Communicators slug it out for scrolling
The latest brawl in Web design pits the Scrollers against the Clickers.
Clickers argue for:
- More, shorter webpages
- Clicking to and between those pages vs. scrolling down longer ones
- Putting the most important messages above the fold. (The fold: the bottom of the first screen of the webpage, wherever that may be depending on your screen size and resolution.)
Scrollers argue for:
- Fewer, longer webpages
- Scrolling down those pages vs. clicking to new ones
- Ignoring the fold
That’s because, Scrollers argue, web visitors do scroll beyond the fold.
And they’re right: Visitors do scroll.
They just don’t scroll very much.
Let’s get ready to rumble.
Central to the Scrollers’ argument is ClickTale research that shows that 22% of people in one usability study scrolled to the bottom of the webpage. I don’t know about you, but placing a high-priority message in a location that 78% of visitors will never see strikes me as bad design.
Scrollers also quote “king of usability” Jakob Nielsen, who, in 1997, retracted his rule against scrolling. (Scrollers: He didn’t mandate scrolling! He just said it was OK not to avoid it at all costs.) Nielsen’s latest research shows that people spend only 20% of their attention below the fold.
Some of the Scrollers’ research actually deals with paging rather than chunking. Let’s not compare apples to pineapples to make this argument.
- Paging is where you move from one page of a linear story to the next, as in this New York Times piece. Newspaper websites use paging to get web visitors to look at more advertisements, not because it’s a best practice in web usability.
- Chunking is where you divide your information into context-independent, self-contained pages and link to each page. This lets readers choose which topics are most interesting to them.
Finally, Scrollers argue that they personally prefer scrolling to clicking. Last time I checked, Scrollers, personal preference was not a data point.
As for me, I’m a Clicker and a Scroller. As I look at 25 years of usability research, here’s where I come down on these issues:
- Page length. This one goes to the Clickers: More, shorter webpages make it easier for web visitors to understand, remember and read our messages. In fact, shorter pieces perform better offline as well as on and have done so for decades.
- Clicking vs. scrolling. To the Clickers: Chunking copy into pages that are context-independent, self-contained, regardless of length, is the best practice. To the Scrollers: But for gosh sakes, don’t chop linear pieces to pieces just to be breaking them up!
- The fold. To the Clickers: Messages that appear above the fold are more likely — by a multiple — to get visitor attention than messages placed below the fold. To the Scrollers: That said, this is not an argument for cramming everything above the fold.
The latter point, I think, is what has fueled this fistfight from the start. The Scrolling movement seems to be a reaction to management pushing Scrollers to cram everything above the fold.
CRAM EVERYTHING ABOVE THE FOLD?!
That’s not just bad website design. Them’s fighting words
Sources: “Page Fold Research 2019,” CompareHare, June 23, 2019
Jo Frankel, “Unfolding the insights into webpage scroll,”
ClickTale Blog, April 20, 2017
“Are Your Web Visitor Really Paying Attention?” ClickTale Blog, Dec. 4, 2007
“Scrolling Research Report V2.0 – Part 1: Visibility and Scroll Reach,” ClickTale Blog, Oct. 5, 2007
Arik & Tal, “Unfolding the Fold (Insights into Webpage Scroll),” ClickTale Blog, Dec. 23, 2006