Long Pages Work? It’s all About Context
Yesterday Peter Van Dijck wrote an interesting article that got me thinking. In it he states that Long Pages Work. In many cases they do. In many cases they don’t. I totally agree that for article, comments, reviews, a long page is something that will result in a better user experience for a specific site and/or group of people. Yes, with more emphasis on pay-per-click advertising, this helps to bring down the barriers of arbitrary pagination. This idea shouldn’t be applied to all content and all pages all the time.
There are many cases where the inclination is to add more and more content to a page and make it longer to add more value. It is very likely that the reality will be the value of any one page is diminished. The real value all depends on what the business goals, user context, and content utility are on the page. I can think of three very different examples to quickly illustrate my point.
Let’s start with a page that has a primary goal of describing a product. The basic requirements for this page probably include the most important details of the product, some technical specifications, description, and a photo. Other things that are probably very valuable are reviews from other owners, ratings, and professional reviewers. From a business perspective, showing similar or related items will provide incremental value. This will result in a long page, but there is still quite a bit of information that should still be discoverable; most likely either pulled up from a hidden layer on the page, or going to an entirely different page. It is important in this case to keep in mind the most valuable information that will help someone make a decision and not confuse the issue with tons of data that isn’t relevant for the majority of the people. It is important to make sure that data is accessible for those that want to find it. However, having one page listing every possible data point isn’t the answer here.
Second, consider a page that has to sell and idea and grab someone’s attention in a short amount of time. For example, someone is visiting a website for the first time, especially if that site doesn’t have extremely strong brand recognition. The goal of this page is to quickly and succinctly communicate what the business is about and why someone should sign up. A long page with important messaging below the fold in this case could hurt sign-up rates.
Finally, a page with a news or content article is probably the best-case-scenario for very long pages. However, target audience should still be front-and-center here. It would be less valuable to see an ongoing discussion about a news article on CNN that is intended for a mass audience compared to the responses to an article on a technology blog or niche content site. In both of these niche scenarios, the readers are more specifically engaged in both the content and the discussion and both are probably equally as valuable since in theory, the author is an expert and the readers are also probably experts. Whereas in the CNN example, the majority of people probably want to just stay informed and the opinions of other random people who are not as valuable.
So yes, people scroll, but that doesn’t mean that every bit of content should be on every page. Page length still depends on the context and goals of any one page.