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Blog Design: How Many Columns?

Building a blogMark from Weblog Tools Collection offers Two or Three Columns?, his perspective on how many columns a blog should have.

I personally prefer one column themes with a minimal second column. Most information that is put on my sidebar(s) is extraneous and could be placed elsewhere. I have also found that some of that information deters from the original content of the blog. The landing page concept is nice for search engine traffic where extra links and information on the content might help you draw in the user to explore some more. However, the face of the blog is cleaner and chock full of good stuff to read with lesser distractions.

He asks his readers what they think. What do you think?

Examples of Template Design Layout Forms

I believe that above everything else, your blog must “look” like what you want it to look like. It must reflect who you are and what you blog about. The choice of how many sidebars the blog requires must service those points.

The single most important feature on your blog is the navigation. Today’s web visitor rarely enters through the front door of your blog. They come in through your posts. As important as the blog title, post title, content, and other contextual information is, if the visitor cannot move where they arrive to other places on your blog, how will they ever know of all the other wonderful things you have done here?

The sidebar is a critical player in generating that movement.

It’s true that navigational links can be in the header, which often feature core links are like Pages and categories. Yes, there is a new trend to stuff all your links into your footer, but who really ever scrolls down that far? Honestly? Critical navigation links in your blog’s footer are often overlooked.

How many links do you need in your sidebar to achieve the navigational aids your blog needs? And how much other stuff will you be cramming into your sidebar?

The more crap in your sidebar, the longer it is. Thus a two sidebar system (3 column) might be a better choice so you can spread your stuff around.

One of the commenters said they like the 3 column layout because they have a 20-inch monitor and they like the wide format. That’s nice, but self-serving. It doesn’t take into account the millions of Internet users still stuck at 800×600 screen views. Yes, the number of wide screen and higher resolution users are increasing, faster than ever before, but what do your readers use and where are they coming from? It’s critical to take your readers’ needs into consideration when planning and choosing your blog design.

Much of the world is still using technology from 5 or more years ago. It’s just too expensive to upgrade hardware and software when your paycheck is equivalent to USD $100 a month, or less. In many places in Europe and the Middle East, I’ve seen fast and powerful CPUs connected to monitors left over from the Windows 95 wave. Getting anything beyond 800×600 is a miracle. These folks aren’t into huge screens or lots of colors. They want access to the web for the information, not the pretty blogs.

Check your blog stats. Do you have screen resolution, location, and other information that tells you more about what technology your visitors are using. If most of your readers arrive on your blog with the latest and greatest technology, then cater to them. If they don’t, don’t.

Make your blog design and layout meet their needs.

So, how many columns work best for blogs? I think it’s the number that works for the blog and the blog design while providing the most usable access to the content on the blog.

What do you think? Do you have a preference?

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30 Comments

  1. Posted April 7, 2007 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    When I started blogging I was using Silver Lexus theme, is a beautiful theme but the three column view and the fluid width was really bothering me. That was when I changed to Natural Essence 1.0 by Viktor Persson, of course I killed his theme with adaptations but is a very useful two column fixed width and that all I needed. Check it out and tell me what you think.

    http://www.lumencreativegroup.com

    Luis

  2. Posted April 7, 2007 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    I definitely prefer the simple, content focussed approach and therefore one, or at most two, column designs.

    I have reduced my blog to first principles, more or less, as an exercise in simplicity. By seeing how it is used without navigation, then adding additional navigational tools and methods I can decide what I really like and don’t like.

    The one thing I dislike are lots of irrelevant content and widgets, especially when there are two columns of it.

  3. Posted April 7, 2007 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    I prefer a clean simple theme, 1 column and not that much color. It’s preferable to have pages for my additional content that is easily accessible. Keeps the focus on content. A “side note” or “asides” category for quick messages is essential for me. Both my weblogs, http://ronbsrace.nl and http://secondlife4us.nl look very familiar..

