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How Many Columns Should a Blog Have?

Adam started a great thread over at the Authority Blogger Forum which I would like to open up over here; How many columns should a blog have, and why?

For myself, I switch between 2 and 3 columns. When I have advertising, such as at DSLRBlog, I have a third column to accommodate it. That said, my sidebar is getting very stuffed here on this blog so I am starting to consider a three column approach.

Rather than what we like, we have to focus on what your reader needs. As Lorelle says …

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?

I also agree with Lorelle that the footer is a great additional place for navigation but shouldn’t be the only place those links are placed.

What are you going to do with the columns. Providing your content is legible and the most important navigation is above the fold, you have a lot of flexibility. As Bruce says in the thread, the type of blog matters ..

If it’s strictly opinion type blog then 2 columns, or even 1 would be fine.

Probably personal taste has as big an impact as anything in the choice.

How many columns do you like to see on a blog and why? Let me know in the comments or join in the forum discussion

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Comments

  1. While I have no problem reading blogs with 2 columns, I hate using them myself. I find everything becomes cluttered. Also in terms on monetization, having 3 columns gives more space for ads or putting the RSS feed in a prominent position,

  2. While I have no problem reading blogs with 2 columns, I hate using them myself. I find everything becomes cluttered. Also in terms on monetization, having 3 columns gives more space for ads or putting the RSS feed in a prominent position,

  3. Yes, especially with advertising, the two column layout can get cramped, as I am finding here. I do like the way 2 columns emphasises the content though …

  4. Yes, especially with advertising, the two column layout can get cramped, as I am finding here. I do like the way 2 columns emphasises the content though …

  5. I am using three column blog. I column for ads, another for blog related details – categories, RSS, counters and Large section for blog post.

    I find it very comfortable.

    Rajesh Shakya
    Helping technopreneurs to excel and lead their life!

  6. I am using three column blog. I column for ads, another for blog related details – categories, RSS, counters and Large section for blog post.

    I find it very comfortable.

    Rajesh Shakya
    Helping technopreneurs to excel and lead their life!

  7. I personally prefer three columns. I prefer the two sidebars to be on one side though, instead of framing the content. It emphasized the content while still allowing for plenty of space for navigation and ads.

  8. I personally prefer three columns. I prefer the two sidebars to be on one side though, instead of framing the content. It emphasized the content while still allowing for plenty of space for navigation and ads.

  9. Hi Chris.

    I personally prefer two columns and even if there have to be three columns I prefer the narrow (navigation and advertising) columns on the right. Two columns keep the main body text clean and visible. But then I guess things change when you have to accommodate advertising. I like the Blog Herald’s layout of three columns.

  10. Hi Chris.

    I personally prefer two columns and even if there have to be three columns I prefer the narrow (navigation and advertising) columns on the right. Two columns keep the main body text clean and visible. But then I guess things change when you have to accommodate advertising. I like the Blog Herald’s layout of three columns.

  11. Two or Three columns? There’s no right answer – some of it’s personal preference and some if it just depends on how much stuff you have and want to get above the fold. I think it also depends on the design of the blog — having enough white space to visually break up sections helps; much like a newspaper does.

  12. Two or Three columns? There’s no right answer – some of it’s personal preference and some if it just depends on how much stuff you have and want to get above the fold. I think it also depends on the design of the blog — having enough white space to visually break up sections helps; much like a newspaper does.

  13. Hey Chris,

    I don’t really have anything to add, that I haven’t already said on the forum, but I did want to say thanks for the link.

    Cheers!

  14. Hey Chris,

    I don’t really have anything to add, that I haven’t already said on the forum, but I did want to say thanks for the link.

    Cheers!

  15. I like 3 columns as long as there is a wide enough space for the content. I aim for at least 450px of main space.

  16. I like 3 columns as long as there is a wide enough space for the content. I aim for at least 450px of main space.

  17. I wonder even with ads if 3 column would be too much clutter. But you’re right, focus on what the reader needs.

  18. I wonder even with ads if 3 column would be too much clutter. But you’re right, focus on what the reader needs.

  19. With a 2-col design, it is certainly easy to overfill it with a lot of stuff. Makes me wonder whether some of the stuff we often put in the sidebar is even really worth it for the readers. Categories come to mind as an example. I have close to 40 of them and list them in the sidebar. I wonder if that is worthwhile use of real estate. For example, many large blogs do not use category listings, with LifeHacker being one that comes to mind.

    Thoughts on this? Can we do okay with a 2-col if we just get rid of what we Think the reader needs and instead limit it to what the reader Wants to see.

  20. With a 2-col design, it is certainly easy to overfill it with a lot of stuff. Makes me wonder whether some of the stuff we often put in the sidebar is even really worth it for the readers. Categories come to mind as an example. I have close to 40 of them and list them in the sidebar. I wonder if that is worthwhile use of real estate. For example, many large blogs do not use category listings, with LifeHacker being one that comes to mind.

