Infinite scrolling is a web design trend that is making waves in todays website landscape. It is simply the ability of a page to infinitely produce more content so that the user can scroll down the page uninterrupted. No more clicking. If you’re a social media buff or a Pinterest personality you will have come across this tool, perhaps without even noticing.
A technology that has grown from the increasing amount of tablet and smartphone users, infinite scrolling provides an easier way to navigate through websites on all devices. It has even progressed to being used as a complete navigation system in websites dubbed as infinite scrolling websites. It is fabulous for some websites but has suffered some teething problems with others. Though it appears simplistic and sleek, endless scrolling can result in confusion and frustration for users when applied inappropriately to websites.
To start with the positives, infinite scrolling can be a powerful tool that when executed well can expose users to more content and improve their experience. Infinite scrolling is hugely effective on websites that specialise in low engagement content (content that does not require active engagement or encourage interaction). Social media sites benefit hugely from this technology because as a rule, the content is taken at face value and every piece of content has the potential to be interesting to the user, meaning that scrolling through a lot of content is not a problem. It provides a more efficient and intuitive way to navigate through a ton of content that requires little action. When done well, the user experiences a truly responsive website that caters for their needs seamlessly.
However, for other sites that require the user to actively engage in their content, to click a button and interact with it, infinite scrolling can cause problems. The endless amount of content can overwhelm users and decrease the value of each piece of content. This can then inhibit user engagement and take away from what the website has to offer.
Infinite scrolling is seen to take the control away from the user, something that is an instinctive need for humans. With the alternative, a user has a defined amount of pages to search and can pick and choose when they have seen enough. With infinite scrolling, the user has no idea when the content is going to run out, or how relevant it is to them and requires the user to simply continue scrolling. If you leave a website feeling that it wasted your time you are unlikely to have a positive response to it.
This is where we are faced with a problem; how do you balance usability on devices, expose the user to more content, and keep them actively engaged? A good compromise is hybrid technology that relinquishes control to the user, yet allows them to scroll through websites using any device, with ease. To achieve a hybrid website all that is required is to predefine the number of pages before a prompt appears asking the user if they would like to see more content. It’s as simple as that to give back control to the user and maintain a consistent data load on the server.
Whether you choose to make a full-blown infinite scrolling website or a hybrid, there are a few things that can help make this tool more effective.
To ensure that the website is seamlessly infinite, Lazy Load content ahead of the user. However, despite the use of this technology, you can’t help when some users skip ahead faster than the preloaded content. In this situation it is essential to provide the user with a visual cue to tell them more content is loading. This way you can keep the user in the loop, letting them know that the site is still working and deter them from leaving. Although this ‘loading’ cue is necessary, it should hardly ever be seen.
The largest issues with infinite scrolling are down to navigational ease. Problems arise when the user navigates away from the infinite scrolling page. Often they will lose their place and when they return the site bumps the user back to the start. This is extremely annoying and can be enough to turn away users from your site as they are forced to spend time scrolling their way back. To remedy this problem, make sure you keep back button functionality so that the user can redirect themselves to the correct spot with just a click of a button. This is also useful to help the user maintain a sense of perspective and control, two things that are important to achieve in order for the website to be comfortable and intuitive to use. An alternative is to program content to open in a new window when clicked. This option has been the cause of much debate as it is said to take control away from the user, and can also cause discomfort on smaller devices.
Infinite scrolling websites can lose their basic navigation systems all together which makes it very hard for a user to access the different regions of the site. The navigational bar is often lost as the user scrolls down the page, and the footer can never be found because of the constant stream of content being uploaded. Making sure the navigation bar at the top of the website is maintained despite scrolling down the page is wise, the user can then make their way to another part of the website without having to scroll all the way back to the top of the page. Having a footer, and being able to access it, is extremely important as it is there to provide important information about the site. The footer is often the last resort for a user to locate a specific topic. If the user can’t find the footer then they are likely to give up and discontinue using the website. A hybrid website can be the solution to this problem, as the prompt and footer can appear simultaneously, giving the user a chance to utilise it.
Lastly make sure you filter, filter, filter. Program the most relevant content to appear at the top of the page. Then hopefully, the user will be able to recognise when content becomes less relevant and can stop scrolling. This gives them the control over the amount of content they are exposed to. It’s best to try not to waste the users time as it will cause them to avoid using your website in the future.
This trend is growing and with more insights on how to use endless scrolling technology to its best advantage, it can only continue to become more effective. To see some examples of successful infinite scrolling websites, click here.
- Top Trending Website Design Inspirations
- Don't Waste Money on DIY Web Design
- Why You Should Make Your Web Design Responsive
Posted in Infinite Scrolling