  4. Posted April 7, 2007 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Generally, the fewer columns the better. A good design is not when there’s nothing left to add, but when there’s nothing left to take away.

    That said, some blogs which have a main column and a single side column often over-clutter the side column. If truth be said, I think your site Lorelle is a little bit guilty of that (although fear not, I’ve seen a lot worse). I think in these cases a third column can be useful as long as empty space is used wisely to prevent exacerbating the clutter-problem.

    I’ve opted for a three column layout on my site, and have just released a re-tweaked version of my theme called Fresco to download.

  5. Posted April 7, 2007 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I don’t necessarily think it’s the amount of columns that is the issue, but the amount of clutter. I’ve noticed that every single day my sidebar gets more and more cluttered because of all the nice plugins we seem to have for *everything* nowadays. I’m a plugin addict, and I’m not the only one.

    I think it’s a matter of prioritizing and a careful balance, which I, unfortunately, haven’t managed yet.

  6. Posted April 7, 2007 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    I think a majority of the web users have moved away from 800×600 (only 6% of my readers use that screen size). I currently use a 3-column layout after having stayed with a 2-column K2 theme for a long time. I second your opinion on spreading out your sidebar navigation between the two sidebars. I place all my navigational links in the right-most sidebar while placing my widgets and other knick-knacks in the left one.

  7. Posted April 7, 2007 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I’m still not sure. I thought that 2 would be nice, but now I’m thinking of 3 but should the sidebars be beside eachother or not. I try it out on my usb stick with a portable webserver and a wordpress on it. Then i make the page a little bit first and then see what works best for me.

  8. Posted April 7, 2007 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    When I was thinking about that for the first time I went egocentric. That is in no way good opint of view but I had no other. I through the huge amount of blogs (many of them dedicated to blog design, development and maintenance, but that was the topic in the spotlight those days) and watched my behaviour.
    And I finished with two sidebars. I just need/wanted too many stuff above the fold. I never looked what is in the footer unless I checked everything else. And if I finally found what I was searching for in the footer reaction was like: “You could hide it a bit more!” Footer is for fine-print,copyrights, terms of service and things like that.

    On the other hand sidebar(s) have to handle all the navigation, about pages and other static content, search field, syndication, popular posts, blogrolls, digs, technoratis and who knows what more. If there are ads and other comercial stuf on the site, they will fight for their place up on the page but there are also syndication and search I want very visible i.e. on the same place ads are.

    Other thing that are pro two side bars is the visual effect of the whle page. With two side bars content column is not so wide, so the text looks better and is easier to read (the same reason for newspapers are breaking text in columns).

    I did testing in 800×600 resolution, and it works. It looks a bit funny but is in no way unusable. Suppose that is fine for both worlds.

  9. Posted April 7, 2007 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    As has been said,the choice is a very personal one, but whichever you decide to go with it is how you use them that matters.
    I think keeping sidebars as uncluttered as possible and allowing your users to easily navigate your site are the main keys, it’s only when bloggers try to monetize their sites that they run into real difficulties.

  10. Posted April 7, 2007 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    It really depends on the needs of the blog and even website. If you have sponsors and or other features I think a third column is better than chucking it all down the bottom and making the page extra long than what is needed. This website is a good example were the designer has their flickr on the third column, can you imagine how long the page will be with the flickr down the bottom???

  11. Posted April 8, 2007 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle,
    Im not sure if you will answer this, but you’re on my blog roll and I consider you the expert on blogs so I wanted to ask. If you have time, it would be great if you could leave a message on your comments or on my own blog. I want to remove a CATEGORY in my blog. If I remove it what happens to the posts under that category? Will it somehow go to the uncategorized category if it is not in a category right now? Will I damage anything by doing this? Sorry for the lame question but Im relatively new to wordpress blogging. Thanks!

  12. Posted April 8, 2007 at 12:49 am | Permalink

    I went to google analytics and checked the screen rex percentages of my readers.

