Embrace the Scroll

Derek Powazek on his newly redesigned site (which is quite nice, and spotted via Cameron):

Page bottoms are the most valuable screen real estate there is. You read that right. All that nonsense about people not reading and not scrolling is complete bullshit.

Right on. I tend to (unscientifically) agree that people don’t mind scrolling — and, like Derek goes on to say, the people that do scroll are the ones that are truly interested in what’s on the page. It’s interesting food for thought.

Do marketing departments still live and die by “the fold”? Obviously, stuff that’s visible without scrolling is, well.. visible. But I often fear that sidebars get ignored. If someone is reading a long, main column, and is completely engrossed in it, then they’re probably apt to miss whatever’s trickling down beside it in a sidebar, where they’d have to scroll back up to read. This is contrary to newspaper and magazine layout, where “up and down” reading is common and expected.

I’m not about to make any hard and fast decisions about web layouts here, it’s just interesting stuff to think about (and probably even better stuff to research and find actual facts that tell a truer tale about how people best enjoy reading content on the web).

56 Comments

  1. Adam Sanderson says:

    I would almost always agree that people are willing to scroll down, however… There is one instance where people fail to scroll down, and that’s when it’s not visualy obvious there is any more data.
    Our scrollbars are small, and getting relatively smaller as we use higher resolution displays. So a lot of people don’t look to the scrollbar for reference. If a page looks complete when they see it, a lot of folks just won’t even think of looking any further down.

  2. Steve Smith says:

    I’ve found this to be one of the better articles involving research and page scrolling: http://uie.com/articles/page_scrolling/.
    One of my favorite quotes from the article:
    “Users may tell us they hate scrolling, but their actions show something else. Most users readily scrolled through pages, usually without comment.”

  3. Gyujin Park says:

    It is certainly an interesting argument. But, I tend to think that what marketing folks want is to have people quickly look at the “whole” thing. They want to try to sell something, whether it be an idea, thought or product, as soon as possible. Usually, if they get somebody who is critically “interested” in the product, they will go into too much detail that they probably will find the flaws and eventually the marketing folks will not be able to sell what they were going to sell.
    But yes, for a blog/website… I think scrolling is not even a problem. Maybe, I get a little annoyed when I visit a designer’s website where I have to scroll left and right. But then, now that I have a mighty mouse, this shouldn’t be a problem. ;)

  4. Nik Steffen says:

    I would agree that people do not mind scrolling, especially now that almost every mouse has a scroll wheel, scrolling down a webpage is so easy that it’s no effort (not that it was before but you know what I mean)

  5. Adrian says:

    Although I think Derek’s design is stunning, I’m not sure about putting the ‘sidebar’ so to speak at the bottom.
    New users who come to the site and want say the archives or the photos wont know where to look. Regular users who come to the site, might have already ready the most recent post so have no need to scroll, but just want to navigate quickly to somewhere else on the page.
    I also have some other features on my site like a random picture, a webcam image, recent comments, and recent site changes (which change colour if there is a new site change since your last visit). The whole point of this is for regulars who can glance to the side as the page loads to see these things which constantly update.
    Although there may be value to putting stuff on the bottom, especially with a one post on the main page blog, I don’t think this is suited to most blogs. Maybe on more corporate sites sure, but I think on the blog format the 2/3 column layout still works best.
    That said, I don’t think their is anything wrong with putting stuff below the fold, especially as the fold is different on everyone’s machines anyway.

  6. Allan Rojas says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I find myself having to scroll all the way up in a site whose article I just read and found interesting enough as to look for more…
    Great design by Derek and great layout desicion.
    Kudos!