    Thoughts on this? Can we do okay with a 2-col if we just get rid of what we Think the reader needs and instead limit it to what the reader Wants to see.

  21. hi, Bruce,

    40 might be a bit too much, but I actually think ‘category’ is one of the most useful navigational tools for a few reasons:

    1. they keep you focused (or maybe not in your case!)
    2. they work well with search engines, especially if your categories are quite nicely separated – eg google sees one whole section of your site as being about ‘purple widgets’ & one whole section about ‘red gadgets’
    3. i’ll explain this one with an example. if i’m a writer & I come to Chris’s blog – how do I filter out the stuff that doesn’t interest me? The easiest way is to just hit the ‘Writing’ category & I’m immediately there.

    Not perfect for everyone, I agree, but definitely good for many. Have you looked at your web analytics info? Are your categories actively used?

    daniel

  22. hi, Bruce,

    40 might be a bit too much, but I actually think ‘category’ is one of the most useful navigational tools for a few reasons:

    1. they keep you focused (or maybe not in your case!)
    2. they work well with search engines, especially if your categories are quite nicely separated – eg google sees one whole section of your site as being about ‘purple widgets’ & one whole section about ‘red gadgets’
    3. i’ll explain this one with an example. if i’m a writer & I come to Chris’s blog – how do I filter out the stuff that doesn’t interest me? The easiest way is to just hit the ‘Writing’ category & I’m immediately there.

    Not perfect for everyone, I agree, but definitely good for many. Have you looked at your web analytics info? Are your categories actively used?

    daniel

  23. Hi Daniel,

    My stats info shows some use of categories, but not extensive. A lot of those who land on my site got there from googling for specific info, and they either land on an appropriate page or are landed on a category page.

    Thanks for the input, though. Maybe I can figure out how to trim the categories. Otherwise I might have to be one of those who goes for a 3-col design, too.

  24. Hi Daniel,

    My stats info shows some use of categories, but not extensive. A lot of those who land on my site got there from googling for specific info, and they either land on an appropriate page or are landed on a category page.

    Thanks for the input, though. Maybe I can figure out how to trim the categories. Otherwise I might have to be one of those who goes for a 3-col design, too.

  25. @Rajesh – That’s kind of how I do it when I have ads too

    @Cameron – Yeah I quite like that approach providing there is good separation so things don’t appear to overlap

    @Amrit – BH has a very different design, I have got used to it now but it is quite clever how there are big and small posts and advertising without being over busy, but it is more like a newspaper than a normal blog I think

    @mark – Yeah the whitespace is critical, you need that runway for the text to be really legible

    @Adam – No worries πŸ™‚

    @eve – Yup you need the content to be the hero, I have seen though cases where the text has too much space and you have to move your head back and forth like you are watching a tennis match to read πŸ™‚

    @Jimmy – Depends on how many ads I guess?

    @Bruce – I would say 40 categories is a bit much πŸ™‚

    @daniel – Agreed, categories are good for the “what else is there to read” sort of navigation I think

  26. @Rajesh – That’s kind of how I do it when I have ads too

    @Cameron – Yeah I quite like that approach providing there is good separation so things don’t appear to overlap

    @Amrit – BH has a very different design, I have got used to it now but it is quite clever how there are big and small posts and advertising without being over busy, but it is more like a newspaper than a normal blog I think

    @mark – Yeah the whitespace is critical, you need that runway for the text to be really legible

    @Adam – No worries πŸ™‚

    @eve – Yup you need the content to be the hero, I have seen though cases where the text has too much space and you have to move your head back and forth like you are watching a tennis match to read πŸ™‚

    @Jimmy – Depends on how many ads I guess?

    @Bruce – I would say 40 categories is a bit much πŸ™‚

    @daniel – Agreed, categories are good for the “what else is there to read” sort of navigation I think

  27. I know I’m in the scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel minority here, but I really like my single column theme because it places all of the focus on the content and keeps the clutter at a minimum. The only downside is that some of the key navigation elements (like the archive pages drop-down menu) are “below the fold.”

  28. I know I’m in the scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel minority here, but I really like my single column theme because it places all of the focus on the content and keeps the clutter at a minimum. The only downside is that some of the key navigation elements (like the archive pages drop-down menu) are “below the fold.”

  29. I think a single column can work providing at the very least your about and subscriptions are visible

  30. I think a single column can work providing at the very least your about and subscriptions are visible

  31. Chris,

    I prefer 2 columns, as it makes the page look less cluttered – that’s what I like about yours, it looks neat. Mine’s a 2 column blog also.

    Mind you, I also get Rob O’s point… especially if it’s a commercial blog. We don’t want visitors disappearing too quickly, do we?

    Cheers,

    Paul Hancox

    P.S: If you have a moment, pop over to mine and make a comment, because I’d appreciate it πŸ™‚

  32. Chris,

    I prefer 2 columns, as it makes the page look less cluttered – that’s what I like about yours, it looks neat. Mine’s a 2 column blog also.