    46% are at 1024 by 768
    29% are at 1280 by 800 or larger
    The rest fall into larger than 800 by 600
    8% though are viewing my blog at 800 by 600 pixels which in my eyes is important.

    Something i have done is begun using images of 400px or less on my blog. In the past I have published larger. I now know that not everyone has a screen rez of 1024 by 768 or larger. I want everyone to be able to see all my content easily.

    As far as scrapers go and web 3.0 I am still coping with web 2.0. I have mentioned this to people in my life and they haven’t even heard of Web 2.0 let alone 3.0. Honestly most of the public has not heard of Web 1.0. They only know of Web 1.0 as the web craze of the late 90’s and early millennium.

    Good post lorelle. Has me thinking beyond…

    cheers!

  13. Posted April 8, 2007 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    Another thing to consider on the screen resolution discussion is not only the resolution of the screen, but also whether that user surfs with their browser maximized or only partially opened.

    Unfortunately Google’s analytics don’t provide that information. That said, I think it’s becoming more common that sites widths are creeping above 800 and 900 pixels these days.

  14. Posted April 8, 2007 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    When you remove a category, WordPress gives you the option to move them into another category, depending upon the version you are using. Or they drop to uncategorized, if that is the only category they are in, and then you can go back and categorize them. I hope that helps.

  15. thkim
    Posted April 8, 2007 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    thank you Lorelle and to the nice person who emailed me the answer as well!

  16. Posted April 8, 2007 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    I use a three column layout that puts the main column on the left and the two side columns on the right. I think it works very well. I also use my artwork (which double as ad links to my shop) to break up the column a little and add some eye candy.

    I am also a fan of keeping the color scheme simple. I use contrasting colors, but I limited them to black, white, gray and three shades of a purple-pink color. The simpler color scheme allows my artwork to pop out off the page which is inline with the intention of my blog – to sell my art. ;) Ever sinced I added the art images in the sidebar, hits to my shop have greatly increased and so have sales, proving it was an effective move on my part.

    As for the 800×600 folks, my blog is laid out so that the far right column will be hidden to them unless they scroll horizontally. Taking that into consideration, I use the far right sidebar for the less important content like the random quotes and the blogroll. Important navigation info like categories and the search box are kept in the main sidebar to make it easy for all users no matter what their resolution.

    I think everyone will have their own preferences anyway. There are some blogs that I think are hideous and cluttered and other people will comment and say it looks great. To each their own. :)

  17. Posted April 9, 2007 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    I prefer the first picture, banner, left column, content column and right column. The right column can be used for advertising or RSS button.

  18. Posted April 9, 2007 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Since I’ve started running site stats stuff, I’ve noticed something.

    None of my visitors are running at 800×600 anymore. Zero. The minimum resolution, though also the leader of the pack, is 1024×768.

    Modern PC’s just don’t do 800×600 anymore. LCD’s don’t really do multiple resolutions well in the first place. And all LCD screens have at least 1024 across.

    Heck, the new Dell’s come preconfigured at the correct resolution for the screen. Windows XP can detect the screen and choose the right resolution for it.

    So don’t bother designing to 800×600. The idea that they still exist is largely a myth. Sure, there’s the half a percent of them out there, I’m sure, but those people don’t really use the internet enough to cater to.

  19. Posted April 9, 2007 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    As long as its 3 columns i dont really care.

  20. Posted April 9, 2007 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    I like a fairly narrow content column and then one or two sidebars depending on how much stuff needs to be in the sidebar. The narrow content column (around 400-500 pix) is easy for me to read. I hate 1000 pix lines of text.

    A lot of the sites that are one column now have a bunch of navigation stuff along the top and botton and isn’t that just a sideways 3 column template.

  21. Posted April 10, 2007 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    I guess it depends what is your blog all about. Ideally a blog should be easily navigable and not look cluttered. Has to leave a powerful impact on the reader.

