You may have noticed that not all websites adhere to the once strict principle of keeping all the important information ‘above the fold’. In fact, a good many sites now rely increasingly on the fact that a user will scroll, and keep scrolling. This is fine if your target audience primarily uses mobile devices. If they’re desktop or laptop based, you may be in for trouble.
In this post, I’m going to discuss the pros and cons of parallax or infinite scrolling websites. There is a slight difference in the meaning of the term ‘parallax scrolling’ compared to ‘infinite scrolling’, but for purposes of this discussion, it’s not really significant enough to broach (though if you want the definitions, go here and here – they are actually different things). All you’ve got to know is that both of these features enable a user to scroll, almost endlessly down a page. Scrolling websites may or may not make use of pagination and many will be websites that comprise only a single page (like: http://www.vondutch.com/). But for others, as with some ecommerce giants and blogs (http://lookslikegooddesign.com/) infinite scrolling will only appear in certain areas of the site.
Who is using scrolling websites and to what effect?
At the end of 2012, Etsy engineer, Dan McKinley discussed the infinite scrolling functionality that Etsy had implemented on their product pages. To say the least, it was a big flop and Etsy found that instead of a page of indefinite results increasing on-site user engagement, it had the opposite effect, instead decreasing the number of items favourited and the clicks on the items (interestingly it made no difference to sales). It wasn’t long before Etsy reverted back to the tried and tested method of displaying a set number of products per page, just like Amazon’s constant 16 results per page.
Take a look through the following presentation by Etsy, if you are interested in finding out more about why infinite scroll didn’t work for them:
While parallax websites might look good, they may not be what you’re looking for, especially if google organic search is your primary tool for getting found online. However, if you are marketing a single product, telling a story or branding your company (typically a form of storytelling), a long, scrolling website may well be up your street.
Look at these sites that make great use of it:
Before you get stuck into the idea of infinite scrolling functionality, it’s worth considering a few of the pros and cons. However good some parallax websites may look, the real question is, are the effective? Furthermore, who should use a scrolling site and how? Are they a fad or are they worth the time?
Are long scrolling websites a fad?
Before we take a closer look at the good and the bad of scrolling, it’s worth noting that scrolling websites have coincided with the rise of mobile and touch screen devices. In my opinion, it’s no coincidence. On mobile devices, scrolling is far easier than zooming in just to hit one button which will take you to the next page. And on mobiles, waiting for the next page to load is often far more time-consuming than it is online.
To be perfectly honest, I do not think that infinite scrolling pages/websites are a fad, but rather, a reflection of our changing times and of the technology that we use to browse the internet. If, as we have previously discussed, tablet usage does continue increasing at its current rate, you’re going to be seeing a lot more of these sites.
To put things into perspective, take a look at the graph below, from Google Trends. Since 2009, the global search volume for ‘scrolling website’ has just about quadrupled.
As mobile and tablet usage increases, my bet is that so will the infinite scroll feature, especially when social sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest help to popularise it through their lengthy scrolling news feeds and timelines.
The pros of infinite scrolling
According to David Murton, infinite scrolling has two primary benefits:
- It doesn’t confuse visitors by forcing them to jump around between different pages
- It’s much faster to load one infinitely long page than it is to load multiple pages
There are a few more reasons that make it an attractive feature
- Infinite scrolling is very tablet and mobile friendly as it means users don’t have to keep waiting for new pages to load
- It allows for greater content exposure – content is not nested within a complex navigation and is easy to find as most of it is on one page.
- Very simple way to navigate through a website, especially if it’s only one page long.
The bad bits about infinite scroll:
- For one page websites, your content and SEO is diminished. Actually, this is not fully documented or tested, but given that sites like Google still do pay attention to some parts of meta data in order to understand a page, you’re surely going to lose out if you only have one page to sum up all of your content.
- Another bad thing about infinite scrolling sites is that important information is not at once easily accessed – this is generally only true if your page is very long or contains a monstrous list of products.
- If you do have a page with a lot of products on it, users won’t have a reference point if they want to refer back to a specific product. In this case, having pages would be a greater benefit as they’d simply be able to navigate back to page 12 or 16 or whatever page they were on when they found that amazing product.
- If your scrolling site, is image heavy, your users may actually have an increased page load time, which is bad for bounce rate as users that have to wait for more than a few seconds will generally navigate away from the page. Also, older browsers may take longer to load such pages.
Is infinite scroll for you?
If you want advice on whether or not your website could benefit from the infinite scroll feature, please get in touch today. We are always happy to advise and to work with you to develop your business so that it achieves the best results possible.