The Reason Why The Sidebar Came Off And The Positive Results Achieved

Previously you've been asked does your blog really needs sidebars, and you've seen that the data heavily points to no. And while we've discussed in brief some of the reasonings for the sidebar removal, we haven't looked in detail at the why behind it.

Today that's remedied with this short video. Take a gander and find out the information I looked at that caused me to remove the sidebars, and the very positive results that came from that decision.



  1. Very cool post here. Thanks for sharing it. It’s always good to make certain changes and then test and track them. That way, we’d be able to see if it end up providing a positive result or negative. Then it’s all up to us to tweak and again, test and track. Thanks for sharing this! Definitely learned a lot! Keep it and and great job! 😀

  2. I love to see data and study posts. Well, you made me thinking already! Cheers for the useful insight.

  3. Hey Robert

    Interesting move, having the sidebar for blogs is pretty much the norm and it’s not a surprise to have it there. But your numbers are very insightful, to say the least. I personally don’t play around the sidebars much, so I understand where you are coming from. Can you give us an update to how much your numbers will increase over the next few months? That would be wonderful. Thanks!!

  4. Very interesting Robert … as I’ve said in the past, I am not there yet with removing it in spite of analysing my own consumer behaviour which suggests … sidebars are pretty much blind to me when I visit sites … I continue to watch with fascination.

    • Go with what the data tells you Ameena. Thankfully with WordPress it’s a simple matter of adding widgets back to the sidebar if you do take it off. Having a screenshot of how they are laid out will help a lot though.

  5. Honestly, I think this is pretty sketchy Robert. You are comparing a small amount of data in September with a large amount of historical data and there is only a small change of 5-7% If you did a robust statistical analysis, you might actually conclude that there is a 95% probability that nothing changed at all, that this was well within the normal range of data expected for your website.

    There could be many confounding factors impacting this analysis. In fact, with this small sample size, your data could have been skewed by one single blockbuster blog post, right? Also, you mentioned that you have dramatically increased the amount you are blogging. This is an important confounding factor which probably far outweighs a change you made to the blog layout.

    I saw a spike in your data earlier this year. Why not compare that to September? You would conclude that your layout change made the numbers worse, which would also be an incorrect conclusion. You do not have nearly enough data or a proper statistical analysis to draw any conclusions at all. Sorry to pop your bubble.

    It is really dangerous to draw a conclusion of “success” without a robust statistical analysis.We all need to stop building social media myths with inconclusive data.

    • The voice of reason enters the fray ! Seriously, it’s timely reminder that there’s data and there’s data. Still, I can see what Rob’s doing and as an experiment it’s worth trying to break the frame a bit. Blog design hasn’t really changed that much. Perhaps if more people try this and get positive results it will get bloggers thinking differently.

      • You never know if you never test. However everyone definitely needs to look at their data, such as what people are clicking on. That’s just the start.

        If the sidebar is working for ya there isn’t any point breaking what isn’t broken.

    • Thank you for many valid points Mark. Leave it to a teacher to bring up statistical analysis 🙂 If you have a spreadsheet I can borrow to help with that I would greatly appreciate it. And I mean that seriously.

      As you say there isn’t much data to go on yet, less than a single month in fact. That is why I am not suggesting that people make this change on their site without first looking at their data and how people use their site.

      Perhaps I didn’t make that point clear enough so let me make it again so that is isn’t missed:

      I DO NOT RECOMMEND removing the sidebar from your blog unless you have what you feel is sufficient information to test the removal. Don’t just go and do it for fun – that wouldn’t be prudent.

      I continue to collect the data and with more data comes better analysis. So far though things are improving and I continue to make adjustments to the blog as more data comes in via Google Analytics, HitSniffer and ClickTale.

      To your last point I’m not trying to build a social media myth here and am not sure what you’re getting at by that statement. If you’re saying that I should have more data before I make recommendations, I’ll point out that I am not making a recommendation that anyone do this. In fact I state that I haven’t done this on any of my client’s blogs because their sidebars are working in their favor. For me it wasn’t, hence it’s gone.

      • Reading your headline and the theme of “very positive results” that were yielded from the layout change helps to build a myth. In general, people are not critical thinkers and are going to scan and RT without thinking. This post does nothing but contribute to the noise on the web.

        Look at the comment below by Quintius. Sounds like he is ready to go make a change based on this blog post and in your response you do not even hint that the data is questionable, or possibly completely wrong. Your principled advice should be, Don;t do anything. The data is bullshit and I never should have posted this.

        I’m all for experimentation, but frankly it is irresponsible to post these premature results and characterize them in any way, let alone “positive.” Sorry to come across as harsh but you’re a data guy and you should seriously know better than this. I want to challenge you be a thought leader, not a thought spammer.

        • Hi Mark,

          I am not really sure why you would drop to personal insults and call Robert a spammer. That’s quite disappointing.

          How can you tell his data is BS, did you see it? Analyze it?

