time? (not a guarantee of sidebar-blindness, but a possible indicator)
  • Do you have 3 or more of your own offers and specials showing at one time?
  • Do you have more than 1 social media feed in your sidebar? (ex: latest tweets, latest Flickr photos, latest Facebook statuses)
  • Do you have anything in your sidebar that makes you look less cool than you really are? (ex: I have 40 Twitter followers! 12 people subscribe to this blog!)
  • Is anything in your sidebar boring, unimaginative, or physically painful to look at?

All from Sarah J. Bray who wrote the post "How to avoid a devastating case of sidebar-blindness (gasp!)"

When I read it I realized I scored 6 of 8 just because I use the sidebar as "the place for everything else, that isn't really valid, but I need to fill the space with something-area". Leading to the fact that no one reads it (me included).

Probably it's better to leave this area empty, if one doesn't have anything valid to put there which could be related links to the content in the middle or great images. I'm going back to the drawing table with mywebsite.com.


Human beings have a narrow, 15-degree arc of vision, that directs their focus. Outside this arc, the eye's ability to resolve colour and shape drastically diminishes. In fact, at the edges of vision, humans are effectively colourblind. The only visual signs that humans can resolve effectively across all directions are animations, especially tracking animations where objects enter the visual field, travel and leave it. But these are so powerful, users have trouble progressing any further than spotting the animated element - no matter what copy you write underneath. This makes it hard for visual elements to garner attention in this space.

But the real question is: is this really a bad thing? Sidebars and right-hand content are typically used for secondary content, and that allows users to employ a handy heuristic to avoid right-hand content in high-strain tasks. Humans have a narrow field of vision because they're bad at multitasking, and that's not something any kind of content is going to fix.

I wouldn't recommend swapping left-hand content with right-hand sidebars, either. I have seen a multi-variant test where a site put a secondary 'request a quote' form in left-hand space. It didn't turn out well. Lots of users converted and submitted the form, but phone surveys conducted afterwards indicated that nearly all the users had no intention of actually requesting any kind of quote. The quote form was positioned as though it were another step in the 'primary' workflow; users presumably completed it because they assumed it was necessary, not because they engaged with the content.


One contributing factor that I have found to be true over the years is "What side of the page is the sidebar on?" Believe it or not users are much more likely to pay attention to a sidebar that is on the left side vs the right side.

This is due to the fact that more often than not, the left sidebar is for navigation and the right side is for adds.

It all has to do with conditioning.

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