Footers are the new sidebars? Matt 21 Sep 2005

37 comments Latest by SEO

Derek Powazek argues that footers are a better place for important content than sidebars footers don’t get enough attention from site designers. [via SimpleBits]

Think about it this way: Sure, maybe only a small percentage of all readers will ever make it to the bottom of a page, but those readers are your most valuable. They read all the way to the bottom. They scrolled, even! When a reader reaches the bottom, they should be rewarded with a special treat - content, navigation, tools, whatever - not coldly abandoned the way most most sites do.

He continues the rant at Embrace your bottom!:

It’s time we designers start thinking about page footers as part of the experience design of a complete site. The bottom of a page is the kiss at the end of the date - and we’re making sites that end without even a handshake.

It’s dangerous to expect scrolling so placing important links exclusively at the bottom of the screen seems a bit dicey. But Derek’s got a good point that sites should do a better job of answering the “Where do I go next?” question at the end of pages.

37 comments so far (Jump to latest)

sxates 21 Sep 05

It would seem that for Powazek, visitors who read everything on the page are the only ones he wants to serve. There’s zero navigation above the fold, save a ghost link to the homepage on the logo. I don’t really think moving everything to the bottom is that much better. I certainly don’t have a hard time navigating sites with links at the top of the page. I have a scroll wheel, I know how to use it when I get to the bottom…

james 21 Sep 05

I tend to agree with sxates - you should serve people that aren’t scrolling as well as the ones that do. If, say, I direct linked into an article on Derek’s site, and wasn’t interested in what I was looking at, there are very little in the way of visual cues that there is anything else to explore on the site - nothing that suggests the breadth of information available - which is more than clear when you see the “footer” area. An obstacle has been erected that makes me less likely to explore the site a bit, and perhaps to become one of the “loyal” few that do make it to the bottom of the page.

Serve users at the top and bottom of your pages - it’s important to address both audiences.

Matt Haughey 21 Sep 05

Hmm. He only mentions the word “sidebar” once, and it’s to say the useless junk in (long, detailed) sidebars can get lost, not that “footers are a better place for important content than sidebars.”

I read his post as saying it makes sense to have all those extra bits like search boxes and featured posts and archive lists in the footer in addition to whatever else you’ve got in your blog design. It was a call to arms to add information to your site in that oft neglected area.

Jamie 21 Sep 05

Is this really something new? I don’t think so. Someone decided to write about it as a “concept” and that’s why we’re talking about it here.

Derek Powazek 21 Sep 05

Actually, Jamie, we’re probably talking about it here because 37signals checks their referrer logs. ;-)

Thanks for the link guys, but I think you’re taking my point to be a little more extreme than I meant it.

Powazek.com is my personal site and it’s pretty much a blog, so there’s no need for top-of-page global nav. But don’t confuse the message with the messenger.

The message is: Yes, the top of a page is important, but it’s not the only part of the experience that matters. Your best users will wind up at the bottom of your pages. Give them something worth clicking on!

Not very dramatic when you put it that way, I know. And, no, it’s not the first time it’s been said. But it’s a chronic problem in modern websites, so I appreciate you giving it some attention here.

Chris 21 Sep 05

Footers? Is that why all the useful information in books is printed at the bottom of each page? It’s interesting that in Powazek’s ‘sidebar’ area, there’s a load of space that could be used to contain all the stuff that, um, lives at the bottom of each page. Then, click on a Month archive link and you have to do finger Olympics to go somewhere else.

Most our clients who express a preference hate scrolling, never mind sticking useful stuff at the bottom of each page.

Jamie 21 Sep 05

I should clarify my statement above. Maybe it is revolutionary in terms of Blog design, but hardly revolutionary in the wider world of Web design when sites like Amazon have been “embracing their bottom” for a few years now.

Joshua Blankenship 21 Sep 05

Or, more recently, Flickr.

I see benefits of what Derek’s talking about though. After one or two visits to a typical blog-styled site, I hardly ever touch the sidebar or even look at it.

Most blogs are one main content column and everything else stuffed into a smaller column (mine included, currently.) I’m just glad to see anyone challenging that status quo. I’m not convinced that most blog templates really serve the user any better than another design (like using a footer for large amounts of content), I think we’re just used to them by now.

Jim Menard 21 Sep 05

Perhaps sidebars are being ignored because more and more of them are used for advertising. Ads in footers are less frequent than those in sidebars.

A. Fidalgo 21 Sep 05

I think the good point of Powazek is to indicate that is important to offer an exit to the user at the end of the page. Offer clear alternatives and propose something to stimulate his interaction, without “force” him to look for something to do. Be proactive instead of passive. Specially if they are valuable readers, interested in the content, as Powazek say.

Jeff Lash talked on that in More than just a footer and we do in End of page, why not to take advantage of it? (in Spanish).

Todd 21 Sep 05

Derek makes one good point - we should be utilizing the bottom of our screens more often. However, his perception of reality is a bit off.

In the article which lead up to this one, he states that:

Page bottoms are the most valuable screen real estate there is. You read that right. All that nonsense about people not reading and not scrolling is complete bullshit.

