Not All Clicks:

Why Scrolling Might Be Your Website’s Best Bet

Written by Keren Veisblatt Toledano, Senior Strategist, and originally published on Brooklyn United’s company blog.

Swipe right. Scroll down. All with a finger flick.

Whether a client refers to an online individual as a customer, audience-member, donor, shopper or reader, we always refer to individuals first as users. This distinction helps us to remember that a person must always be able to use a website, application or product. Of course, to engage with a final product a user must perform an action. And there are really only two main actions that reign supreme over the Pride Rock of UX land:

The Click

The Scroll

Choosing which action to employ is not a simple task. The click vs. scroll decision will create a lot of implications for where your content lives, and the narrative you’re trying to tell. We’re here to help you understand what it really means when you choose a click over a scroll. Which is better? Which is more engaging? Let’s begin.

But First, Some History

We are often approached by clients who continue to propagate the fallacy of “above the fold” or “above the scroll.” The idea has its roots in the halcyon days of the news industry, when editors would place the most important breaking articles and images on the front page, on the upper half of the physical printed paper. Practically, this idea was a good one. Papers are sold facing upwards and those immediate headlines could tempt customers to spend a nickel or quarter.

Extra, Extra, Read All About It! The fold is no longer.

However, in web design, the fold came to mean the portion of the visible page that can be seen without scrolling. There was a time when people did not know to scroll; that it was not even a possible function!

Furthermore, some argue that certain clicks are vestigial tails from the time when machines had low RAM and poor processing power. Companies smartly avoided the problem of slow load times, and limited bandwidth, by spreading content like cream cheese across many pages, thus defraying processing load. Site loading takes time (often 2–5 seconds minimum on a shared host) and users don’t like to wait.

For Whom the Site Scrolls

With the advent of many commercial computer companies (differentiated screen sizes! non-standard resolution!), the web as we know it looks very different to every person. A screen can just as easily be 768x1280, 1680x1050, 640x960, 1024x768, or any infinite combination of pixels. The New York Times remains 18" x 24".

And then there’s smartphone parity. A mobile device’s comparatively small bulk has always insisted on scrolling to see more content. Since so much browsing is now done via smartphone, the user has conflated browsing methods. A user expects to scroll on a digital experience, regardless of device. Today, with multi-touch gestures, trackpads, scroll wheels and swipes, users can peruse content with the simple slide of a finger, a mere flick. People scroll reflexively and mindlessly. A digital knee-jerk reaction!

Further complicating the idea of “the fold” are dangerous assumptions rooted in pen and paper. On paper, our priorities are listed hierarchically, at the top of the page — often from left to right in English speaking nations. On paper, we can control the reader’s first impression by ordering one sheet on top of another — alas — on the internet, not every user lands on your homepage. People do not browse the internet the way they browse stacks of paper, notepads and post-it notes.

Every Click is a Decision

Strictly breaking down the verbs, scrolling is a continuation of an action. One must have “begun to scroll” in order to “be scrolling.” In this instance, we can assume that this is not a new action itself but a type of digital inertia. Scrolling is passive. But clicking! Clicking is an active decision. A user must hover over a link, target it, click, and wait. It is a choice, inferred via a series of visual cues. In a click a user must take a leap.

There have been studies regarding the number of clicks before a person fatigues. Most people give up after three clicks. Similar phenomena are echoed offline (see “decision fatigue” or the “analysis paralysis.”) Usability guru Jared Spool stated in his classic article from 1998, As the Page Scrolls,“In the trade-off between hiding content below the fold or spreading it across several pages, users have greater success when the content is on a single page.”

Why is that? Scrolling allows for users to see a site’s narrative in the position intended by the marketer, copywriter and designer. When clicking, a user goes rogue and can control where they traipse and what information they consume. Their paths are unpredictable and they may miss the content intended for them (or simply, the content you want them to see.) This is only a good thing if this is in line with the business strategy, and if the site structure can be digested any order.

Still Not Convinced?

Let’s consult some cold hard data. In analyzing over 2 billion page views over the course of one month, Chartbeat found that “66% of attention on a normal media page is spent below the fold.” Of course, this is just within the publishing industry, but similar studies (with similar findings) have been done across nonprofits and in e-commerce. General usability studies by the Software Usability Research Laboratory’s show that users can actually read long, scrolling pages faster than paginated ones. The Nielsen Norman Group also says (and have been saying since 1997) that scrolling is a better usability standard, because it allays the mechanics of pagination in browsing tasks, but is not a good choice for websites that support goal-oriented finding tasks.

Eschew pageviews and clicks! Defenestrate them! Unscroll the papyrus!

Of course, the humble click still has a very important place, too. And “the fold” still has first impression implications. But, that’s for another article.