If a client asks for infinite scroll, and you immediately raise your hands to your cheeks to make a Macaulaly Culkin-Home Alone face, then you may understand the maneuverability and UX nightmare of infinite scroll. As an agency, it’s your job to navigate your client in the right direction. The case against infinite scroll is not black and white, so take all relevant factors before making a recommendation to your client.
What is Infinite Scroll?
Essentially it’s a never ending page: the content continues loading as the user scrolls towards the bottom. The infinite scroll design mechanism continuously retrieves content from a database and inserts it onto the users page as they continue reading down a page.
When you’re advising your client (or potential client) on the merits of infinite scroll, make sure you have all the facts. Simply dismissing infinite scroll without valid reasoning won’t inspire confidence from your client. Here are six reasons why infinite scroll isn’t the best choice for most design projects.
Lacks a Footer
Pages without footers are trouble for ecommerce. Ever been on a website where you need to get to a link on the bottom of the page, but you only have a second or two to click it before more content loads and you can’t find the link? It happened to me just last week, and let me just say firsthand: making your users play cat and mouse with a link is not good for business.
Without pagination, it’s difficult to keep track of information, and an immense amount of information without order is a recipe for lost items. The design principle of keeping a site ‘shallow’, or in other words, not burying information, is sort of out the door when it comes to infinite scroll. Pagination at least offers up a page numbers where you might find information you’re looking for, but with infinite scroll it’s difficult to go back up the page without a reference to find information. It’s sort of like digging for buried treasure without a map.
Sometimes in infinite scroll, you’re just lost. Say you click on one item, then click ‘back’ and you’re at the top of the page again, since the scroll position isn’t recorded as a ‘state’. That’s both annoying and counterintuitive to website usability, especially considering the intention and design premise of the web is to click a URL and arrive at that page to get the information you’re looking for.
Not SEO Friendly
Because SEO tools can’t scroll to the bottom of the page like a user would, content accessible solely via infinite scroll won’t be seen. Google and other search engines normally only read the first page. If content is hidden from the search engine, that content won’t be indexed. You can alleviate SEO troubles by using an infinite scroll plug-in. However, this needs to be well designed and is an added design step.
Since your app needs to always be waiting for scroll continuation, poor infinite scroll design will result in lower performance and sometimes crashes. Since these events are constantly triggering, poor routines are extremely intensive on the CPU. With more and more content going into memory on the user end, the browser has extra work to do and performance drops.
Be kind to the human mind; too much content is overwhelming. Minds work in stories, and infinite scrolling does not provide that beginning, middle, and end we crave. Instead, infinite scrolling leaves us with a sense of being incomplete. Not only the lack completion, the sheer volume and potential clickable options of infinite scrolling are overwhelming. It’s exhausting and daunting, potentially causing users not to act, only to keep browsing.
Infinite Scrolling Still Has its Place in the UX World
Infinite scrolling isn’t around solely to slow down browsers and cause us psychological harm — it has a purpose and serves some designs very well. While it’s easier to dismiss infinite scroll, you must know both sides of the argument when discussing infinite scroll with your client.
That whole ‘sense of incompleteness’ actually kind of works when you want to retain your user. There’s nothing to do but scroll, and your user has a call to action, so to speak. When there’s no end, we keep scrolling on..and on..and on..
Can’t Go Wrong
There’s only one page, you can safely assume that most people know how to scroll. It removes the friction caused by making people click ‘next’. Sometimes this means faster browsing, and a more user-friendly experience.
One Long Page is Easier than Many
When implemented well, infinite scroll is actually faster than having multiple long pages, doing away with the inconvenience of waiting for a new page to load. It can be an incredibly efficient, and provides an enjoyable user experience that is uninterrupted.
With our increasingly touch-friendly world, infinite scrolling fits in well to touch tablets and smart phones. It’s intuitive to scroll here, where it may be less intuitive on a laptop or desktop computer, so the infinite scrolling experience is a plus on mobile apps.
More Content Exposure
People tend to be more willing to scroll down a page than to click a ‘next’. Think about searches you do on Google: If the first page doesn’t come up with the information you’re looking for, how often do you move to the second page of results? Just the lack of having to click next causes people to continue on and view more content.
How to Navigate a Client in the Right Direction
You always want to guide people in the direction of best design practices, especially when a trend like infinite scroll catches fire. Ask yourself what design mechanism is in the the best interest of your client. After all, design trends are useless if they lack practical benefits.
Infinite scroll is a tool that is useful in specific circumstances, and it’s important to help your client understand where infinite scroll fits. Twitter, for example, effectively integrates scrolling by allowing users to expand a tweet without refreshing the page and losing their scrolling position. Twitter also uses a torn paper graphic to show users where they left off reading, this way the user retains a sense of control and understanding of depth into content. In other words, smart design of infinite scroll is one way to go, benefitting the user experience without falling into confusing territory (i.e. disorientation or navigation).
Sites that rely on heavy imagery use infinite scroll to their advantage. Popular sites like Tumblr and Pinterest understand this, they are allowing users to immerse themselves in a visual feast without the nuisance of page loading. Often, implementing infinite scroll in smaller pieces of a site, like on an article, helps users stay focused on the page without having to click through to the next and wait to load. If used correctly, this works well for ecommerce sites too. Users can keep scrolling through sale items without interruption, and scroll freely up and down instead of clicking back through pages. Keep in mind that this needs to be implemented very well for ecommerce, allowing the customer to click the right buttons like ‘checkout’, without being inhibited by the scroll feature.
For a happy medium, you could consider creating a sort of hybrid infinite scroll, meaning you give the user a ‘load more’ button at the bottom of the page to decide whether or not to continue. You get some user advantages of infinite scroll without the technical issues, because this option controls the data load by utilizing an on demand technique. This way, you’re server isn’t partial to potential nightmare crashes.
If your client asks for infinite scroll, there’s no need to panic. You are the expert, that’s why they’re coming to you. No doubt infinite scroll comes with drawbacks, but there are quite a few types of sites that benefit from the feature. A good place to start is with best design practices in mind, and an understanding of your client’s goals.
If you decide that infinite scroll can increase user engagement, help your users understand where they stand on a page, keep the top navigation bar in view at all times, and try to find a compromise between infinite scrolling and a footer with a hybrid approach. As with any design trend, it’s always necessary to implement with function in mind, and create an intuitive UI. Infinite scroll may not always be the best option, but remember to keep an open mind and make an informed decision for your client.