Why Scrolling is the New Click

by on 01/10/12 at 12:18 pm

Which is better for users, scrolling or clicking? This is the question that designers have to think about when they’re designing page flow. Clicking offers users a menu of links that take them to a new page. Scrolling offers users all the content divided into different sections on a single page.

Many years ago, clicking was the simple answer to this question. The general thought was that if you made your page too long, users would only view and read the top half and glance over or ignore the bottom half. Today, things have changed. Many users do scroll to the end of the page and have no problem doing so. Scrolling has become a second-nature and clicking a chore. As user behavior changes over time, designers need to take that into account in their designs.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both scrolling and clicking. However, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages for scrolling. Scrolling is faster for users than clicking. With mouse wheels and touchpad swipes, users can scroll through content with a flick of a finger. Compared that with clicking, where users have to find the link, read it, target it, click it and wait for the page to load.

Users get content in the order that it’s designed on the page with a glimpse of everything. With clicking, users can skip a link and go to the next one without ever visiting the pages they skipped.

Scrolling keeps users in their reading flow. They scroll to continue reading until they read the end of the page. Clicking breaks the user’s reading flow because after they’re through with a page, they have to stop and click the link to the next one. Users also don’t have to wait for a new page to load, which can further break reading flow. All they have to do is scroll to the next section.

Clicking doesn’t win out on speed or ease of use, but it also has its advantages. Clicking allows you to track user clicks to a page with analytics. You can’t do this with scrolling. The only thing you can track is the top-level page, not the sub-sections.

Each page will have a link that you can share with others. This link will also index in search engines. With scrolling, only the top-level page will index.

There are trade-offs between clicking and scrolling. It seems that scrolling is better for usability. But clicking is better for analytics and search engines. As the designer, it’s your job to weigh what’s important. Knowing the advantages of scrolling and clicking will help you decide which way to go. However, if the user experience is what you’re after, scrolling is the answer.

40 Responses to “Why Scrolling is the New Click”

  1. visitor

    Jan 10th, 2012

    “…Clicking allows you to track user clicks to a page with analytics. You can’t do this with scrolling.”

    You can accomplish this with various features offered by ClickTale.

    Glad that you pointed out the topic of analytic here – many designers/programmers do not consider the data/analytic side when designing.

    Pagination does offer easier implementation of event trigger/custom tracking within the ‘traditional’ clickstream analysis tool like GA, SiteCatalyst, etc.

    I haven’t used it to know how it exactly plays out, but I believe SiteCatalyst offers a plug-in to measure percentage of the page viewed and pass the variable to next page view.

  2. Tony

    Jan 10th, 2012

    Good hint.
    Maybe this happened because of the mouse scroll wheel, that is avaliable in many mouses today.

    • Jason

      Mar 14th, 2013

      I was just thinking the same thing… I never liked the long pages I had to scroll through. The anchor links are nice. However, since I got the scroll wheel mouse, I just as soon scroll.

  3. Mike @ YasTech Web Design

    Jan 10th, 2012

    I would like to see more scrolling pages vs. clicking. It will be interesting to see how quick we will see more scrolling sites on the web though. It’s a whole new design style that people will have to learn.

  4. dr0i

    Jan 11th, 2012

    Combine scrolling with clicking: using anchors.

    • Josh Humble

      Jan 12th, 2012

      I use anchors on some of my scrolling sites, and this usability vs search issue has been on my plate recently. I’m wondering how anchors affect SEO? It is a URL modification, however, page title and description tags can’t be specified separately, per section.

    • Jon

      Aug 14th, 2012

      This and completely this. Trackability without ever leaving the page. You can create the illusion of a new page without forcing a reload (persistent navigation). I’ve seen some excellent realty sites that use this technique, and it’s become my favorite.

