Every business is different from one another. Even the businesses that tend to look similar on the surface level are different and there are subtle but apparent differences that one can notice if they dig deeper. And this very differentiating factor serves as the identity, the character, the very core element of any business, so much so that without it you are just another average company which has nothing to stand out for. And speaking of, the content that you put out on your website is one of those major contributing factors that make your business unique. No other online business can even come close to providing the exact online experience as you, and a well put together content can drastically help your business stand out from the crowd and attract more leads into your website, and into your business in general.
But wait! There’s a catch. It’s not just about putting exceptionally well-crafted content into your site. You’ll also need an outstanding browsing experience to match. User experience can make or break a website, hence we need to be extra cautious and mindful when structuring our site. One of the most common questions we get asked a lot is that, “how do I structure my content and show it in a way that satisfies my visitors?
Okay, let’s dive a little deeper, shall we? Modern websites can typically be categorized into two types of content organization. The first being paginated sites (dividing pieces of content by different pages) and the second one being infinite scrolling sites (placing everything on one page).
Now let’s cover both of these design methods in greater depths, and then compare their pros and cons side-by-side, to determine which method (could be both as well) suits your website best.
What Is Pagination?
Pagination is the process of separating digital content into discrete pages on the website. Some types of website content can greatly benefit from being broken down into discrete pages, as in doing so they become more user-friendly, less cluttered and thus the users can fluidly navigate between these pages by clicking links (typically by clicking numbers located at the bottom of a page).
You’ll see pagination in action on many eCommerce websites, search engine results pages (SERP), and informational pages, such as blogs. These pages usually have a numbered link selection section at the bottom of the page where users can click to jump to a different archive page.
Below is an example of a web page using ‘Pagination’ design functionality.
Infinite scrolling is another popular UX design technique in which the content goes on populating at the bottom of the page simultaneously, as the user scrolls down. This creates an endless stream of content that continues to grow and populate with the user action. Popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. are some of the most common websites where you can see this technique in action. Infinite scrolling is also commonly used on different image-heavy websites, such as the stock photography website: Unsplash.
The example below demonstrates the ‘Infinite Scrolling’ action.
While both of these techniques are very useful and have been commonly used in the UX design industry, they’re far from being substitutes to one another. These techniques share a very different approach and thus cannot be used interchangeably. In the next section of this article, we’ll compare both techniques, and see where they work best and why.
Pagination vs Infinite Scroll
As mentioned earlier, both of these methods involve different characteristics and the choice between using one over the other largely depends on the nature and purpose of your website, content type and lastly the intended user experience you want to provide to your users.
Pagination in most case scenarios works best on the websites where users are looking for something specific, like a particular piece of content they want to find immediately. Whereas, infinite scrolling is much better suited for content exploration, where users are not looking for something very specific, but rather browsing aimlessly for something interesting that they could possibly consume.
Both these techniques have proven to be very useful and significant in their respective fields, which is why they’re so widely used across millions of websites and online platforms globally. For example, e-commerce websites are widely known for using pagination as it helps with easier navigation for searching and cataloguing products. People visiting these sites are usually looking for a particular type of product (like a phone case or a basketball sneaker) and would only want to view the items that are relevant to their search query.
On the contrary, people browsing on social media sites aren’t typically looking for anything specific, they are just casually exploring and want to be entertained and/or informed. In such cases, infinite scrolling is the way to go, as it hooks users into a seemingly endless stream of relevant content. Infinite scrolling has a lot to do with why people find social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram so addictive.
Now let’s dig deeper and break down the effectiveness of each technique across different important aspects of a website.
The main objective for using infinite scrolling is to keep viewers on the page as long as possible and to keep them engaged for as long as possible. If the users are just casually scrolling through a website or app without looking for anything specific, then infinite scrolling rolls out relevant content simultaneously for the viewers to consume in a very smooth and digestible manner.
Whereas, pagination is suited for getting visitors to their desired content instantaneously, without any interruptions or distractions. Unlike infinite scrolling, pagination makes causal exploration less user-friendly and more time-consuming, as the visitors should keep clicking on the “next” button or link for exploring new content which can get very exhausting from a user standpoint (if users want to just freely explore and browse around).
Ease Of Use
If you want to use pagination for your UX design, then you should go to incredible lengths in making your website pages well-structured and organized. Despite the content not being as free flowing as infinite scroll, if your pages are well-organized, then visitors should have no problem clicking between them.
