The Verdict is in on Infinite Scrolling.
It seems everyone is trying to add infinite scrolling to their website these days. Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr are using the technique to keep users online and constantly scrolling for the latest post from their online network. As eCommerce and information sites try to adopt this cool, new design style we have to take a hard look at the concept and ask ourselves if this really creates the best experience for our customers.
For those who don’t know, infinite scrolling is simply endless scrolling or:
a technique where additional content for a web page is appended dynamically to the bottom of the page as the user approaches the end of the content – Brandon Tilley
In theory, this seems like a very simple and effective design. Users can scroll through all your content quickly, looking at everything you have to offer without having to click on any links. Yet, many businesses fail when they try to implement infinite scrolling and no, it’s not because they lack the budget or design experts of Facebook and Pinterest. While this may be partially true and having a top tier design team helps, it is not the full story. What you really need to ask yourself is, does my business lend itself to infinite scrolling?
Well, the problem with this question is it only leads to more questions. What type of website is good for infinite scrolling? Are any websites good for infinite scrolling? How do I know which category I fall into? Take a deep breath, we’ll dive into all that in a second. Let’s talk about if infinite scrolling is good for any type of website and what types of websites are good.
Are any websites good for infinite scrolling?
The answer: it depends. I know this is a frustrating answer but it’s the truth. It depends. When you use infinite scrolling, you do it with the understanding your users will not see all of the information on the page. We recommend you use infinite scrolling if you have large amounts of user generated content (think Facebook and Twitter) and it’s not highly important your users are able to locate the content in the exact same location later. LinkedIn also uses infinite scrolling but fails in their user experience design. Have you ever wanted to find an article a work colleague posted but were unable to? It’s because LinkedIn uses infinite scrolling but does not make it clear where to find the same content in a second location like Facebook does with their Wall.
Infinite scrolling should have sophisticated dynamic content filters so users can sort the feed to their exact specifications. Remember, users are goal oriented so an endless search may lead to a poor user experience and ultimately the user will exit. Also, make sure you have a robust search feature on your site so your customer can bypass the scrolling feature. Check out this gaze replay below of a participant using Google Image Search. Google Images uses hybrid infinite scrolling, meaning it uses infinite scrolling techniques but does cut the user off using a footer.
It is impossible for our user to see every single image, the normal rules of using bright colors or sharp edges to stand out don’t apply because there is simply too much information to process. I recently tried to use the website happysocks.com on my mobile device, which employs infinite scrolling in an ecommerce format, and was quickly frustrated because I could see an outlet link at the bottom but before I could click it more images appeared and blocked me from my intended destination. Finally I just exited the site and gave up. Happy Socks could have benefitted from a separate mobile site not using the infinite scrolling technique.
What kind of websites are good for infinite scrolling?
The answer: websites with lots of visual content for the user to sort through OR websites with large amounts of user generated content AND the information does not necessarily have significant value to the end user. Look back to our example above with Google Image Search, lots of visual content and our user quickly searches through the content but clearly doesn’t see every item. Rather, our user scrolls through looking for the picture capturing the most attention. With the information contained in sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google Image Search, while interesting, is not necessarily life altering for our user. Because of this, infinite scrolling works for these sites. This information is interesting but not always significant to our users. For an eCommerce, news or informational site who relies on users to view and engage with a majority or all of their content, infinite scrolling would not be advised.
The User Experience (UX) of Infinite Scrolling.
There is a temptation to click away from the scroll too early before seeing all the products. As soon as your user sees the first product fitting their needs, they click away from the scroll without seeing other products that could also fulfill their needs. On the other end of the spectrum, the user may feel the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and continue to scroll endlessly even after they have seen the product they’re looking for because they don’t want to miss out on another product option. This FOMO can cause exhaustion in your user and ultimately they may choose to exit and purchase with a competitor.
Unless you’re a social network giant, stay away.