Are we really happy to scroll?

Someone said to me recently “people are happy to scroll” on websites.

That comment got me thinking. People are happy to scroll. Are they? Is it really that simple? Does this mean we can create pages with as much content as we like, confident that our site visitors will happily scroll down from screen to screen until they find what they’re looking for?

It’d be nice, wouldn’t it, to not have to worry about keeping our pages short and succinct? Think of all that time you’d save not having to edit every page to keep it as focused and structured as you can.

Sadly I don’t think it’s that simple.

In a way, scrolling through web pages is very much like turning pages in a book or magazine. You’re happy to do it, but only if you are fairly confident that there is something on the next page that will interest you.

The comment was made to me by a colleague, when we were workshopping a new home page for the corporate website we both worked on.

I might have agreed with him if we were talking about a news release or blog page. These pages, by their very nature, lead us to scroll down the page to read them. But we were talking about the home page. This is the page people see when they first enter the site (well 40% of people, thanks to Google and a lot of SEO work, we had a fair amount of deep-site entries).

These people just typed in our URL and hit Enter. They had no context and no information to go on other than what they saw on that page. If the home page doesn’t show them something relevant to why they came to the site, why would they go any further?

When I’m looking a website home page, the only things I expect to have to scroll down for are news releases and the site footer.

As it was, I thought the comment very naïve and not based on customer behaviour.

Why do we scroll?

According to Amy Schade of the Nielsen Norman Group, the ‘fold’ (the bottom of the first screen you seen when you open a web page) is still a barrier to be aware of. The fold is a more complex beast these days, as it shifts around depending on the device your site visitor uses. But it’s still a very good idea to put the key points, or at least navigation links to the key points, of your page where your site visitors can see them without scrolling.

Why? As Ms Schade points out in her article The Fold Manifesto: Why the Page Fold Still Matters it is about interaction cost. Simply put, if you can’t see it, how do you know it is there? If a page has information that you want, but you can’t see it when you first open the page, you have to go looking for it – thus increasing your interaction with that page.

Imagine walking into a shop. Choose your favourite type, I’ll choose a clothing shop (I am female).

So you walk in and all you see are jeans, ads for jeans and the accessories that go with jeans – belts and the like.

Would you walk around the shop looking for business shirts? Maybe they have a rack of them out the back?

Now why would you do that if there is no indication that the shop sells anything other than jeans?

Of course, if the shop displayed a rack of shirts in amongst the jeans, you might have more reason to look further.

A simplistic example maybe, but I don’t think we’re that different in our thinking online than we are offline. If I don’t see at least a hint of what I’m looking for on a web page, I am very unlikely to scroll down that page looking for it.

So why did my colleague confidently tell me that “people are happy to scroll”? Well he (yes, he. I shall refrain from any gender based comments on pig headedness but feel free to make assumptions yourself) may have been thinking about smart phones and tablets and how we tend to swipe a lot on them.

He also could have been thinking that websites in recent years are a lot more content rich and therefore web site visitors are becoming accustomed to longer pages. Blogs, for example, very rarely fit in a single screen (I think I’m well into screen 2 or 3 here, depending on what you’re using to read this).

Personally, I think he just liked the design he’d copied off CommBank, but maybe I’m a little biased?

I could be old-fashioned but I still like to see headings or links to tell me what’s on a page.  Don’t expect me to randomly search down an overly long page just because you think I’m happy to scroll.

If you’d like some help tailoring your pages to stay ‘above the fold’ or you’d like to tidy up your site content, have a chat with F-Two consulting. We can help you teach your website how to talk your customers’ language.

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