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We're considering putting information in sidebars and are wondering how useful they are or do users simply ignore them?

The project in question is for a heavy content news site.

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    Can you form your question into a user case? Do you have a specific UI question regarding a design you're trying to come up with? As it stands you're just asking our opinion on a fairly wide ranging subject. – DarrylGodden Apr 24 '15 at 13:56
  • I collecting information about the use of sidebars by news site users. Someting like this sitepoint.com/ux-infinite-scroll-good-bad-maybe, general, for theoric purpose – Daniel de Oliviera Apr 24 '15 at 14:01
  • Take a look at Jakob Nielsen. There should be several articles on this subject. – Mayo Apr 24 '15 at 14:05
  • We're redesigning our corporate site and have decided to completely do away with them. No-sidebar sites are definitely becoming a trend--albeit not necessarily based on any specific report. I think a big reason for is that it accommodates responsive layouts a bit more easily as well as let's there be a single point of focus. – DA01 Apr 24 '15 at 14:41
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Sidebars can be often overlooked due to their history of being advertising heavy.

If a lot of the following issues are present in your side bar then it is most likely being ignored (and unnecessary).

  • 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?

Referenced from this similar question asking if the side bar is a blind spot

Though the side bar has many neat features …

  • I like to use it for larger screens in responsive design where you can show more data that is dynamic
  • Maybe you can embed your twitter feed or news updates (dynamically updated so it isnt stale)
  • Throw the weather in there if its a physical location.
  • Link to a blog as long as its regularly updated

But putting content in the side bar for the sake of having one can be silly. I would not bring my 3rd section of primary content into the side bar vs where I initially had it for the sole sake of adding a sidebar.

If you're overflowing in relevant content that should be on the page feel free to add the sidebar However, if you are not, don't just add one for the sake of having a sidebar. In your scenario it makes sense due to the content-heavy nature of your site. You could have similar articles about the author or a variety of other things in the sidebar. I would avoid putting ads there because then people tend to skip that area entirely. You want to put ads sort of inline so as they are reading content they need to skip over that area always.

Lastly if a reader is engaged in the content why would you want to divert their attention elsewhere? -Article about retiring sidebars on blogs

  • The sidebar should be supplemental information when they are done with the primary information.
  • They arnt going to stop reading an indepth article to click a link on an add hence why users tend to ignore them if they are focused on the primary content
  • They may browse them when they are done with the primary content.

Edit: in regards to responsive design I would ditch the sidebar entirely it when you make the cutoff for tablets and cell phones but now a days those distinctions are more difficult due to the higher density resolutions into such tiny devices.

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Personally I tend to favor sidebars at typical desktop widths in order to factor out navigation (and other things) to allow the "main" content more vertical space and decrease its width for more readable line length. To do this in a responsive framework you need to transform the sidebar into a top-bar for narrower viewports.

For a news oriented site a sidebar (at desktop widths) seems appropriate to display the navigation and/or a "top stories" list.

Whether or not the sidebar is ignored depends on factors such as high wide it is, how the its content is styled. It's possible to make it "loud" enough to be noticed too much, that is it overpowers the main content. It's a design challenge to make it noticeable but not distracting.

During the design stage you must also be constantly aware that in narrower viewports the sidebar will need to migrate to a top-bar, usually with less content. So it helps to think of a sidebar as a convenience when possible, not always possible.

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