Over the last year we’ve seen a clear website design trend toward long scrolling pages. These pages often tell a visually stimulating narrative about a product or company. Nest has some great examples of this. And these long scrolling pages are getting heavier with rich motion graphics and neat design techniques such as parallax effects, anchored navigation, and moving widgets (check out Mario Kart). These long pages empower marketers to tell compelling narratives in new way. That is, if the user scrolls.
This design trend wasn’t always the case. In the 2000s’ post bubble era, sites were trying very hard to not make visitors have to scroll. UX gurus such as Jacob Nielson were preaching that designers need to be very aware of where “the fold” is. In the age before page-tag tracking, user research groups were telling us that as few as 10 percent to 30 percent of the visitors to a long page would actually scroll to the bottom. This led the UX experts and designers to try and fit everything above the fold. Whatever valuable content couldn’t be placed above the fold was pushed to a different page. In those years, rather than asking users to scroll we would definitely encourage them to click deeper into the site. Log file analytics were used to track how many pages deep a user would click in a given session and the site optimization was focused on increasing the number of pageviews per session and page depth of a visit.
Why did we all go from trying to avoid asking our users to scroll to having scrolling as a fashionable design technique?
The answer comes down to user engagement data. Within the last two years the Web analytics world has produced many reports emphasizing a user’s engagement level. Engagement data is often a combination of data points such as pageviews per session, scrolling, mouse movement, and tool usage. Websites are developed for a variety of reasons, whether being an intent to sell products, generate leads, sell banner space, help us find things, or even generate thought leadership (among other factors). In almost every case, engaged visitors convert at much higher ratios. Therefore if a website can increase engagement, it can increase conversion. If a page design can entice the user to scroll down and read a story, engagement has increased.
One of the most common challenges in website design is minimizing abandonment or bounce. It’s not uncommon for sites to have landing page bounce rates of 20 percent to as high as 70 percent. In the old design model of keeping everything on the page above the fold without engagement tracking, the abandoned users were considered one of the biggest failures of a website. If a scrolling site can engage those quickly departing users for even a little while, the hope is to decrease abandonment and increase user conversion. But will the users scroll?
Tracking of scrolling and mouse movement on pages has come a long way in the last couple of years, giving website owners a much better understanding of how engaged users are on individual pages or within click-paths. We routinely implement scroll tracking and activity/mouse tracking on sites with long scrolling pages because we want to make sure a good portion of the visitors are scrolling down the page. Here is an example of our own homepage:
We also trigger scrolling events so that we can create segments of users by how far down the page they scroll or the amount of mouse/keyboard activity. For this example we used a scroll depth tracking script created by Parsnip.io, which you can download for free.
In this tracking we can see that about 27 percent of visitors have scrolled 75 percent of the way down the page. If we segment the audiences by those that have abandoned the homepage verses those that have a page depth greater than one we find that one in five users that bounced on the homepage actually scrolled to the bottom of the page.
Nobody likes the idea of homepage abandonment and we all hope that our users read all of our content. In this example, the long scrolling homepage was able to get about 20 percent of the users that abandoned to be more engaged. The long scrolling page was able to engage visitors with a stimulating visual design. I believe this to be the primary case for long scrolling pages. These pages are able to increase engagement in visitors which likely leads to higher conversion rates over time. Of course, the majority of engaged visitors will still use the primary navigation or site search before scrolling to the bottom of the page and we therefore need to continue to be mindful of what appears “above the fold.” But the long scrolling pages are another important technique to increase engagement rates in a very memorable and fun design format.