  22. Posted April 10, 2007 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I have a couple of issues I prefer:

    Fluid width, so that the blog looks good regardless of how the user has their browser set.

    Three columns, so that nothing gets pushed down too far (I sort of aim, not that I always achieve, for 90% of the content to be visible without having to scroll down.

    I seem to have put almost all of my navigation on one sidebar and “fun but related stuff” on the other without actually planning it that way. (I’m not happy with my categories: I need to overhaul at some point with something like the tag warrior plugin :-P )

    Having read through the comments here, I find the concept of putting the two side bars to one side of the main content interesting…maybe I’ll experiment with that.

    I also like clean, not too strong or bright colours, but easy to read and easy to find the links. I don’t claim to be there yet but I keep that in the back of my mind :-)

    I’m interested in Luis’ first comment: why is a fixed width so much better? I go crazy with those because either they don’t fit my laptop monitor, or they look ridiculously lost in my desktop monitor…

  23. Posted April 10, 2007 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    I wanted a 2 column layout with a bar at the bottom for the blogroll and such but all the themes I found use javascript and I HATE JAVA!! You can’t make it personal. It’s depressing.

  24. Posted April 11, 2007 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    I favor the two column lay out with a sidebar positioned right, because as a right hander I like the mouse pointer close to the scrollbar when navigating.
    Great Blog, Lorelle and -off topic- I would guess by your name there is a Dutch connection in the family.

    Guido

  25. Posted April 12, 2007 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    I am tempted to create a new theme from scratch, with two main columns and a sidebar. The biggest column would be for the blog; the not-so-biggest column would be for featured articles (so that there is always something thinkworthy on the home page); and the sidebar (or I get rid of the sidebar and have a horizontal menubar, but that would not be fair to my blogroll bloggers). The hard trick would be to make sure it degrades gracefully to a blog column + sidebar, then blog column alone, with the other columns flushed below, for narrower browser windows.

  26. Posted April 12, 2007 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    I recently found a good starting place for columns from Yahoo Developer Grids. Why not start there for your grid layout and tweak it accordingly. I’m finding a lot of problems with IE handling columns without hacks, so this helped me tons. I’m so tired of the layout hacks to get IE to work.

  27. Posted April 16, 2007 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    This is a good issue Lorelle. Many prefer 2 columns or 1 column and they almost fight about their desires. 3 columns are not bad … not even 4. It’s my own opinion, I choose my layout. But it must be fluid width. Like you said, there are people who have 20 inch monitors ( that includes me ) but this doesn’t means that we should opt for a fixed width too large. For those on 800×600, or 1024 ,because that is the most used resolution, it could be hard to view a website.. and scroll horizontally. I’m currently trying to theme a Sandbox, from ( almost ) scratch and I want 4 column. 2 navigation columns on the left and right and 2 center column for headlines ( I’m developing an online newspaper ) and I don’t know if with sandbox I can manage to create 4 columns.

    But this layout is for a big website with plenty of space to be occupied. Smaller blogs, like personal ones, or like Lorelle’s blog, don’t need more than 2 columns, or 3. 1 column is absolutely minimalistic and is for podcasting or journals. But opinions may vary…

    Here is my website ( Tutorials and Web Resources ) http://www.23tutorials.net -> 3 columns, but in a process of modification…

  28. Posted August 6, 2007 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    I actually want to switch mine from 2-3 columns (to keep the ads in their own space and a few other reasons) but am struggling with the code to do that. Do you have a recommendation as to where to get help with that. I want to do it myself because that’s the only way I’ll learn.

  29. Posted August 6, 2007 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I recommend that you check out Yahoo YUI CSS Grid Builder and the Yahoo CSS Grids Library for examples to help you set up your blog’s layout structure.

  30. Posted December 27, 2008 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    i like simple theme so 2 column will fit to me


7 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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