Article

Henry Kogan
Henry Kogan 9 September 2016

How to Optimize User Navigation: Pagination Vs. Infinite Scrolling

Before Facebook, many millennials spent their free time reading blogs for entertainment. One of the most grueling aspects of a user’s browsing experience was constantly clicking to progress to the next page. But today many websites have evolved their navigation strategy from breaking content into pages – typically called pagination – to what’s commonly called infinite scrolling, where the site or app delivers an ongoing flow of new content as the user travels down the page.

No matter your industry, as a digital publisher it’s important to consider how users navigate through your content. Not only is navigation important from a usability perspective – it’s also critical for user engagement and conversions.

Pagination and infinite scrolling both have their merits and are used for specific contexts. Before deciding on which technique to use and where, it’s important to understand the benefits and weaknesses of each approach.

Pagination

The de facto content navigation structure on websites for the past decade has been pagination.  The most famous example is Google search listings. When you search for an item on Google, your results are listed in groups of pages. On the bottom of the screen there’s a menu with links for you to advance to the next page.

According to David Kieras, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at University of Michigan, with pagination, it is noted that "reaching an endpoint provides a sense of control." Usually, this technique is most effective when decision-making is critical. Classic examples include various e-commerce sites such as Home Depot, where the goal is to get a user to quickly find a product and purchase it or, as in Google, when searching for very specific information.

Infinite Scrolling

With the exponential growth of social media in recent years, infinite scrolling has become popular. If you’re active on Facebook orTwitter, you’ve grown accustomed to having news feeds load continuously. The page appears to be endless. These long, infinitely scrolling websites are geared for discoverability. The ideal context for this approach is when the user isn’t pressed for time and is using the website for entertainment.

Infinite Scrolling Monitor

 “The advantage of not having to acquire and click ‘next page’ keeps audiences engaged with the content and less focused on the mechanics of navigating to the next page,” says Hoa Loranger, Vice President at Nielsen Norman Group.  

Because infinite scroll allows publishers to  serve new ads when a user moves down the page, there are more opportunities for impressions and conversions. Many publishers have adopted native advertising strategies, where ads appear interspersed with the content. By placing relevant ads within the  content, as a user scrolls there is a much higher opportunity for conversion.  

Mashable Native Ads

Publishers are serving  native ads within infinitely scrolling content and the approach is paying off big for publishers and advertisers alike. Image Credit: Mashable.

Which Navigation Technique Should You Use?

Deciding on the right navigation technique for your website is going to depend on how your content is used as well as the overall goals of your site. If your website is based on social interaction, infinite scrolling is the preferred technique. If your website is focused on e-commerce, searchability and conversion, pagination is the better approach. The table below explains both the benefits and disadvantages of each approach.

 

Comparing Infinite Scrolling with Pagination Pros and Cons

Exploring Other Ways to Handle Navigation: Load More 

Clearly, neither pagination nor infinite scroll is perfect -- it really depends on the context of your website. But here is a way to implement infinite scrolling for e-commerce while giving users a greater sense of control. Two popular options are the “load more” button and filtering.

Commonly called the “load more approach,” this solution works by limiting the amount of content that appears on an infinitely scrolling page. To see more items, the user has to click a button.

According to Smashing Magazine, “This makes for a very simple interface and probably the smallest cognitive load possible for on-demand loading of additional items. Subjects generally browsed more products on websites with a “Load more” button than on those with pagination links, but because loading additional products still required an active choice and click, subjects did tend to read the displayed items much more closely than on websites with infinite scrolling.”

Load more button Loews mobile site

A load more button is a successful workaround to small pagination links on mobile. Shown here is Lowes.com

Overcoming the ‘back’ button challenge

Implementing a load more button comes with a caveat. When a user selects an item from a list and arrives on the details page, his position in the list will be lost if he decides to return to the listing page.

But there is a solution if you have the technical resources. You can implement HTML5’s History API, specifically the history.pushState() function. This will allow you to invoke a URL change without reloading the page. Because the history API is Javascript, it will work on desktop as well. For example, if you are searching for batteries on a retailer’s website and click on a listing to get more information on those AAAs, you can return to your previous position on the list by simply clicking the back button.  

Conclusion

Regardless of which navigation technique you decide to use, it’s important to test and optimize. Running A/B experiments is a great way to compare the effectiveness of each approach. What do the analytics show? Are you seeing any trends on site visit duration or conversions? Try to do some user testing and conduct interviews to collect user feedback. Because they are the ones using the site, you will know first hand how they feel about the site structure and whether infinite scroll or pagination is the right solution.

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