Infinite Scrolling: Is it Helping or Hurting Your Business?

When it comes to content marketing and web design, it’s increasingly important to be a thought leader in your field. Millennials are notorious for skimming web pages, making up their minds to stay or go in a matter of seconds. Competitive sites need to know exactly how to reach their audience or risk being left in the dust.

In an attempt to capture the attention of the masses, just like with the parallax scrolling trend, many sites have jumped on the infinite scrolling bandwagon. Such scrolling has been around for some years, but it’s recently proven to be successful on several extraordinarily popular social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just because infinite scrolling works for these websites, however, doesn’t mean it will work for yours. While infinite scrolling can be beneficial to some tasks, it can impede the goals of many websites.

What is Infinite Scrolling?

Although the term can be used for several different features, here infinite scrolling means the continual loading of content on a page as the user scrolls downward. The appearance is that the page is infinite, and users can scroll endlessly.

Infinite Scrolling Lets Get To The Bottom Of This
Infinite Scrolling: Let’s Get To The Bottom Of This [Image Source]

Pros of Infinite Scrolling

Infinite scrolling works best to deliver certain kinds of content. Low-engagement content is ideally suited for infinite scrolling, making it perfect for sites like Twitter. Twitter content is short and users can engage each item in a single glance.

In general, infinite scrolling is good for delivering a high volume of easy-to-consume content. If that suits your company’s goals, infinite scrolling might be a good fit for your site.

The following are also potentially positive features of infinite scrolling:

  • Retaining users – One of the best features of infinite scrolling is that it tends to engage users quickly. It also encourages them to stay on the page, as there is no apparent end to the content that will appear as users scroll downward. It’s easy for users to get sucked into the infinite scroll, as most social media users will attest.
  • Easy of navigation/usability – This is literally a no-brainer. Scrolling is now a universally understood activity and takes no thought or effort to accomplish. Users can immediately and easily access main content.
  • Good for visuals and mobile users – Infinite scrolling is a good way to provide an overview of a lot of simple visual elements. It also works best on mobile devices where single-finger scrolling is the easiest form of navigation.

This is why infinite scrolling is a good fit for Instagram. Instagram’s purpose is to display a number of photographs quickly, and it’s almost exclusively accessed by mobile users. There is no need to engage with each photo at length.

Reasons to Avoid Infinite Scrolling

Some websites would do best to avoid infinite scrolling altogether:

  • Ecommerce sites – These sites benefit from users being able to easily find and compare items according to different features. Sales-oriented sites benefit from simple, precise navigational tools. If your company goal is sales, stay away from infinite scrolling. Consider the clean, easy-to-navigate design of the site for the Pencil stylus, which emphasizes limited options so consumers can focus on purchasing:
    Infinite Scrolling Lets Get To The Bottom Of This
  • Any site that requires users to search for specific products and services – When users search an infinite scrolling site, they wind up with infinite options. This is not always ideal for those with a specific need. Having too many options in the face of a specific request will likely make users look elsewhere.
  • Sites where content is intended to be engaged for a longer period – News sites, magazines, journals, and any other sites where articles need to be read in-depth do not benefit from infinite scrolling. Endlessly loading content can overwhelm users, who will then disengage rather than staying on the site.
  • Difficulty navigating back to specific items – One of the biggest reasons not to jump on the infinite-scrolling bandwagon is that infinite scroll makes it hard to find a particular item a second time. This is especially detrimental to ecommerce sites. Infinite scrolling can make it nearly impossible for users to bookmark items, as it usually doesn’t provide a fixed location.
    Many Pinterest users have experienced this frustration when navigating away from their Pinterest feed and returning only to find that the entire feed is different, and they can’t find a pin that was there only moments before.
  • Hurts Search Engine Optimization – One of the most discussed problems with infinite scrolling is its tendency to impact SEO negatively. Pages that employ infinite scrolling are essentially one single page, reducing the amount of searchable content. Additionally, infinite scrolling pages have only one meta description. For these reasons, infinite scrolling can exclude relevant information about your site.
  • Usability concerns – Some site features are entirely incompatible with infinite scrolling. Any site that has footer content should avoid it at all costs. Users will scroll down, attempting to access this content, but due to the infinite scrolling, they will never be able to catch up. This creates a frustrating user experience, and users won’t be likely to remain on your site.
  • Users can’t opt out – Currently, infinite scrolling pages don’t cater to user preference because there’s no way for users to opt out. If a user would prefer to skip some items, they don’t have an option. This frustrates some users who would prefer to view content in a more limited way.

