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:
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 users:
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 lefty columns.
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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More Articles by Anthony Lawrence © 2012-07-16 Anthony Lawrence