Three Scrolls and You're Out: Too Much Content on One Page

A common annoyance found on websites is a published article that goes on forever. I don't mean a rambling account of facts but rather a bottomless pit of content (useful or otherwise), gathered on a single page, seemingly without end.

Having to scroll 10 or 11 times down a page to sort through information does not seem to deter people who are involved in the field of web development. I think years of staring at endless streams of code makes them feel at home in these situations. The average audience, however, finds such an abundance of information - presented in a chunk on one screen - daunting. The reader, forced to scroll through paragraph after paragraph until it all blurs together, is no longer absorbing the information at all. They are hypnotically watching the text go by.

When I bring up this concern to clients (or even developers) who are redesigning a site, I am given an array of responses to defend having an overwhelming amount of content on one page. Sometimes there is an intense fear associated with breaking up the content in some way, so I've tried to pair up the typical excuses I get with psychology terms that might explain their strong reluctance:

  • "But it's all related to the same topic." - Rationalization defense mechanism
  • "I like having everything in one spot." - Separation anxiety
  • "It's all equally important information." - Phobia of favouritism
  • "Visitors will keep scrolling because they'll want to read the whole thing" - Narcissism

I'm sorry. These are poor excuses. No one is saying you have to get rid of the information, but there are better ways to present it. Some web developers have fallen into the trap of thinking everyone who uses the Internet is like them and will sit in front of the screen, scrolling along or using keyboard shortcuts to find information they need from a sea of font.

My rule of thumb: I should be able to get to the end of an article in less than three big scrolls. If it's more, you need a solution.

Quick Solutions: Big and Small

Anchors: The Easy Fix

Though not the most high-tech or pretty solution, adding anchors to a page is a quick and painless alternative to marathon scrolling.

For those of you who are completely new to organizing websites, anchor links are effectively used when content is broken into titles or topics. These are displayed near the very top of the screen in a list. Each one acts as a direct link to that section of text. One click, none of the scrolling. Users are able to choose which sections they want to read, instead of getting overwhelmed by the amount of text and ignoring it altogether.

Pet peeve: People who add anchors to titles but provide no way to jump back to the top of the page. So great, I have light-speed ability to jump down to my section, but have to putt-putt my way back to the top to choose another title? No thanks. Make sure you provide a way to get back to the list of titles.

I'll use anchors here to let you choose from a list of other solutions. Nothing special. No styling. Just anchors.


Javascript
Break it Up: Using Multiple Pages
Cut it Out: Editing
Promote it: Make it a Menu Item


Javascript

Another solution for displaying loads of content all on one page is to use javascript.

  • Break the article into subheadings.
  • Each subheading will be a link that expands hidden content, displaying it directly below the title without switching screens.
  • The user can then easily open and close these windows of content at will.

Back to the list of solutions


Break it Up

I know it's all related. That doesn't mean it all has to go on a single screen. Imagine opening an instruction manual that was all printed on one extremely long page. You'd open the cover and 20 feet of paper would fall to the floor. Or how about this: when was the last time you opened a 300 page cookbook that had a table of content or index that simply read "Recipes: Pages 1-300"? Split the content into multiple, more manageable pages. Break it up into logical sections with appropriate subheadings.

If you are REALLY afraid that users won't look to the next page to read the entire article, there are ways to steer them to the next section. For example, Drupal offers a "Book module" that groups similar pages together, and provides three links at the bottom:

1) Up, which brings you to a master list of all pages within the book
2) <-- Previous, which leads you to the last page you read
3) --> Next, taking you to the next page in the collection.

Back to the list of solutions


Cut it Out

Take a deep breath. Don't let personal feelings get in the way. Quiet the ego. Maybe, just maybe, everything in your article isn't as important as you first thought. Take a second look at it. See if there is some information that can be taken out. Ask someone else to give you an honest opinion.

Back to the list of solutions


Promote it

You don't want to use anchors. You don't want to make it smaller. If the article (and now I use the term 'article' loosely, since we're probably dealing with what should be considered a 'section' of information) is long enough - and important enough - to justify your reluctance to shorten it, then perhaps you should consider creating a menu item in the navigation dedicated to the topic. This is relevant if your article now spans, say, five pages or more.

Chances are, if it IS an actual article, it won't merit being a top level menu item. It MIGHT deserve having sub menus based on the titles of each page. Want to keep it out of your main menu altogether? Fine. You could add it as a quicklink (if you have such a section) or give it an overview in a block that highlights the titles of each page, and configure the block to only appear on the first page of the article.

Back to the list of solutions

May 31st 2007 9PM
By: danielle

 

Comments

Article

Hi Danielle,

thanks for that post. I too agree that lots of information on one page can, at certain times and in certain situations, be too much.

BUT, evidence points towards that having all important content on one page is sufficient and in particular very successful in one-page sales sites. These sites tend to have better sales figures when the sales pitch is on one page rather than being separated into pages.

Obviously there is emphasis on getting the message across clearly and breaking text up into readable chunks. I see no harm in this and it can often beat having to click multiple times to get the same information and waiting on page load times.

I think that having on-page anchors are a perfect way to break up long items of content, although I would stress that this is for content pages and not for homepages, where most sites have more than one message to convey to the reader and where the reader needs to have direction. Your article shows a good example of the use of anchors.

There's nothing worse than finding a huge article full of text with no clear breaks. I wouldn't shy away from posting a long article, more than three scrolls if needs be, but the inclusion of anchor links should be sufficient in helping to present it.