The Scrolling Debate
by Emily Wiedoff and Becky Swan
Way before the advent of mobile devices, websites were viewed on desktop computers. Since this was a new way to consume content, designers and marketers carried the above-the-fold mentality over from print newspapers. This strategy was meant to immediately engage readers with the most important content first, with the less important content toward the bottom of the page, or "below the fold". Many businesses are still concerned with this and want to make sure their users are able to access all the information they need, easily.
While this is still a valid web design strategy, in the age of mobile it’s becoming less relevant. There is only so much you can fit “above the fold,” and this imaginary divider varies based on the device being used. Not only that, mobile devices are the primary way users consume content now. So, should content “below the fold” even be a concern anymore?
Scroll, Baby, Scroll
Increased User Engagement
Whether on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, or news apps, scrolling has become the new norm. People are used to it, and it keeps users engaged in the content since they don’t even have to think about it. They’re not overly concerned about the length of the page, as much as being able to easily skim and find the content they want. To a user, the quality of your content is what matters most.
Scrolling is Faster
It’s generally more convenient and faster for the user to scroll to find the information they’re looking for. When users have to click on links to view information, they have to wait for that content to load, which increases friction. There have also been studies done by Google that show if a user has to click more than a few times to find content, they’re likely to leave your site and find a different one where they can more easily access information.
Mobile is King
Mobile devices were made for scrolling, and 95 percent of Americans own some kind of cellphone — 77 percent of which own a smartphone. Large numbers of these users are primarily using their phones to consume email, text message, and social media feeds. Scrolling has become natural, so don’t fear the scroll. Find other ways to engage visitors like having interesting visuals and great content.
When Scrolling Goes Wrong
Slower Load Times
Having a lot of content and imagery on one page can often mean apps and websites will load slower, resulting in the user leaving before content loads. According to Google, more than half of users will abandon sites that take more than three seconds to load. This problem is compounded when you consider websites might load even more slowly on mobile devices trying to access your site on a mobile network. Of course, there are ways to mitigate this, such as compressing images and page resources, so finding a good web developer is essential for businesses that depend on their website for converting visitors to customers.
Infinite scrolling pages automatically reload more content as the user nears the bottom of the page, never allowing them to actually reach the bottom. This is a frustrating content strategy for many users. Oh, you wanna check out a link in the footer? Too bad, you can’t.
There is definitely a science to information architecture. We’re not saying pile all your content on one page and call it a day. Websites with a lot of content can absolutely benefit from the organization that a multi-page site provides. Consider your audience and make your decisions based on solid user research if possible. If a user is overwhelmed, they will leave your site.
The alternative to scrolling is pagination, or multi-page design. Although you could make the argument that navigating to several pages to find information is more difficult, you could also argue that scrolling endlessly for content is more tedious than navigating to the page closest to the content the user is looking for. With a multi-page design, a user has more guidance.
Another important issue to consider is your ability to track analytics and conversion rates. Having a multi-page website makes it easier to track what users are clicking on and engaging with on your site, giving you more insight into how to serve them better.
When choosing how to organize your site, it’s important to consider your website goals, content, and your audience and how they will want to consume content. However, the days of keeping everything “above the fold” are over. With the prevalence of mobile devices now-a-days, scrolling is the new norm. Embrace it.