    • Serkan

      Dec 28th, 2012

      right -> Combine scrolling with clicking -> like: single page webdesign :)

  5. Daniele

    Jan 11th, 2012

    I believe that the old “click” paradigm (trigger a click event to change the location ad load a new content) is going to die, i think also that the real difference is no between click or scroll, but is on the paradigm used for content loading.
    Now with web apps we use prefetch content or preload them as inline hidden blocks.
    Scroll or click are just events triggered to choose when and how show our content.
    Choosing between scroll or click is a choose that a designer have to do on relationship to project target.

    Agree with you when you say that “There are advantages and disadvantages to both scrolling and clicking.”, but the first disadvantage of scrolling is the inability of create a direct relationship between what user wants and what the app is providing to him.

    now let me apologize for my bad english and I congratulate you for you all your good articles.

  6. Lady blah blah

    Jan 11th, 2012

    But what about accessibility? For those who have pain scrolling, this makes the content further down the page inaccessible without suffering pain. If scrolling is implemented, would it be best to have skip links too to ensure keyboard-only users can tab from section to section without having to scroll through everything. It is also important to consider screen reader users; proper headings will have to be used to ensure they can easily understand and navigate between the different sections.

    • NK

      Jan 11th, 2012

      Do not the Page Up/Page Down and Home/End keys solve this issue?

      • Some Random Guy

        Oct 29th, 2013

        No, they do not. Those keys do not give fine enough controls for people navigating pages with screen readers. For those users with fine motor controls or issues with pain, repeatedly using a scroll wheel or even the keyboard can be an issue.

        Stop using your mouse wheel for a day and use page up/down exclusively instead and check your sanity at the end of the day. It’s remarkably easy to lose your place, espeically when the layout of the page isn’t designed to have you jump around. Our eyes are generally able to keep us oriented when we can track motion, but when things just “change” as in the case of a page up/down it becomes harder. That said, scrolling can also be a concern for people who have motion sensitivities.

        I feel like so many of these articles assume the typical, able, computer savvy user; but don’t account for accessibility considerations. Though they are related, usability is not equivalent to accessibility.

  7. Tim Meers

    Jan 11th, 2012

    I personally like the idea of scrolling over clicking. Though at my last two jobs in LOB apps it was required to fit everything possible on one page, with limited resolution, than click or scroll. Then you have the issue of it just looking like a pile of garbage, with no clicking or scrolling.

    I’m more in favor of a good combination of both. Less important details should be tucked away with an easy click to make them appear inline with what you clicked.

  8. Mathieu Brault

    Jan 11th, 2012

    Very interesting article.

    The application we develop lets the user play with ~50 different types of entities. Each type has its own set of configs. Up to now we’ve been using a tab-based approach to categorize all the configurations.

    Users get lost trying to find what they need and need to navigate from tab to tab.

    In order to improve the overall usability, we have been thinking about using a scroll approach to make things simpler for the users. This would require a huge effort from our dev team and our tech writing team. This article gives us (designers) one more argument to favor the scroll approach.

  9. iPoul

    Jan 11th, 2012

    How about anchor links to the scrolling sections, then we have clicks and scrolling on one page, no load, and i think you can trick google analytics to actual track the hits on anchors as well, tho its disabled pr. default.

  10. Ivan Vandervaeren

    Jan 11th, 2012

    Hi Anthony,
    You’re right, your statement is correct and the debate about scrolling vs clicking has ended a while ago, actually. But there is one thing that, in my opinion, needs to be stressed : people do not have problems scrolling anymore AS LONG AS they still feel an interest in the content they see. Hence the importance of showing most important content on top of the page. Indeed, should the user not find anything relevant above the fold, he will never bother scrolling the page to see if it comes later on.

    Nice article anyway.
    Ivan

  11. Jan Van den Bergh

    Jan 11th, 2012

    What if both are combined i.e. one page with menu (*)? Does it make a difference when the menu stays in view when scrolling?

    (*) Example: TOC of articles in interaction-design.org encyclopedia

  12. Jeff

    Jan 11th, 2012

    I disagree that clicking it better for analytics. All you know is that someone loaded the page, you don’t necessarily know they looked at it. Using jQuery waypoints you can get much finer grained analytics in terms of what someone actually read (or at least what was on their viewport).

    http://imakewebthings.github.com/jquery-waypoints/

    Indexing and SEO still favors clicking though.

