Don’t make me scroll

When I started work in the online world, we had to fit all our content into quite small screens. The first site I managed was built for 800 x 600 px screens. The site was an intranet, serving content to 9,500 postal employees, ranging from corporate desk dwellers to posties, couriers, truck drivers and everyone in between.

We had a lot of content, tools, lookups and directories and every man and his dog wanted a link on the home page. Yet somehow we created simple, easy to read pages with very little scrolling needed to find the content – none on the home page or any of the menu pages.

Today even laptop screens are around 1366 x 768 px and desktop screens are getting bigger and bigger. And today every other web page seems to need screen upon screen to display its content. Scrolling is the new black.

Why?

With all the space we have at our fingertips, why are we hiding content ‘below the fold’ or worse off the side of the screen?

A colleague told me a while ago that “people like to scroll”. What people? I thought. Bored ones? Ones with nothing better to do than traipse around websites in the hopes of finding something interesting to click on?

I don’t think so.

I think this new trend of long web pages comes from somewhere quite different.

Ego

smug

We’re all so proud of our fancy websites, we’ve forgotten that site visitors are only interested in what the site does. Specifically, what it does for them and the task they are trying to complete.

Today’s trend is to pack our sites with glossy graphics and funky designs. We’re taking up all the room we used to give to content. All these pretty design elements make us feel so good about our swish looking websites that we honestly think our site visitors will love them as much as we do and scroll around them to take in the full experience.

Given how many websites these days have huge hero banners on their home pages and top menu pages, are you surprised that I’ve come to this conclusion?

OK, so we have the i-generation, swiping around their tablets with gay abandon but research shows that they don’t really like scrolling either. And why would they? Scrolling (or swiping) means the site visitor has to think about what they’re looking for and hope that they’ll find it in that mysterious space ‘below the fold’.

There is a very good reason why Steve Krug’s book “Don’t make me think” is so popular among digital UX folk. People don’t like having to think through whether a website has what they’re looking for. They don’t want to have to go looking for content. They want it on the first screen they see – no guessing, no effort, no scrolling.

There is another possible source for the trend towards long, multi-screen web pages.

Laziness

garfield

As a web content producer, it’s so much easier to dump all your content onto one page. Breaking content up into manageable pieces takes effort:

  • You have to think how to split the content into pages that can each stand up by themselves.
  • You have to then decide how to link those pages so that clicking between them makes sense.
  • And you have to build multiple pages (GASP) and fit them into the site architecture.

This all takes time and effort which you could be putting toward doing something much more interesting or creative.

Why put in all that work when it’s so easy for site visitors to just scroll down a single page?

There is a simple reason – because they won’t scroll.

Despite the swiping craze of the i-generation and the current trend towards longer, banner-heavy pages, site visitors still are still reluctant to scroll too far below the fold. If you don’t give them a really good reason, like reading to the end of this article ;-), people won’t pay attention to content below the fold (they are 84% more likely to read content above the fold[1] than below).

So if you put a link or interesting piece of content or functionality one or two screens below the fold, only one in seven people who visit that page will even see it, let alone engage with it.

What’s wrong with designing shorter pages anyway? They’re quicker to load, easier to read and more likely to be seen in their entirety by site visitors. Sure, they take a bit more effort to create, but we’re digital professionals aren’t we? We like to put a bit of effort into our work – it gives us something to be proud of.

And think – if your content is broken across three pages, you get three page views out of each site visitor who engages with it not just one.

[1] The Fold Manifesto: Why the Page Fold Still Matters Amy Schade – February 2015

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