Beauty & Brains in Branding & Web

Infinite Scrolling: Don’t Jump on the Bandwagon Without Reading This First

Infinite ScrollInfinite scrolling has been included in many popular web design trends this year. Many websites have chosen this design as an alternative to pagination because they feel it satisfies users’ desires to click less and see more. But is this new trend one that will stick around for long? As is the case with many trends, just because everyone’s doing it doesn’t necessarily mean you should hop on the bandwagon.

In the interest of transparency, I will tell you that I am not a fan of scrolling of any kind, let alone for 50 miles. I like web pages to have limited information. I like to know exactly where I am on a website at all times. And I need to be able to get from top to bottom and back to top quickly. But perhaps the most frustrating feature of the infinite scroll is that I never get to the end. Obvious of course, but for those of us who need to see all the available data before making a decision, infinite scrolling is an infinite nightmare.

That being said, I am aware that many people like the scroll, and that many websites have experienced success with this design, namely Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Polyvore. From these examples, it is clear that infinite scrolling has something to offer, in the appropriate context, and if used correctly.

So when should you consider implementing the infinite scroll and when should you steer clear of that bandwagon?

Consider hopping on the bandwagon if:

1. Your data is primarily images. Users are able to scan images much more quickly than text, making the scroll more conducive to this type of browsing. (Notice that Pinterest and Polyvore are both image-centric.)

2. Your users want to browse. Users on sites like Polyvore and Pinterest aren’t necessarily looking for anything in particular. Like the users on Google Images, they are simply browsing for items that pique their interest. In cases such as these, a steady flow of material could work.

3. Infinite scrolling helps tell your story. Many sites that find success with infinite scrolling use it as a tool to help tell their story. Infinite scrolling allows for effects to occur gradually as the user scrolls down, and even allows for the effect to be ‘undone’ when the user scrolls back up. Some examples of sites that do this marvelously are Nike Air JordanOakley’s Airbrake MX goggles, and Pi’s Epic Journey (the making of Life of Pi, and my personal favorite).

4. Your site is targeting mobile touch-screens. Infinite scrolling integrates seamlessly with touch-screen devices. Those little tabs are hard for touch-screen users to hit. Infinite scrolling is an easy way to deliver additional content without having to enlarge the screen just to tap a tiny button.

Why the bandwagon may not get you where you want to go:

1. Heavy Websites: Infinite scroll websites can create a bad user experience as it uses up browser memory.
2. Disorientation: Once a user clicks a link, it is difficult to bring them back to their previous position, which can frustrate your user.
3. Lost Information: Users may have trouble finding the information they want once they have scrolled past it.
4. Poor SEO: Infinite scrolling can be bad for SEO, as search engines won’t see all the content.
5. Difficult Navigation: Infinite Scrolling makes it difficult to return to the main navigation. (And a fixed main navigation can have an irritating jumpy effect.)
6. Shrunken Scrollbar: The scrollbar can often become extremely small and difficult to use as more content is added.

While many websites have benefited from the infinite scroll, others did not have the same experience. One better-known case is Etsy, whose transition to infinite scroll was somewhat disastrous. Another is Digg, whose implementation of the “More” button was met with severe aversion. It seems as though there is no secret recipe in determining whether the infinite scroll will work for your site. In the end, the decision will depend primarily on what your users want. Listening to your audience is always the key. Consider a focus group or a poll to determine whether your users are primarily clickers or scrollers. Because if they’re anything like me, the scroll wagon will likely crash hard.

Let us know how you feel about infinite scrolling and please share any sites that you think do it well!

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  1. Hi Brittany
    I’m a UK copywriter and I’ve been shocked by the speed with which companies of all types have jumped on the endless scroll bandwagon. So, it’s great to someone else having similar thoughts. I haven’t seen any research that proves these sites communicate more effectively. The only research I’ve seen was from 2013 and that showed that 80% of web users do not scroll. Let’s hope it dies a death, soon. Cheerio Stan

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