    • Ted Goas

      Jan 11th, 2012

      Yep, Waypoints has an example just for that: http://imakewebthings.github.com/jquery-waypoints/scroll-analytics/

      Solid points, overall. I often find myself frustrated that I can’t get to the footer on an infinity scrolling site, but that’s a design problem.

    • Ty the Web Guy

      Jun 26th, 2012

      I have sites set up this way for tracking how much of the page is viewed, or what content is viewed. (Or, more accurately, displayed in the viewport, since the user may not have actually viewed any of it.) Just be careful setting things up to use Google Analytics to track scrolling. Each visit has a limit of approximately 500 combined events and page views, so if you get overzealous in tracking events/page views, you could do more harm than good. Also keep in mind how the use of event vs. page views impacts bounce rates.

  13. Larry

    Jan 11th, 2012

    Also if your revenue model is based on impressions (classic CPM model) then you will most likely need to address the loss in pageviews.

  14. Marie

    Jan 11th, 2012

    Neilsen Norman Group always said that scrolling was a better usability standard.

  15. Fernando

    Jan 13th, 2012

    Scrolling is a trend! Strategically, it could be a highlight of a special content. I mean a satellite site. Now we can’t even talk about just a website. We have to talk about a digital platform. Even better a communication digital platform.

    A system consisting of several channels, such as an official website, a social networking applications strategy, mobile applications, and everything in between them. It’s about communicating values​​. It’s about engage the audience with a well-structured user experience. Clicking, scrolling or TOUCHING are simply pathways to get the information “they are looking for”.

  16. Johnny

    Jan 20th, 2012

    I think in a way you’re right, and for some applications I can see scrolling outdoing clicking. However I don’t think we’ll ever eliminate clicking or the subtle feedback that it gives the user. It’s more about making the user feel as natural as possible when they interact with an object. That’s true usability.

  17. bigal

    Jan 21st, 2012

    People only visit one or two pages. Designers believe a visitor is going to interact on the same level they and the clients see the site. Most people never see the inside of their google settings, so forget the bulk will pay attention at all.

    People will scroll all day long because it’s the sensation of rubbing a booger off your finger, while click means the unknown. Designing for booger rolling seems logical.

  18. Ravi

    Jan 24th, 2012

    I prefer clicking over scrolling although I can’t exactly pinpoint why. Scrolling is fine if the content is all related in some way, but if it’s not then I like to put it on a separate page if only for SEO reasons. I also don’t like it if I go to a site and then click a button only to watch it scroll for about 2 seconds to the correct part of the page.

  19. Juan Hidalgo Reina

    Jan 27th, 2012

    I prefer scrolling over clicking….

  20. Rigel Glen

    Jan 28th, 2012

    Scrolling is an inaccurate way of navigating, and as far as page loads go, clicking and AJAX are good friends

  21. Scott Grodberg

    Jan 31st, 2012

    Gotta Agree with Johnny on the natural, tactile feedback of a click. Way more satisfying than a flick, but that’s just my $.02

  22. I think that scrolling can cause other problem – especially for tactil device; you can loose track of the last line you were reading.
    Either the text structure (title, paragraph) is very clear, either you can use an alternative navigation.
    But for very long paragraph, as in novel for example, it still remains an issue.

  23. Adam

    Feb 13th, 2012

    Scrolling and clicking need to be used respectively of the content and the device they are being viewed on. Most users want to get to the information that they are interested quickly, and while scrolling is more acceptable, how far would you let a user scroll to find a piece of content they are interested in? And more importantly how would the user direct a friend to an important part of the content?

    • Terry

      Mar 3rd, 2012

      I agree with Adam. We would have to be careful on how long we are allowing the user to scroll, unless the content is so well written that there are very defined section headings that let the user find what they are looking for. Very valid points here on the two fronts of scrolling and clicking.

  24. Kimmi

    Apr 29th, 2012

    Not necessarily true regarding the no tracking of scrolling. If you are using a “When browse touches bottom of page” a la twitter this is a javascript event trigger and can be recorded.