  7. Oliver Zheng says:

    Scrolling doesn’t bother me unless there is a useless banner/square/etc that takes up half of the screen on the top of every page. For example certain forums have huge banners and ads on the top – for every page that I visit, I have to scroll down a lot.
    Horizontal scrolling is bad :(

  8. jyoseph says:

    I’m a die hard scroller. But for those who don’t like to scroll I have jump links at the top of every page.
    Very nice design, btw

  9. Adam Helweh says:

    Amazingly I scrolled down here to read the previous comments and add my own. Its funny how this subject can hit a nerve with designers. At my last position my boss, who had never designed a day in his life and simply owned the company I worked for, would always give me hell. He complained to me if the site had ot be scrolled down at all. I would constantly tell him that it was the nature of the web, similiar to turning a page in a magazine or a book.
    If a viewer does not want to scroll then either the content isn’t compelling to them or the lead in design does not guide them to the content below. You can’t please everyone all the time and you most certaintly do not want to cater towards users who, quote simply, are to lazy to scroll down a page a bit.
    Should we have all of the site’s content on one
    760 x 600 page so no one has to click?

  10. This morning I was reading an online newspaper that has a sidebar containing links to other stories. This particular paper lists the links in descending order of importance. I wondered if there had been any research into weighting the sidebar links. As you approach the bottom of the current article the bottom-most sidebar links become, arguably, the most important.

  11. Thanks for the link and the comments, all! I’m really happy my fellow designers are thinking about this. Page bottoms have been ignored too long. Embrace your bottoms!
    Wait, that sounded weird. You know what I mean.
    This all comes down to the usual Experience Design tricks. Watch what people do on your site, and design the easiest flow you can. When a user reaches the bottom of the page, they’ve done the thing you hoped they do – for that, they deserve a treat.
    And yet, on most sites, the user is utterly abandoned when they reach the end of a page, and are forced to scroll back up to go anywhere. That’s not a good experience.
    Think about it this way: Putting additional meta content and navigation at the bottom of the page helps the people who scroll and won’t be noticed by the ones who don’t.
    Everybody wins. Nobody gets hurt. My favorite kinda design.

  12. I don’t think I’ve ever caught myself being upset or frustrated by having to scroll down a page to read content.
    “But I often fear that sidebars get ignored. If someone is reading a long, main column, and is completely engrossed in it, then they’re probably apt to miss whatever’s trickling down beside it in a sidebar, where they’d have to scroll back up to read.”
    I usually find that if the main content is interesting enough to warrant reading all of it, the chances are far greater that I’ll scroll back up and read the rest of the page’s columns.

  13. Mike D. says:

    Unfortunately, conventional wisdom is quite correct about most people never checking below the fold. I’ve seen this played out multiple times in eyetrack studies and simple user testing. However, this is only the case on what you might call “non-story pages”.
    On front pages, section indexes, and any other page which acts as a digest of links to other places on the site, people rarely bother to scroll. But on story pages where there is a long swath of copy the reader is already interested in, then, yes, scrolling is not a problem.
    While I find Derek’s new design beautiful and generally a great thing, I certainly don’t agree about burying first-time-user essentials at the bottom of the page. Derek mentioned something about rewarding your best users for scrolling to the bottom, and I agree with this sentiment, but navigation is just not in the “reward” category for me, I guess. The sorts of things I would consider rewards are actually the sorts of things you already find at the bottoms of pages/entries: comments, related entries, and the like.
    Just my two cents though. Very nice looking redesign.

  14. soxiam says:

    While I cannot disagree that people do scroll I also believe in and practice the notion of the “fold” — particularly when it comes to ecommerce sites. Yes, you can present elements at the bottom of the page that are engaging but given the same treatments virtually all weblogs I’ve combed through suggest the idea of “above the fold” is alive and well for common users when it comes to click through rates. People are dumb. They’re accustomed to seeing site features and navigation at the top of the page and react to above the fold items in much more active fashion. I wish I can argue why this pattern exists more intelligently, but that’s all academic. Data, again in my own experience, does not support the claim that most people pay equal attention to the stuff at the bottom.

  15. What I’m taking away here, is that the bottom of the page can be valuable real estate. True that on many sites, placing important navigation only at the bottom could throw off the average reader. But adding rewards to the bottom in addition to other obvious areas is not only harmless, but also helpful and convenient for those that are actually doing more than just skimming the top.