          You know as well as I do we can use data to say pretty much anything. Heck I can prove the existence or non-existence of God with data and some good math. Statistics are flawed by nature because the observer becomes part of the observed phenomenon.
          To call out Robert on his stats and say he should never have posted this is out of line. It’s his blog, he can post what he pleases.

          Robert clearly explains in his post and video that we should each do our own testing, look at our analytics and draw our own conclusions.

          Unless of course start with your assumption that ‘people are not critical things and RT without thinking”

          Well I am think and I really don’t appreciate this trashing of a someone who clearly explains what worked for him.

          • I agree 100% that Robert has the right to publish anything he likes. However, unsubstantiated claims like this will only demean his reputation. I didn’t call out his stats, because there are no stats — only data points — and that is the point. I did not review his data of course, but here is the thing I can say with 100% certainly. He cannot claim this to be “positive results” without a statistical analysis and taking into account all the other confounding factors in there.

            I also have the right to say what I want to say about it sine he put it out there. And if Robert publishes BS information, he better be prepared to have somebody call it BS.

            I’m fed up with people publishing claims and graphs without statistical rigor and publishing it as “fact.” This stuff would not fly in the business world and so why don;t we hold ourselves to the same standard? Is this not a legitimate business?

            And of course people RT without thinking. How many people on Triberr are posting this to their streams without reading it? I believe Robert’s “reach” on Triberr is over a million potential impressions.

            Robert and I are friends, collaborators, and he is technically my employee since I pay him as a contributing columnist to {grow}. I wouldn’t be so frank with somebody I didn’t think could handle it and respond in a thoughtful manner. I’m sure he will.

            This is all I have to say on the matter.

          • You didn’t review his data and yet you think you have the right to call it BS? How can that be justified.

            I don’t care he is your employee or not, calling people spammers and then judging their work without looking at their data says a lot about Mark. It says a lot more about you than those you call out.

            Statistical analysis is a load of hot air, ask any trader. It’s this type of reasoning which got us in the economical mess we are right now.

            Calling people’s work is easy, now I understand why you publish cartoons on your site.

          • I got quite offended by the tone and aggression in your comment. As friends and collaborators (I’m no one’s employee rather a contractor) I was quite taken aback by your word choice and your attack on the readers of my blog. Yes some people do retweet without reading posts and yes posts are spread via Triberr. However to lay down a blanket statement that people do not think critically is quite insulting as John said.

            I’ll try to keep a level head as I address your comments.

            In the past I’ve left comments on the blogs of others to cause a debate, and I’ve been public in that I welcome here as long as it’s civil. However I have no crystal ball and am not psychic, so I don’t know what’s behind your comment other than the words you choose to use, which is telling.

            As to your mention of Quintius’ comment, he and I have been having many conversations via email, Facebook and Google+. I took his comment to mean that he took the advice of looking at the data before making large changes to his site and potentially ruining it. Of course he is the best one to tell us what he meant if he determines it necessary to do so.

            As I mentioned in my comment and in the video I’m not recommending that people haul off and make this change themselves. You skip over that part of my comment and continued to attack the data and non-data (i.e. current trends as I see them online, etc.) I used in my decision to remove the sidebar. Obviously you’re upset that the style of analysis that you prefer be done wasn’t. However I wasn’t joking when I asked for a spreadsheet to do the statistical analysis. You didn’t address that part of my comment either.

            Having said that, I continue to make changes on a daily basis. I have three analytics tools running – Google Analytics, HitSniffer, ClickTale – that feed me a load of data that I continue to act on. I don’t have to wait weeks to make a decision – I can respond on a daily basis to make the blog more effective and I do so.

          • I’m sorry to see things get so prickly here, but let’s not forget one key issue Rob: you’re doing something different with your blog, kicking the sidebar into touch and that’s incredibly interesting and worth sharing.

            Yes, your results are perhaps premature but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth sharing. If it encourages someone else to try this, then I don’t have a problem with it at all because any business blogger half worth their salt will be tracking their own data anyway and pick up if it works or not.

            The great thing about blogging is its immediacy. You try something, see it’s working and want to share that with the community. A community you care about, otherwise you wouldn’t share anything.

            Of course, there will always be situations when you go back and reflect, and take a different stance; I once wrote that I recommended ExpressionEngine, but now I’m a WordPress convert, for example. It’s a business decision I came to change my mind on.

            But doing what we do, giving an insight into our businesses as we push the online marketing conversation further with our blogs, is always going to be a work in progress.

            I for one enjoy it when I see business bloggers taking risks, being innovative. The title of a blog post is just rhetoric as far as I’m concerned so in this instance I didn’t take this as “Best Practice” or a “Must Do”. It was a post that grabbed my attention, developed a train of thought I’d been going down ever since I saw the Halpern video (CF my earlier comment), and got me thinking so cheers Rob.

          • Thanks for the voice of reason Jon.