    Mind you, I also get Rob O’s point… especially if it’s a commercial blog. We don’t want visitors disappearing too quickly, do we?

    Cheers,

    Paul Hancox

    P.S: If you have a moment, pop over to mine and make a comment, because I’d appreciate it πŸ™‚

  33. Looks good Paul, I love the Cialdini book πŸ™‚

  34. Looks good Paul, I love the Cialdini book πŸ™‚

  35. I prefer 3 columns, space for content and then ads.

  36. I prefer 3 columns, space for content and then ads.

  37. This is something I’ve been trying to decide on since I’m designing a new theme.

    The big advantage of 3 columns is you can fit more stuff in above the fold. But I can’t shake the idea that 2 columns is cleaner and simpler and ultimately better. And so it comes down to choosing the sidebar content wisely.

    I also like the idea of going horizontal and fitting in a row of stuff just below the header.

  38. This is something I’ve been trying to decide on since I’m designing a new theme.

    The big advantage of 3 columns is you can fit more stuff in above the fold. But I can’t shake the idea that 2 columns is cleaner and simpler and ultimately better. And so it comes down to choosing the sidebar content wisely.

    I also like the idea of going horizontal and fitting in a row of stuff just below the header.

  39. It seems like most of the comments above were based on blogs that have only 1 contributor which is probably also a factor. As I’m starting to evolve mine to have additional contributors I’m now looking to expand it to at least a 4 column based site, but yet still try to keep the flow easy to read.
    Chris, I’m slightly confused on what you wrote in your post – are you saying that depending on whether you have advertisers or not you will switch between 2 and 3 column?

  40. It seems like most of the comments above were based on blogs that have only 1 contributor which is probably also a factor. As I’m starting to evolve mine to have additional contributors I’m now looking to expand it to at least a 4 column based site, but yet still try to keep the flow easy to read.
    Chris, I’m slightly confused on what you wrote in your post – are you saying that depending on whether you have advertisers or not you will switch between 2 and 3 column?

  41. On some I use 3 and others I’ll use 2. I prefer reading a 2 column with the Nav on the right. However, I need that 3rd column to get some ads on it.

    Don

  42. On some I use 3 and others I’ll use 2. I prefer reading a 2 column with the Nav on the right. However, I need that 3rd column to get some ads on it.

    Don

  43. I had once tried 3 cols for my tips blog but finally had it trimmed back to 2 to make it simple and straighforward (hopefully). I do like the idea that a 2-col blog can look 3 by sub-dividing the 2nd col into 2.

  44. I had once tried 3 cols for my tips blog but finally had it trimmed back to 2 to make it simple and straighforward (hopefully). I do like the idea that a 2-col blog can look 3 by sub-dividing the 2nd col into 2.

  45. @Shane – Yes having the space is not an excuse for clutter πŸ™‚

    @Dave – So far I have only had three columns when I needed the space to show advertising, without adverts I haven’t needed that extra column.

    @Clara – Yes a split second column can look nice providing the headers don’t bump up, the content in them needs to be staggered to be readable

  46. @Shane – Yes having the space is not an excuse for clutter πŸ™‚

    @Dave – So far I have only had three columns when I needed the space to show advertising, without adverts I haven’t needed that extra column.

    @Clara – Yes a split second column can look nice providing the headers don’t bump up, the content in them needs to be staggered to be readable

  47. Actually, Paul, I prefer the single column layout because my site is NOT a commercial venture. I don’t need to reserve sidebar space for ads given that, well, I don’t feature any.

    πŸ˜‰

  48. Actually, Paul, I prefer the single column layout because my site is NOT a commercial venture. I don’t need to reserve sidebar space for ads given that, well, I don’t feature any.

    πŸ˜‰

  49. I’ve switched back and forth between 2 and 3 columns as well. Right now I am running 2 columns and I recently tossed AdSense because I wanted a cleaner, smoother look. I have been overwhelmed by some sites where widgets, ads, and other stuff seems to be dominate, making it difficult for the page to load and crowding out the articles.

    Will I always work this way? I can’t say for sure but I do like minimalism when it comes to blogging.

  50. I’ve switched back and forth between 2 and 3 columns as well. Right now I am running 2 columns and I recently tossed AdSense because I wanted a cleaner, smoother look. I have been overwhelmed by some sites where widgets, ads, and other stuff seems to be dominate, making it difficult for the page to load and crowding out the articles.

    Will I always work this way? I can’t say for sure but I do like minimalism when it comes to blogging.

  51. Chris/ Matt – I’m not a usability expert, but should there not be consistency with the look and feel of a website/ blog? Is there not a chance that switching the look and feel might piss off or confuse regular site visitors?

  52. Chris/ Matt – I’m not a usability expert, but should there not be consistency with the look and feel of a website/ blog? Is there not a chance that switching the look and feel might piss off or confuse regular site visitors?

  53. If you were switching all the time, maybe

  54. If you were switching all the time, maybe