Infinite scrolling ux
Infinite scrolling ux [Image Source]

Best Practices

If you do choose to use infinite scrolling on your website, a few practices can improve the user experience:

  • Making a backup plan – Because infinite scrolling relies on JavaScript, some users won’t be able to access the site. Designers can plan for this possibility by designing site content with underlying pagination.
  • Maintain visibility of navigational features – If users need to scroll back through an endless stream of posts to navigate to other pages, they probably won’t bother. Additionally, browser functions should still be clear and accessible.
  • Don’t use a scroll bar – If you opt for infinite scrolling, don’t combine it with a scroll bar that claims to show users how much content is left on a page. This is misleading and frustrating for users who believe that they’re nearly at the end of a page, only to find out that the content continues to load.
  • Provide loading information – If users hit a dead end on the supposedly infinite stream of content, they may become confused. It’s best to include a loading icon to let them know that more content is on the way.

Choose Wisely

As with any web design trend, infinite scrolling can be used to good or bad ends. It all depends on your goals. Sales-oriented sites and sites that expect users to engage with content should think carefully before employing infinite scrolling. Indiscriminate use of this trend will ultimately cause users to disengage, defeating the purpose.

Comments

  • Nicole Elliott

    Well written article, it’s really helped me to enhance my knowledge. Hopefully you will continue this in future.

  • Kris

    I disagree with the suggestion that publications should avoid infinite scroll. I believe that article pages on pubs are actually one of the most appropriate use cases.

    Pageviews are an important KPI as they’re a direct revenue source for these sites — more pageviews = more ad impressions = more money. However there’s a massive painpoint that’s related to pageviews is the overwhelming volume of one-and-done traffic — the social and organic search visitors that are clicking through for the headline and bouncing once they’re done.

    Infinite scroll directly addresses this. Pubs’ most engaged visitors are the ones who make it to the end of an article. By automatically loading related content at the end of the article you’re exponentially increasing the likelihood that they’ll continue reading and boost the pageviews/session that these sites so desperately covet.

  • JimLesses

    Many good points here. I am not a web guru, but if there is one thing that really ticks me off about the way many sites present their content it has to do with those that are filled with content of the “Ten things you need to know about…” variety. Instead of putting all ten items on one page, they make you click through ten pages of mostly ads and screen clutter to read the information you are looking for. I have given up on those types of sites.

  • Hi JimLesses,

    I understand your point when you say that you hate going to all the pages just to read one article. It makes you lose your interest on the way. Secondly, if the pages are loaded with advertisements and other information that you don’t like, it makes no sense. However in many sites I have noticed that the article is very good and it is worth going through all the pages to read through the entire content. The site may have done it intentionally to avoid its webpages from infinite scrolling. Because if you aren’t reading all, you wouldn’t know about it completely. Keep sharing your views.

  • Hi Kris,

    Thanks for writing at this length and making your point. There is a volume of traffic that just clicks on the headline and goes back. In such cases, pageviews are really important as they directly suggest to the real pageviews in terms of reading through the article, and more ad impressions and then more money. In fact, most engaged readers will always go through your article no matter on how many pages you have spread it but at the same time, visitor’s choice and his compatibility to view through one page or many, these factors really, really affect the readership because some of them are just following their instinct and not adjusting to how the sites have arranged their content. Do write more, you had mentioned a valid point and justified it too.

    Stephen

  • Hi Nicole,

    Thanks for liking my article. You can always share your views on which particular points did you like and were useful to you. Yeah, I also look forward to continue this in future on various interesting subjects.