          • Thank you for your comment Jon. I said in the video that I had less than a month of data and time would tell. Frankly I think people are smart enough to make their own decisions based on the data which is what I have been saying the entire time.

            Forever blogs have had sidebars and as you rightly point out this is a test and not a blanket recommendation for everyone to do this. I seriously advise against that without looking at the data, and having a ful backup as well.

            Thanks again for coming in with more reason Jon. I appreciate it.

          • Mr. Dempsey,

            No intentions of ditching my own sidebars anytime soon, but man, after a carpet-bombing like the one above, I wanted to remind you not to take it personally.

            I see that sort of thing all time. Sure, it’s typically high school kids running their mouths on echo chamber automotive forums, but it happens all the time.

            The important thing here is that you tried something new and shared your findings with your community out of a genuine desire to help them. So what if the data was insufficient to prove anything? Social media is just an evolution of the telephone. And like the telephone, it’s not what anyone says about the phone, it’s what people DO with the phone that matters.

            Why are any of us trying to prove anything online, anyway? Is it wrong to get excited about something potentially fresh and interesting in a world of business needs, best practices, and “thought leadership?”

            We’ve already got more than enough choads proving themselves “right” by labeling others “wrong.”

            The world needs more people willing to speak up when they find something – however trivial – that makes them excited.

            Kudos to you, sir.

          • Hi Brian I appreciate your comment. And please call me Robert or Rob.

            I haven’t heard the word “choad” for quite a while but I agree with your sentiment that we have more than enough people touting the exact same practices. Frankly that doesn’t really help anyone. Yes having a baseline is good but after that it’s all about individuality and finding what works best for you. And that means testing and trying something new.

            Thanks again for your comment. I look forward to more in the future.

          • Robert,

            As I see it, you identified a place where you felt improvement could be made and were generous in sharing it with us, your readers. You identified how you came to your conclusions and then – contrary to Mark Schaefer’s “BS information” assertion – you made transparent which data you accessed.

            Were the results “very positive” in the changes you made? You explained, in plain language, how you arrived at the conclusion that they were. As such, you indemnify yourself of further responsibility in regards to how your readers might use your finding to make decisions in regards to their own blog designs.

            Were you misleading, as Mark asserted? Having read a series of thoughtful comments on this post, certainly no one but Mark sees it that way. One would think that Mark would deign to demonstrate his data sources if he is to going to go as far as to attest, “unsubstantiated claims like this will only demean his reputation” – or show a modicum of restraint, class even, in his comments.

          • Also Mark I appreciate the opportunity you have given me in guest posting on your blog. It has been mutually beneficial. I wish you the best of luck with your blog and business. I will no longer be writing for you and will send you an email to that affect.

        • Mr. Mark, how’s it going? I’m Quintius. I don’t believe that we’ve met yet. My pleasure. I’m responding to this post because if I’m not mistaken, I am the Quintius that you speak of, correct? Therefore, I don’t by any way feel out of line addressing you….directly. I have a question for you because to me you come off as a person who has a lot of answers. So I feel we’re compatible. You have answers. And I kid you not; I ask a lot of questions. My question to you is, how do you as an individual define someone who is a ” critical thinker “? I’m not seeking a dictionaries definition of what it means to be a critical thinker unless of course that’s the answer that you agree with.

  6. Hey, Rob, what are you like a mind reader or something? You were right on time with this post. I’d been thinking about doing some reconstruction on my own project but I was about to play demolition derby. Thanks for saving a disaster from striking.

  7. Fantastic video! I’ve long suspected this would be the case, thanks for putting it together. Subscribed!

  8. You should check out Derek Halpern’s review of Denise Wakeman’s site. It talks a lot about email sign-ups and there are some clear actionable takeaways. Some of Derek’s advice ties in within what you’re doing here.

  9. Thanks Robert
    We generate a small income form selected Sidebar ads…

    So you feel overall conversion to “list Building” would outweigh?

    I think I will try on some blogs.

    • Hi Chuck – at one point I had call to action graphics in the sidebar that took people to our opt-in forms. What I found was that those didn’t get any clicks. It was one more data point telling me I could remove it.

      Since looking at ClickTale data I’ve seen that people didn’t click on the banners that existed between the comment section and the post. So I removed those too.

      The opt-in forms have been doing a LOT better than the call to action graphics did.

      Having said that, it could be one of two things:

      1. Regular readers here already opted in for all the case studies and ebooks we had and didn’t need to get them again; or
      2. Banner blindness; or
      3. They thought they were ads that would take them somewhere else

      My crystal ball is broken so I don’t know for sure, but what the data told me was that people weren’t clicking them. So they got tossed and now I have something that works a lot better.

  10. Interesting findings, Robert – I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as well.

    More food for thought…

    • Hi Ana – I know you make heavy use of your sidebars but I’m happy that I can challenge you to think about it a bit. Definitely look at the click data from Google Analytics, or ClickTale if you’re using that.

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