Ending an article is no problem in print: You get to the bottom and the reader knows to turn the page.
A reader’s next step is less defined online. They may stick with you, but it’s more likely they’ll leave.
Some publishers are using infinite scroll to seamlessly introduce that next story, though—they’re turning the page for you.
“News sites in particular have this bottom-of-the-article problem,” says Zach Seward, a senior editor at Quartz. Seward was one of the creators behind the site’s simplistic design that incorporates infinite scroll. “Some just create a dead-end and there’s nothing to do there; others create a paralysis of choice by providing so many links that you don’t know what to do.”
Seward says they weren’t sure if it would work—they were prepared to reevaluate it after six months—but it’s turned out to be the dominant way people use the site.
The same has been true for Mashable, which redesigned its site in December to incorporate infinite scroll. Pageviews are up 26 percent since the change, while bounce rates have declined 20 percent across the board.
“Bounce rate was one metric we really focused on with this redesign,” says Robyn Peterson, CTO of Mashable. “The way to reduce that is to make sure the user has the right content put in front of them, but also enough opportunities and enough content that they’ll have a selection that makes sense to them.”
Quartz and Mashable are using the same tool—infinite scroll—toward a similar end—increasing engagement—but each are using it differently.
Every Page Is a Homepage
In line with the rest of its unobtrusive, device-agnostic design, Quartz displays a continuous list of 24 (it just seems infinite) full text stories in its main column. Thumbnail previews are kept in a separate, smaller column, while a more traditional dropdown navigation bar can be accessed on top.
The use trends differ on desktop, tablet and mobile platforms, but the approach is always the same: Feed story after story—the bottom of one is the top of the next. Each story is its own homepage; the homepage is just the most recent story.
Conversely, Mashable’s new homepage and specific topic landing pages have a distinct separation from content. They’re portals. Borrowing from the brand’s overwhelming social success, they emphasize images in a three-column design.
“When we share in a photo-heavy way, we see 8-times as much engagement by our users on social networks,” Peterson says. “When we started experimenting with becoming more photo-heavy across the site, we saw much more engagement.”
Like Quartz, however, Mashable has turned each story into its own homepage. Instead of a footer, users are presented with the most relevant topic page.
Whatever the theory, infinite scroll is leading to more engagement for each site. Both Seward and Peterson say it’s not a solution in itself though. It has to compliment an overall design philosophy.
“We’re trying to get the site out of the user’s way,” Peterson says. “We want to just allow them to browse as deeply as they want, however they want. If it’s by clicking, great; if it’s by scrolling, now that works too.”