The Pros and Cons of Long-Scrolling Websites

Written by Wholegrain Team - September 21, 2015

For years, one of the mantras of design was ‘above the fold’, but is this antiquated idea finally becoming obsolete? Originating from the newspaper industry, the idea was that the most important information was placed ‘above the fold’ so it was visible when the newspaper was folded for sale.

But long-scrolling sites, along with single-page websites and infinitely scrolling sites, are on the rise. And this is no mere trend. It’s a sign of the times.

Websites have developed immeasurably in recent years, with images, animations and various other techniques relieving the boredom of those early text-heavy sites. The rise of social media, along with faster internet connections and mobile devices means that scrolling is second nature to most users. In fact, they prefer it. So this hip, cool trend looks as though it’s putting down its roots for a long stay. But is it for everybody?

Here’s a quick rundown of the pros and cons of jumping on the long-scrolling bandwagon. First, the good stuff.

Pro: Embracing the Power of Storytelling

People love a good story, and the long-scrolling site offers a bounty of opportunities for storytelling that more traditional sites simply can’t match. The story – of your brand, of your product, etc. – develops as users scroll down the page. And the user can choose how quickly or slowly they wish to read that story, and move back and forwards smoothly and without interruptions like waiting for different pages to load.

And it’s not just storytelling; long-scrolling sites are brilliant at encouraging creativity in general, with elements like parallax scroll technology and animations adding beautiful visuals to sites, giving them a playful, almost game-like feel. Like the site Tom designed for his niece: Nonsense From Within.

Nonsense from Within

Pro: Great for Engagement

Why is storytelling so important for brands, businesses and organisations? Because telling a story is a brilliant tool for encouraging engagement. So a long-scrolling site with lots of content will engage your visitors and entice them to spend longer on your site. A good story, developed well as users scroll down the page, will pique their interest and get them excited about converting at the bottom, where you can incorporate a timely CTA.

The more engaged your users are, the longer they will stay on your site. And the longer they stay on your site, the more likely they are to convert.

Pro: A Speedy Solution

Remember the good ole days of dial-up internet? Said nobody. Ever. The fact is, today, we’re a time-poor society and we don’t like to wait for anything, least of all new pages to load. So opting for a long-scrolling site is the perfect antidote. It’s much quicker than clicking on links and waiting for pages to load. You can control the flow of information to your users, but they can dictate how quickly they consume it. It’s a win-win.

Pro: Perfect for Mobile & Touchscreen

This is a biggie and a large part of the reason behind the move to long-scrolling websites. An increasing number of us are accessing the internet via our mobile devices. Which affects things in two ways. First, designers have to find creative ways to incorporate specific information ‘above the fold’ on mobile sites, without sacrificing anything important. And second, scrolling is a very natural, intuitive movement on a touchscreen device.

So a long-scrolling site offers the ideal compromise – designers can forget ‘above the fold’ and concentrate on providing a great scrolling experience, and users aren’t left swearing in frustration when they accidentally touch the wrong teeny-tiny link and go flying off in the wrong direction.

With the trend for laptops getting smaller and lighter, and Windows incorporating touchscreen technology into their operating systems, more long-scrolling sites are desired, and expected for the future.

Pro: A Tool for Indecision

Often when a user rocks up at your page, they’re not sure exactly what they’re looking for. So they’re left, hanging in indecision, wondering which part of your site to click on. But scrolling is a non-committal action. They don’t have to commit to following a certain path; they can simply follow your path, scrolling until something has caught their eye.

Pro: Keeps Things Snappy

A long-scrolling site forces businesses to keep things snappy. Rather than have the brand story spread out over several pages, the brand message and unique selling point must be focused on a single page. By concentrating this into one place, the overall message is clearer, and ultimately more powerful, than if it’s divided over several pages.

Those are just a few of the advantages of long-scrolling websites, but as with anything there are some downsides too.

Con: Sluggish, Heavy Sites

This may see like a bit of a contradiction, having just described long-scrolling sites as a speedy solution. But sites with a lot of content, especially media-intensive content, can be sluggish and slow to load, leaving users frustrated before they’ve even reached your content.

One simple solution is to employ an entertaining loading animation that’s relevant to your brand, like this fun animation from cakemakers Escribà.

Escriba Loading Page

Con: Messy Navigation & Searching Woes

Navigation and search are two fundamentals in website design, but they can be challenging to users of long-scrolling sites. Knowing where you are in a website is essential to usability, especially if you’ve reached the site via a link to something other than ‘home’. But this isn’t always easy to establish. It can also make bookmarking and skipping around difficult, and searching for a specific piece of information like hunting the proverbial needle in a haystack.

If you have a long-scrolling site with a lot of information to digest, it’s best to code ‘pages’ into the scrolling to maintain a good UX for your visitors, or employ sticky navigation to help them stay on track.

Con: A Tough Call for Analytics and SEO

For many website owners, tracking analytics is key, but it’s a lot more challenging if you have a single URL with a lot of different content. How can you tell which bits are engaging your visitors and drawing them in, and which bits are causing the spike in your bounce rate?

This causes a similar problem for your SEO. With a number of pages, you can optimise different pages for different keywords. But you can only optimise for a limited number of keywords on a single page. This limits the number of keywords you can target, and means Google has fewer pages to rank your content.

Con: Overwhelm or Overload

If your user is engaged with your content and enjoying the ride, all is well and good. But sometimes people arrive on your site, looking for something specific. Scrolling down for a while could prove fun, especially if you’ve been creative with your site. But after a while there’s a real danger they could start to feel overloaded or flooded with information and start to wonder whether the damn site is never-ending. Scroll-fatigue is possible. So it’s essential to find the right balance of content on a page so you don’t leave your visitors daunted and bored.

Con: The Floating Footer

The footer conundrum is a big problem for many infinitely scrolling sites, especially for eCommerce stores. Users are programmed to scroll down to find certain bits of information on the footer bar, such as contacts, shipping information, social media links, and the legal stuff – privacy, security and copyright.

So it can get really frustrating for people who are scrolling down and think they’ve found the bottom when the footer magically appears… Only to have it flicker away again as more content loads.

Designers need to ensure the information commonly found in the footer is readily available on the site, and its placement obvious. A sticky footer is one solution.

Are Long-Scrolling Websites Suitable for You?

Long-scrolling websites are here for the long haul. Or at least as long as small screens remain popular. And with the mobile and tablet markets flourishing, that trend shows no sign of going away.

However, this doesn’t mean you should blindly follow the trend without considering the implications for your website. Context is everything, so before you jump on the bandwagon, you should consider the following:

  • Website goals – if your website is goal oriented, where users need to perform specific tasks and expect certain outcomes, a long-scrolling site may prove off-putting.
  • Content – if your content is something users can meander through at leisure go long-scrolling, but a lot of content in specific categories is better suited to traditional pages.
  • Brand strategy – if you want to tell your brand story through a specific narrative, then long-scrolling offers an ideal solution.
  • Budget & flexibility – if you need the flexibility to add or subtract content from your site frequently, it probably isn’t suited to long-scrolling. Likewise, if you’re operating on a tight budget, the sophisticated design and constant collaboration required may eat into your budget.

What are your thoughts on long-scrolling sites? Do you think they’re here for the long haul? What are the pros and cons you find in their design and use? Join in the conversation below…