This is utter non-sense. We’ve done years testing on this. Nielsen has done a ton of testing on this. And so has Spoole. Not to mention others. And we all come to the same conclusion - don’t count on users scrolling, because you cannot.

The fact is that unless you give them a reason to scroll, they won’t. Derek seems to have the belief that they scroll out of curiosity, or the desire to read. Well, that’s likely if they can predict that scrolling will get them something of value. If not, then don’t count on it. I sure wouldn’t put my money in that basket for critical items.

However, making good use of footers for “next steps” is a great idea and has proven, in our experience, to payoff better than sidebars in some cases. For instance, we recently redesigned the Bankrate site. Some of these pages can get rather long. In our testing of the previous site, we found that critical items left in the sidebars below one page height did not attract the desired attention. This was validated through traffic analysis. So, we took from that that next steps would not provide value in the sidebar. So, what did we do?

Well, we know that when people begin skimming pages, and scroll vertically while skimming, there are two places that we can pretty much bank on them hitting: the top and the bottom. There’s a lot of psychology behind why, which I won’t get into, but suffice it to say, people will target the beginning and end of longer lists of items. This translates to longer pages (in some cases (e.g. long content pages, long data pages, long index listing pages)).

Keeping that in mind, we placed our next steps tile at the bottom of the rate table screens (one of the most critical screens for this site both from the customer and business perspective). The placement of this tile at the bottom of the page gathered more click-throughs than any item that had previously been placed in the sidebar. Customers were happy, because they received something of value at the end of the page (e.g. Now that you’ve found a mortgage, you might be interested in home owner’s insurance). And Bankrate was delighted, because their page views from this one widget alone created an increase of 15-20% (which converts to a lot of $$$$ for them).

So, yes, we should make the bottom of the page valuable. But, no, we shouldn’t bank on customers always finding it. And as always - it depends. Know your audience. Know your context.

Joshua Blankenship 21 Sep 05

“And we all come to the same conclusion - don’t count on users scrolling, because you cannot.”

Maybe 2-3 years ago this was true. But i’d wager that the advent of the blog has completely changed the majority of web users scrolling habits.

Trendwhore 21 Sep 05

Best idea ever!

Wesley Walser 21 Sep 05

Seems to go along with the content placement over other objects/information trend that is going through right now. I don’t think that we have been this wrong all along, and always it depends on what you are trying to acomplish.

Jeff Watkins 21 Sep 05

Todd, I agree that those who skim will probably never find the footer region that Derek thinks is the most valuable on the page.

But they aren’t the intended audience of that section.

The footer reaches the involved reader. The reader who has a stake in. The reader who (in the case of some of my own more rambling entries) has slogged all the way to the end.

That reader deserves more reward than a copyright notice.

This is the best place to link to similar articles or similar products. And for crying out loud, if you’re describing a product, put a link to buy it at the bottom.

Mathew Patterson 21 Sep 05

In usability testing I have been involved in, our testers very rarely read information (even relevant information they were actually looking for) in the sidebar.

The would notice the stuff at the top of the sidebar, but once they got into the main content column, they would stick with it and ignore the rest.

We decided to drop the sidebar and make better use of the full width of the screen for our most important content.

Mathew Patterson 21 Sep 05

In usability testing I have been involved in, our testers very rarely read information (even relevant information they were actually looking for) in the sidebar.

The would notice the stuff at the top of the sidebar, but once they got into the main content column, they would stick with it and ignore the rest.

We decided to drop the sidebar and make better use of the full width of the screen for our most important content.

monkeyinabox 21 Sep 05

How about ‘Bottoms Are The New Tops’?

JohnO 21 Sep 05

Hrmm.. seems Powazek has chosen his audience and how to serve them. Doesn’t make it wrong. Is it a best practice to have no nav at the top? I can’t say it is. It his site straight-laced corporate? I can’t say it is. He has chosen his primary audience to be those who actually read what he writes. He knows he can focus on them at the bottom, because that is where they are. Context people.

Terrence Wood 21 Sep 05

‘Users don’t scroll’ is an old usability maxim that is as out of date as the three click rule.

Given the degree of banner and navigation blindness the footer is the best place for *content* that links other information (otherwise known as hypertext ;-)

People are not interested in your web site they’re interested in the page they are on, and whether it meets their needs or not.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the next big web design trend is single column, large text and integrated (in-line) navigation that is relevant to the content.

Bob Aman 21 Sep 05

I disagree on the “footers are the new black” thing. I’m a tabbed-browsing kind of guy, and I would much rather stick with normal hyperlink goodness that having hyperlinks at the bottom. Footers only make sense to me if your web content is going to turn into a book or if it’s coming from a book.

I blame Daring Fireball for a lot of the current footer interest. Fortunately, John has the good sense to never have more than 2 or 3 footers. If you ever have more than that, it’s really too much for the context of the web.

Paul Graham is excused because he turns his essays into books.

Bill 21 Sep 05

It seems now, the only thing left to sort out is which content works better where, sidebar or footer.