Having said that, you should still aim to limit the number of clicks as much as possible as visitors don’t appreciate having to click through different pages many times to get where they want.
If infinite scrolling is the technique that suits your content type, then your website’s easy navigation feature will definitely stand out. It’s a natural human tendency to enjoy doing less for making something happen. So if more content tends to roll out by just simply scrolling then it would without a doubt feel more effortless and natural. It’s easy to navigate, intuitive, and responsive – all of which make a significant difference in user experience.
And with smartphones revolutionizing the tech industry, the user-friendliness of infinite scrolling jumps out even more on touch screen devices like mobile phones and tablets, which we are so much accustomed to.
Ease Of Implementation
When it comes to the ease of implementation, pagination does have a slight edge. Almost all CMS and blogging software, by default, uses pagination for structuring and organizing the content.
There’s no getting around it, if you want to add infinite scrolling features to your website then you need to be up and ready for some additional development work. Infinite scrolling might (or in most cases, will) contribute a lot to the end-user experience, however, it does make things more complex and sophisticated on the development side. Mainly because without proper optimization, any infinite scrolling feature you add onto your paginated site will not function perfectly.
If you want to transform an entire website from paginated pages to infinite scroll design, then you need to be prepared to invest a significant amount of time restructuring your website’s organization and UX design layout from the ground up.
Try testing the user engagement and performance first by placing infinite scrolling on individual pages to determine whether it would be worth for a full transition of your website design and functionality
As paginated websites are designed notably for the users to view specific pieces of content immediately, hence they do have an upper hand when it comes to the ease of navigation. Having dedicated navigation controls allows users to directly jump into different pages of the website and thus provides comparatively greater user control.
Pagination shines through when it comes to filtering, searching and indexing. For example, if you are looking for a Nike basketball sneaker, pagination allows you to search for a specific keyword like “high-top Nike basketball shoes” and then also lets you filter your search query based on different conditions like “used or brand new, fixed or negotiable” etc. Also, users can quickly look at the number of pages that are left and easily determine how much content is left for them to explore.
Infinite scrolling, however, doesn’t offer any of these features. The content goes on populating endlessly without a seeming endpoint, which can be quite overwhelming. And there is no easy option to allow a user to bookmark a piece of content either.
Unlike paginated pages, you cannot simply scroll down to the bottom of the page to find such information. Instead, this information must be located on another page which the viewer has to visit.
Visual appeal is a bit tricky, as it’s a subjective issue and depends upon the stylistic design approach you go with. With that being said, infinite scroll does have an advantage because of it’s smooth and seamless nature which can drastically enhance the look and feel of the visuals by adding a modernistic touch. This is the reason why infinite scrolling has been the ultimate weapon of choice for so many photo sharing sites, portfolios, and other websites that rely heavily on visuals like Pinterest.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
When it comes to SEO, pagination does have an upper hand and here’s why…
One of infinite scroll’s major shortcomings is that Google crawlers are unable to crawl content that lays outside of their snapshot; the footer, text below the tiles of images. Whatever Google doesn’t see, it doesn’t index, which means that ranking potential is wasted for a large portion of your content. While it is also true that Google and the other large search engines are getting better at indexing websites, still the difference is not as significant as to completely ignore the shortcomings.
Pagination, on the other hand, makes it much easier to achieve good SEO, as it gives your content the best chance of being seen by search engines and new visitors. While infinite scroll is great for offering users a smooth and ‘gallery-like’ experience, when it comes to SEO, pagination is still the technique to beat, largely because of the advantage it has on helping users and crawlers find exactly what they’re looking for.
Infinite scroll is a great method to use when the focus lays less on the specific items of a page and more on going through the archive. However, if you want visitors and search engines to jump through your archive and find specific items they’re looking for, then you cannot go wrong with pagination.
Pagination Or Infinite Scroll?
At this point, we hope it’s pretty obvious to you that both approaches come with a number of pros and cons, and it’s totally up to you to decide which UX approach will make the most sense for your website and content type.
Pagination on the other hand is a widely used option and is best suited for platforms that intend to satisfy the goal-oriented search intent activities of visitors like Google web search, Amazon, Ebay and so forth.
Regardless of which UX design technique you decide to use, it’s essential to test and optimize. So don’t shy away from testing both of these techniques, so you can get data-driven insights for determining which method would benefit the most.
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