Modern thinking in UX has taught us not to fear the dreaded ‘fold’ and accept that everyone scrolls on the web… But do they always?
“Do users scroll?”
I literally get asked this question all of the time by clients expecting a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. Unfortunately, life is rarely that simple. Most of the time it comes back to that frustrating old UX chestnut : ‘it depends’. This might initially seem like a cop-out answer, but as is often the case in UX, it’s a matter of context.
It’s true that everyone who owns a computer knows how to scroll - there’s absolutely no denying that. However, we need to be careful not to interpret this as ‘everyone always scrolls’.
The rise of the long scrolling page
It shouldn’t be news to anyone that long scrolling landing pages are all the rage right now. The myth that all of your page’s content needs to be stuffed above an invisible line 600 pixels down the page called ’the fold’ has been dispelled. Web designers can now be more creative without the restriction that a page length cap used to give them. We should be rejoicing, but the popularity of the long scrolling page has introduced some new challenges.
I absolutely love the idea of a long scrolling landing page - I’ve proposed several to clients myself. They work brilliantly on touch-based devices, and the act of scrolling for more information comes so much more naturally than loading a series of new pages. They also allow you to maximise white space in your design and can engage visitors with some nice animations or design transitions as the user moves through the content.
The only trouble is that this pattern has gotten so widespread that we’re often rushing to design scrolling pages without stopping to think if we actually need them.
An example, courtesy of David Hasselhoff
I recently worked on a project for PR agency Golin that I feel provides a really good example of how our users can sometimes surprise us. The site, called ‘Hoff or Not’, was created as experiment in relevance and social media sharing. The game works by showing you 10 photographs, and the player has to quickly guess whether each one is truly The Hoff or a lookalike. Players then get bonus points when they share the game through social media.
We made the decision to have a longer landing page relatively early on in the project. This page would contain information about the prizes, instructions on how to play the game, social sharing options as well as links to terms and conditions and so on. At the top of the page, we placed a large hero banner where all-important ‘Play’ button was located. The rationale behind this was obvious; playing the game is what most people would want to do when they first arrived, therefore it needed to be the most visible element. Players who wanted to find out more could then scroll down our lovely landing page at their leisure.
When we put this to testing using heat mapping tools, what we found was that virtually nobody scrolled past the hero banner:
The design clearly signposted exactly what every user wanted to do right at the top of the page. There was no reason for people to scroll - therefore they didn’t. People saw what they wanted to find, and clicked through without thinking what else might have been on that page.
This shouldn’t be seen as a failing in the design. I’m glad to say that the bounce rate on Hoff or Not was exceptionally low. What we did was make the act of scrolling irrelevant by placing what people actually wanted immediately at the top of the page. In hindsight this seems like common sense, but it’s really enlightening to see that no matter how good your content might be, people won’t scroll if there’s not a convincing reason to.
Another example, courtesy of Architect
On the other hand, if the act of scrolling will actively advance the user towards completing their goals on the site then scrolling is exactly what they will do. We set up the same analytics tool on one of our agency websites, Architect 365. This also uses a longer landing page, but the user needs involved here are very different.
Whilst visitors came to Hoff or Not to play a game, people come to Architect 365 to learn about our agency and our skills. It’s obvious that the act of scrolling will provide them with more information, therefore people do scroll.
Why do people visit websites, anyway?
This whole post might seem to be stating the obvious, but a lot of the time that’s exactly what UX needs to do. Thought-leader Steve Krug referred to User Experience as ‘ advanced common sense’, and I think this description is spot on.
As designers we can often get so carried away with trends such as long scrolling pages and superfluous bits of content and functionality that we can lose sight of why people come to our websites in the first place.
It’s so easy to get caught up in conversations about ‘the fold’ and what should sit above or below it. In reality, it’s a question of prioritising user needs. Everyone knows how to scroll - but if they don’t need to then why should we make them?