Infinite Scrolling: Is It Good or Bad for Your Website?

Like any other design trend infinite scrolling is becoming increasingly popular and you will frequently come across one page websites where you scroll down as much as you can but never reach the bottom. So is this is a good trend to follow for your website or you would rather avoid it?

Well, the answer is simple. It depends on the type and goals of your website.

As Nielsen Norman truthfully mention “Infinite Scrolling Is Not for Every Website”. It has its strengths and weaknesses, but before deciding to implement infinite scrolling on your website you need to make sure that the advantages it offers are way more valuable than its disadvantages.

Infinite scrolling is basically a type of web interaction design that allows users to browse the content through scrolling rather than clicking on page links. This way new content is being automatically loaded and ready before users get to that point, while in case of pagination, content for each page starts loading after clicking the page link.

This web design technique is successfully employed by such social network giants like Twitter, Pinterest, even Facebook and it’s no surprise that many websites follow their lead…and fail. The reason why infinite scrolling works so well on Twitter and Pinterest is not that they are established and multi-billion companies. It’s because these websites have a huge flow of user generated content that is continuously updated. In this case infinite scrolling proves to be the best solution to provide quality user experience.

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The Pros

So what are the benefits of infinite scrolling that many websites nowadays opt for?

Perfect for Touch

In today’s multi-device world it is of utmost importance to have equally good UX on both desktop and mobile devices. And since most of the tablets and mobile phones are made with touch technology you would prefer to focus on touch optimization. Here’s where infinite scrolling beats the competition. The small screen size of a mobile device demands a forward-thinking technology to display the content in a way that is more convenient for the user. Making users to tap those tiny page links to get to a new bunch of content is far from being usable.

Visual Oriented

Who doesn’t like high quality beautiful images? This is probably another emerging trend on the web that is based on “a picture is worth a thousand words” principle. And the best way to deliver image-heavy content appears to be infinite scrolling. This way users won’t be distracted from their delightful experience by the need to find and click the next link. Pinterest and Flickr are great examples of how visual oriented websites benefit from infinite scrolling.

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Better Content Exposure

Regardless of the type of content your website is offering you would like to get as much impressions for it as possible. In case of content pagination users won’t see what’s on the next page until they click it, while infinite scrolling puts all your content on one endlessly long page. Everything is within a “scroll’s reach”.

Fast and Easy Browsing

Infinite pages are usually faster than regular webpages. The reason is that as the user scrolls down the page, more content loads automatically in the same page eliminating the need for clicking on page links and reloading pages every time. This saves time, which is good not only from a user’s but also from SEO perspective.

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More Room for Creativity

Infinite scrolling itself is a quite innovative way for displaying information, yet it also holds a huge potential for creative outbursts. In the hands of a web design virtuoso infinite scrolling can turn into something not only interesting and usable but also fun. A very good example of such creative approach can be found on lostworldsfair.com and andrevv.com.

A very popular creative extension of infinite scrolling is the parallax scroll technology that creates beautiful visual storylines through scrolling. Check out makeyourmoneymatter.org and cyclemon.com for best practices.

cyclemon

lostworldsfairs

makeyourmoneymatter

The Cons

As said above infinite scrolling makes it easier for users to consume more information with less actions on their side. Sounds quite appealing, doesn’t it? But let’s now go through the list of infinite scrolling drawbacks that you should keep in mind when making a final decision.

Footer Problem

This is a very big issue especially for ecommerce websites. If you have made an online purchase at least once you know exactly where all the important links are located: in the footer. Now imagine you want to visit the “Shipping information” page on an infinite scrolling webpage. Catch it if you can! It is pretty annoying when you have just a few seconds to find and click on that link until it “scrolls away”.

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Disorientation

Everything there is on the web is basically recreated from the real world, right? From this point of view anything that is infinite is already unnatural and contradictory. If there is no order we won’t be able to handle the immense amount of information that flows into our lives every day. And we come across the same issue with infinite scrolling. It lacks orientation and users have difficulty finding something they have previously seen on the page. They are unable to mentally locate that item and easily come back to it afterwards. In case of paginated content at least you can relatively map the information with the help of page numbers.

Moreover, that scroll bar on the left gives inaccurate information about the amount of content that is left to load and users feel cheated and annoyed when they realize there is still more to come.

Navigation Issues

One of the very basic UX principles states that users need to always know where they are in the hierarchy of a website. This is essential for website usability. In case of infinite scrolling it is very difficult if not impossible to understand where you are at a given point. Moreover, when you click on an item and then want to go back where you left, the “pogosticking” thing happens and you are brought back to the very top of the feed. Imagine how annoying that is.

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No Skipping

One of the biggest advantages of paginated content is that when needed you can skip the first let’s say 100 pages and go straight to 101st, which is impossible with infinite scrolling. Users can’t even nearly imagine the amount of content there is, let alone skip a part of it.

Browser crash

No new technology works flawlessly on all browsers and infinite scrolling is not an exception. When a big amount of content is loaded the memory of a computer, especially an older one can easily crash. You don’t want such UX, do you?

Overwhelming Content

It’s always good to have lots of quality information on a website. But when there is infinite content loading every second users may feel out of control and exhausted. It’s like a pleasant road trip that has no destination and never ends. Knowing there is so much more information out there users are unable to stop until they get bored and psychologically daunted.

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After all, is infinite scrolling good or bad?

Every advance in technology is a good thing if used properly. As for the infinite scrolling, for some websites it proves to be beneficial and engaging, while for others it can backfire and crash the whole UX. It all depends on the goal of your website and the user expectations. If you have a goal-oriented website, where users perform specific tasks and expect to find specific results, infinite scrolling may hurt the website usability due to its disadvantages listed above.