  25. Tristan Naramore

    May 2nd, 2012

    I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, especially in light of how many modern sites are trending towards scrolling long pages vs. splitting into multiple pages. To me, the main determining factors of how to design for long/complex content are the screen size/resolution and input methods. (Analytics is a less important factor, IMHO.)

    Small touchscreens support swiping, so designing for more “scrolling” and less “clicking” makes sense.

    Larger screens with mice and keyboard inputs are better served by clicking than scrolling, however.

    There’s the stuff we know a user will see immediately…and then there’s everything else (whether they get there by scroll or by click). Provide a clear, immediate path to action (aligned with user goals/expectations/mental model). And keep all the business musts visibly accessible at all times (both a “home” button and that page’s primary CTA).

    There’s another factor we have to account for too: User intention and flow. Are they casually browsing or do they have a specific end goal? In general, scrolling = browsing, while clicking = doing.

  26. James

    Jul 3rd, 2012

    The never-ending scrolling you find in some Tumblr blogs etc are examples of the advantages of scrolling over clicking. Having to click through pagination at the bottom of a Google search is an example where navigation gets in the way of finding information. My vote is with scrolling. Also the SEO argument is the tail wagging the dog. The usability and accessibility of the content is paramount. SEO is not the reason why the site is there after all. SEO is there to improve the search ranking of the site that is all. I suppose it could be argued that if a user can’t find a site then no amount of usability on the actual site will matter.

  27. David

    Sep 21st, 2012

    While the need to rank for search purpose may not be the compelling reason why artistic “showcase” website exist, ask any business why they require a website and the vast majority of responses will be to “get found” on the internet.

    There is a direct relationship between the amount of pages on a website, with good content and that websites ranking in search results. The opportunity to target key phrases increases significantly with every page and although single page parallax websites offer nice UX, they are not designed with SEO in mind, in general.

    Visitors searching for a particular paragraph or piece of content do not want to scroll through your entire website to reach what they want, and until we see URL’s with positioning anchors being treated as individual “sectlons” of a site by search engines, SEO will continue to be a challenge on single page websites.

    Scrolling is definitely not the new click (its more of a trend or a fad) where many websites are concerned.

  28. adam

    Oct 28th, 2012

    Im a big fan of scrolling, epecially now we all all ipad/and tableted up. Clicking has become a bit of a chore, but unfortunatly packing your site full of pages, each highly dedicated to its subject will always win out on seo.

    Saying that, Im completely redesigning our site with a super amount of scrolling – although will probably place jump links in several sections of the scroll

  29. Vladimir Koller

    Jan 17th, 2013

    I like scrolling a lot and think that the argument that scrolling is generaly more intuitive is highly valid. But clicking does definitively have it´s own merits, specificaly when there is a lot of different information to display and the website have several sublevels of navigation.

    I really hate scrolling pages where I can´t jump immediately to a desired location, but have to scroll down myself. This is just like when we were forced to watch endless Flashanimations before anything happened on a webpage.

    I also find many more complex “scrolling sites” having a confusing site structure where I as user get lost easily.

    I think that a good solution, particulary for RWD sites is a clever combination of both methods. Does anybody here have some good examples of webpages that manage to combine scrolling and clicking in a useful way?

  30. NomusaMagic

    Jul 15th, 2013

    How I landed here ….and thanks for great explanation … Is that I wanted to look at 50 uses for WD40. Or tons of other interesting tidbit lists. I’m using an iPad and while I WILL quickly scroll down a list of 50 …. I don’t care enough to wait for 50 separate pages to load, especially in a somewhat slow wifi environment. It occurs so often, I see lists I’d love to view but the annoyance of clicking thru even a top 10 has me moving on. Like store websites that allow you to view 10 items at a time or ALL. I always pick the ALL option. Never understood why ppl only wanna view 10!

    If COUNTING clicks are more important to web designers than actual views … Good for them and not user friendly for me. Won’t bother!! :-)

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