  • JimLesses

    Your explanation seems reasonable, but I suspect that the types of sites we are talking about (and I’m sure you are familiar with them), are simply spreading content across multiple pages in attempts to boost their click rates, SEO ranking, and advertising revenue. Not that any of those things are bad per sé, but I am personally over it.

  • JimLesses

    “The site may have done it intentionally to avoid its webpages from infinite scrolling.” But it is more likely that all they are doing is trying to increase clicks, SEO ranking, and other stuff that 98 percent of readers have no interest in and could care less about. Whatever happened to the ‘three clicks rule’? Making readers click through multiple pages of content, ads and page clutter is a complete turn off in my opinion. I simply move on, unless the content is something I am *really* interested in.

  • Mike Lange

    The ux story should always be to avoid extra clicks / taps. This nonsense about “infinite scroll is bad” is not justifiable simply because it’s implemented poorly on most sites. There are solutions to just about all the problems listed here. This is the blind leading the blind, as is usually the case in most things. You cannot solve user problems in blanket cases, such as “all ecommerce sites should not use infinite scroll”.

    If you want great ux, speak to a ux guy/girl that knows the technology and implications.

  • Any specific reason why window.history.pushState() is not mentioned?

  • jb226

    At the end of the day, you’re right, particularly in noting that many of the problems listed in this article are tendencies of the way infinite scrolling is implemented rather than underlying limitations of the technology. You can definitely paginate infinite scrolling, can definitely link directly to an item, etc. Of course, speaking with somebody who focuses on UX issues is always going to be the best course of action to answer questions about UX issues.

    In reality though, the majority of websites and the businesses that created them have never done so, and many if not most can not bear or are not interested in paying the extra expense. At best they speak to a web developer who has some good UX chops. Many don’t even get that much. I think the article does a good job of laying out the generic case for when to use and when to avoid infinite scrolling. Naturally, an article on the web can’t give specific answers to specific circumstances; if website owners want that level of consideration then they should absolutely shell out the money and hire a professional. For everybody else, this isn’t a bad place to start.

  • Thank you, a good article. This point about infinite scrolling on commerce oriented websites may have some weight: we recently read an article about a landing page conversions experiment where adding a lengthy section below the fold reduced conversions for that particular site. If a customer is close to a decision, the infinite content scroll would be akin to saying to the customer “have you roamed the 100 other aisles?” when they are at checkout.

  • Hi JimLesses:

    Yeah, that’s a valid point. I know what you mean to say when you refer to “that types of sites”. Quite often these people are aiming at boosting their click rates only. And I feel that’s kinda purpose doesn’t solve when your readers aren’t liking it. It’s troublesome and when we, as readers, know that this is done intentionally, we are simply disliking it. Even if the content may be of a very good quality, it makes us leave those pages without reading through it entirely.

  • Thanks for writing. Commerce oriented sites are usually seeking to generate revenues by all means. I believe everyone has a choice. Some may find endless scrolling not a healthy feature for an eCommerce site. But for a particular site and its audience, it is important to understand if the continuous scrolling is killing the site and its revenue. The plus points to such sites include: a greater and better exposure to content, visually appealing experience, fast browsing, easier to take decision on the buying of products, etc. Now, if the customer is fine with these benefits, he is happy to be on the site, and we know he is going to buy soon.

  • Hey Mike,
    I am glad that you wrote. I think what you have said clarifies most of the apprehensions about the infinite scrolling. To avoid unnecessary navigation, and to facilitate smooth and fast browsing, this kind of scrolling works. Those who have faced problems due to end number of advertisements, or any other issue like absence of skipping options, it is due to the bad design of the sites. And anyways, one cannot expect all solutions in one kind of website. A site which you can make user friendly for your readers, is the best.

  • Hi jb226,

    When the infinite scrolling was discovered, the intention may not have been to make someone upset. We all know how popular the infinite scrolling has become. A web design pattern that can serve many purposes at one time. it is a tending feature for user interface, allows visitors to navigate the content without going to different web pages. It is like one floor shop where you get anything and everything. However how you implement this feature on your site and are you unnecessarily dragging features that can irritate your visitors is of a great concern. If so, then one should avoid this. If you can really use it correctly with the help of some good UX guy, you can make it SEO friendly.