But if there is a plenty of content on your website and each piece of it has nearly the same value and same importance level for a user, then infinite scrolling can be a really effective way of delivering that content. Take for example lookbook.nu. Every single post features some visual content with the same chances to be interesting for a user.

Based on many expert opinions and practical experience, infinite scrolling doesn’t seem to perform well for ecommerce websites and the already popular case of Etsy online shopping website proves that once again.

However, if you choose infinite scrolling as the best option for your website, try to apply some best practice techniques to make sure that your website meets user expectations. First of all stick the navigation bar to the top of the webpage and make it visible persistently. Try to combine traditional pagination and infinite scrolling by adding a “Load More” button at the end of the page, allowing users to decide whether they need more content or it’s enough. This way you will also have a normal footer. And finally make sure users can come back where they left if they click on an item in the feed.

I am proactive and enthusiastic UX geek from Armenia with a keen eye for detail, big passion for sleek and usable digital products and an irresistible urge to improve, rather than get used to things that are not in place. You can always be in touch with me @armen_ghazaryan and Google+ and Website.

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12 Comments
  1. Marta Mar 6, 3:27 pm

    They are all great. My absolute favorite is the Andrevv Mc Arthy.

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  2. Julien Mar 6, 3:48 pm

    I must disagree with you about SEO. Infinite scroll isn’t that great because it throws too much content in the same page. From now, google ranking perspective, you have to create more pages. That’s sad but it’s true. I love infinite scroll otherwise to replace paginations. Nice write-up.

    Reply
    +2
  3. Ivanov Karmazov Mar 6, 4:25 pm

    I like infinite scrolling. BUT only in certain situations. Like where you are looking at search results or when there is a story behind all the scrolling. Otherwise the overflow of content can be quite overbearing.

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  4. George Papadakis Mar 10, 11:07 am

    Here’s a rough proof of concept of “smarter” infinite scroller: http://georgep.pathfinder.gr/load_more/

    Reply
    +7
    • Miklos Mar 15, 6:43 pm

      How is this better? Still loads content automatically. A “smarter” one would let me stop the loading or trigger it if I want to.

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  5. Philip Andersen Mar 10, 12:08 pm

    Most of the cases nowadays it’s bad, just look at flickr. A photo site is a example it COULD be good, but when I scroll at photo pages like Google Images or Flickr, most of the tiles/thumbnails is not showing up or is like grey until much later when pictures much further down the road has already been loading. That’s a annoying as hell.

    The second annoying this is that it’s a memory hog for your browser. But it can semi-fixed by stopping it now and then like google do with “show more images”. The third reason is that if you’re a big site, you need to proof it so the site works without Javascript activated, which would work if using the google semi-fix mentioned above.

    But on some places it’s very useful, like regular search on some sites, or spliced up articles.

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    +3
  6. Rainer Mar 11, 7:48 pm

    While I think this article does a decent job of explaining the pros and cons of infinite scrolling websites, many of the example website ARE NOT infinite scrolling. Long, single page websites such as lostworldsfair.com, cyclemon.com, wildbluetech.com, and makeyourmoneymatter.org do not automatically load new content as the user scrolls and don’t have an infinite length, like pages on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.

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    +2
  7. Yaniv Nagar Mar 11, 9:30 pm

    Infinite scroll good for SEO? How exactly? Spiders crawl the very first context the see on the page. Since they can’t scroll down themselves, I fail to see the logic of this claim…

    Reply
    -1
    • Daniel Schwarz Mar 14, 6:22 pm

      Not necessarily true. On Airwalk Design http://airwalk-design.com, I use infinite scrolling. Every item has an tag with a href attribute. Now while the default behaviour loads an ajax modal, the Google spider still crawls those linked webpages because the href is valid. Let’s say you employ this technique by creating Pagination links (even if they are tiny), you can change the URL dynamically with pushState (to /?scrolled=2 or /?scrolled=3) but the href of those links will still link to a valid URL, which will rank in Google.

      On top of that, Google states that UX is a ranking factor, and loading times are significantly lowered by using infinite loading (http requests and all that).

      Reply
      +1
  8. Sergey Mar 13, 12:23 pm

    Well, from my point of view it looks pretty good & interesting. A saw a large scope of web-sites using this technology and it becomes trend. Such sites looks non-standart and modern. But there is another side of this medal: such a desing is made for some specials screen size or scopes of sizes, i mean if I have more wide but less high screen when i scroll from 1 page to 2nd, when i`ve totally scrolled i can see a part of the next or previous screen. Also there is a question about texts: sometimes it looks strange when part of 1 text is “mixing” with other part. So at the end I can say that it`s good if you have business card site: a lot of “fresh” images, much lesser text, only few screens and for example the web-form contained few fields.
    But if you’re trying to do whole your web-site including hard logic & algorithms in it you can gain hard using of this site. Also I saw a scope of web-sites looking pretty from 1st view but working hard and “askew” in fact, cause this technology is specific and cannot predict some special cases.

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  9. Jake Swensont Jun 21, 4:58 pm

    I despise infinite scrolling, both as a website developer and regular visitor.
    This isn’t the first time the early adopters have taken the wrong path
    Infinite scrolling is the modern version of “frames” (remember frames from the late 90’s?)
    I personally can’t wait until infinite scrolling goes the way of frames (extinct).

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  10. Ty Cahill Jul 1, 6:30 pm

    I like infinite scrolling, but I think it’s a bad design pattern because it takes control away from the user. So I use Finite Scrolling and put a “More” button at the bottom that loads in more content, instead of doing it automatically for the user. If I really want to get fancy, I’ll add an “Automatically load more” checkbox beside the More button, for people who want to enable infinite scrolling.

    Keep the user in control of their experience.

    Reply
    0

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