Something like an email list signup, seems more appropriate at the bottom, they’ve read the content - they want more. While some basic navigation might be better served in a sidebar.

Rimantas 21 Sep 05

We don’t read on the web, we scan (well, blogs are a bit different, but not too much). So the more you can scan without extra effort, the better. And I just love when I can see the list of recent entries at the first glance…

There are also people who prefer to use search insted of browsing, so have search box tucked at the bottom is bad idea. There is a convention where search boxes are expected to be, and as the saying goes “you can break a convention, but you better have a damn good reason for that”.

This is interesting and even neat idea, but I doubt it is viable.

Bob Aman 21 Sep 05

Oh, hmm… just remembered more specifically what Derek was talking about from when I read that article a couple days ago. The SvN excerpt was a bit ambiguous.

My comment about the typographical variety of footers still applies to that sort. And to a much smaller extent, also to this variety of footers as well.

However, what I would say is that Flickr did it right in this case - They put the commonly used navigation at the top of the page, in larger print, easy to find. More infrequently used features and pages are at the bottom of the page for the power users and for the people who are genuinely interested. But the purpose for this is not as a reward for the “best users,” but rather as a method of not overwhelming anyone with too much information at once.

Two things I would definately change on Derrick’s site:

* I’d put a copy of the previous/next links at the top of the page. Those are the two links I’m most likely to click. If I never skimmed past the first two paragraphs, I’ll never see those links and assume that I am looking at the entire content of the site. This is bad. You don’t want people to assume that you have only one thing to say, especially after they’ve decided they want to read something else after the first two paragraphs.

* I would be a bit more traditional and give the sidebar more love. It’s virtually empty at the moment. I’d move the “Previously” section out of the footer and into the sidebar. Again, navigation is important to both the “good” and “bad” readers, and that shouldn’t be something you have to scroll for in that case.

Derrick’s logic is good. I’m not arguing that. I’m just contending that diverging from what people have grown to expect may not be a wise move in the long run.

Terrence Wood 21 Sep 05

@Bob - you’re confusing footers with footnotes.

Another thing about the bottom of the page is it is really easy to find (using scrolling mouse, drag scroll bar, and keyboard)which really makes it prime real estate (think Fitt’s Law http://ei.cs.vt.edu/~cs5724/g1/glance.html) unlike side

john 21 Sep 05

I think an important oversight here is that people (well some) responded with their experience from observing/conducting usability testing. Where does “getting real” place usability/customer insight?

John "Z-B" Zabroski 21 Sep 05

I cannot believe this is really a discussion.

Anyway, I might as well add to the insanity:

I want to flip this discussion. Instead of phrasing the argument, “Footers are the most valuable piece of real estate on a page,” I want to suggest the best advice I have ever read on webdesign, The 3-5-8 Rule. If any part of your layout grossly exceeds the proportions of the 3-5-8 Rule, your site layout sucks. Finally, the “8” should (almost) always be your content.

Nick Finck 21 Sep 05

Jeff had some very good points about this in More than just a footer (thanks for the link, A. Fidalgo). Also, did anyone notice Keith’s new redesign of Asterisk that tips a hat to this?

DD 21 Sep 05

i like it. I think it’s great. but usability might be sacrificed if all navigation is there. and what is a footer anyway and who invented it for webpages?

John Jantsch 22 Sep 05

In the offline direct mail world the PS has always been the secret marketing weapon.

I think this is simply an observation that what works works

Danny Hope 22 Sep 05

I agree, we use the footer area to repeatedly bash visitors over the head with massive banner ads.

Adam Michela 22 Sep 05

I’ve always enjoyed Khoi’s footer ;)

Nollind Whachell 22 Sep 05

When I read Derek’s post, I thought that the footer space would be a good place for community information. So your page header and sidebar are utilized for promoting your site but the page footer could be used to promote the community you are within (i.e. group of people that you link to and visit daily). For example, I could see a community footer bar/area for the 9rules network (that could be stylized with CSS to fit each site’s style). Even better if you utilized Web 2.0 stuff to allow you to see other people talking about the same topic you are (i.e. like how Google AdSense works) and to also allow you browse or search dynamically in this area for something interesting in the community network of interest, then jump to that site by clicking on it.

Josh 24 Sep 05

Wow, I will remember Derek’s amazing blanket statement and make sure I put stuff at the bottom of all my sites since there is no way that his argument only applies to sites like his that are all about reading stories and such. Brilliant, next time I make a web app or anythign at all I will remember that people never just quickly skim the page and see if the info they need to make a decision is right there. No, no, that is stupid Jakob talking. People read it all, right down to the bottom. Yessir, that is just what they do. Brilliant.

Josh 24 Sep 05

My annoyance is based on this article, http://designforcommunity.com/essay6.html , not the more mellow recent one.

Jake 28 Sep 05

From what I remember, around ‘95-‘96, most sites had a simple sitemap of links at the bottom of each page. I think CNet was one of the first sites to use a sidebar and it seemed revolutionary. Now a days footer links only make sense on sites with long pages of content where users are likely to have scrolled past the sidebar links. After all, 99% of monitors are wider than they are tall.

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