Does advertising or content belong on the left of a Web page?

I found this thanks to my referrer log: Eric Siegmund complements because the blog entries are on the left hand side of the page, which means they load first, after advertising.

A good design rule-of-thumb is to give your reader something to read while the rest of your page loads. … I’m not suggesting that you re-work your layout to put all your miscellany on the right column, like Howard Owens has done — but it’s not a bad idea.

That aspect of usability wasn’t on my mind when I redesigned the site last. My only thought was that this site doesn’t exist to make me money and it’s never going to be an attractive place for businesses to place ads (too little traffic), and I know that users start with the left side of Web pages, so that’s where I should put my content. Recently, there was an eye track study that supported this layout philosophy.

But here’s the question: If you run a site where advertising is critical, should you put the advertising rail on the left side?

I can’t think of any newspaper sites that dedicate the left column to advertising, but I think it’s worth considering.

Any where from 40 to 50 percent of a local news site’s audience is there for the advertising, not the news. Advertising pays the bills. Advertising needs to be more effective. Advertising should look like its part of the site, not grafted in. Your classifieds and verticals should be very easy to find. To me, that all adds up to putting the advertising rail on the left side. The content still gets prominent center play, and on a newspaper site, you’re generally going to have very compelling elements that draw the eye to the content, so does it really need to take up the most valuable real estate on a Web page?

The Google AdSense hot zones chart supports this notion, I think (though no news site publisher in his right mind is going to put ads in the hottest zone of all, right in the middle of the page).

I’d love to hear what other people think.

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