  16. Yes yes yes, Dan! Exactly what I meant. I certainly did not mean that navigation should not be elsewhere. I’m really talking about the stuff we usually cram in sidebars. The bottom may be a better place for it. More thinking here …

  17. I completely agree with you here Dan. The bottom of the page is definitely valuable in a lot of ways, and if used correct (as Derek has in his new design), can be quite useful to most users.
    What I like about what Derek and a few others have done with lower navigation/information sections is how it stands out. It doesn’t get lost down there, it doesn’t demand your full attention, but you notice it. And that’s good design.
    I’m starting to lean towards the page bottom section rather than cramming things into a sidebar, which people tend not to see right away.

  18. Dan,
    You’re quite right when it comes to accessibility: “But I often fear that sidebars get ignored.” When the content is zoomed, most often right sidebars disappear from radar entirely.
    See what Joe Clark has to say about that in Big, Stark & Chunky:
    “Users who do not work with the scroll bar may never go to the right side of the screen.”
    (side note : allowing blockquote in your comments could be a good thing)

  19. Of course people are willing to scroll, but rightly, if there is no obvious visual clue as to what’s below, then they may well click elsewhere.
    Running a local daily newspaper site in the Uk, I always tried to keep the most important content ‘above the fold’ on the front page.
    But the more I’ve thought about it, and reading this, it makes sense that most medium-savvy Web users will happily scroll a while.

  20. Best conversation I have read in a while – thank you all for the great links.
    Adding my two sense, users should be able to get as much or as little information as they want from each page they visit.
    The structure of your site, and how people can link to different pages is critical, and footers have been long overlooked as a method of directing people once they get to the bottom of the page. The key to getting people to the bottom though is how you structure the content above it.
    For a blog like this, or like Derek’s – it is a good, well written read. I did not even notice I was scrolling because I was immersed in the article. The trick is taking that to sites based on a wide variety of content.
    Cheers.

  21. Steve Ganz says:

    Do marketing departments still live and die by “the fold”?
    The one that I dealt with for the past couple of years sure did. For some marketing folks, it’s all about the fold. The fold this, the fold that. Fold, fold, fold.

  22. Very timely article for me. I’ve got a new marketing director who has the philosophy that pages must be short. Grrr.
    I like the bottom of the page concept and the fact that the people that get to the bottom are more qualified leads. With that in mind, the content at the bottom should be along the lines of: “what’s the desired next action?” Should it be a newsletter sign-up? Should it be a product demo link, or product documentation? Probably not product support. I would see that as an “above the fold” link. People want to find links like that quickly.
    Hopefully I’ll be able to convince my company of the value of this idea. Thanks for the great article, guys!

  23. Egor Kloos says:

    I personally do believe that web pages should be and need to be concise, not necessarily short. Also scrolling poses a problem to certain segments of society. Most users are very comfortable using computers. In fact, I heard many a user complain about the lack of a scroll wheel as if they’d just lost a leg. Scrolling is a fact of modern day life. However, some will never fully get to grips it the things they can not see.
    Time and time again I’ll encounter someone who can’t get money out of an ATM machine. Replace a battery, tune a TV set, set a clock (digital). Derek gets it because his pages will do just fine without.
    Many of us know this already, but in the end we never apply this knowledge. Including myself. The extra effort makes the site more valuable and worthwhile. Just doing what’s required is lazy, going that extra bit further is what a pro is all about. Kudos to Powazek.

  24. Nothing new to add to what’s been said before except to point you to this eye tracking analysis of the Washington Post’s home page.
    I would also suggest putting calls to action at the bottom of the page as well so that once a visitor has read your content they can go on and do whatever you want them to do next – subscribe to a mailing list, find other relevant information, post a comment, etc.

  25. I don’t think it’s really true that users hate scrolling. I think users hate searching, or an even better term for this, would be ‘hunting.’ That’s where the frustration resides: not being able to find what you’re looking for.

  26. Interesting dilemma. While I don’t like having to scroll back up to find navigation elements after reading a long article or post, I think the thing I would dislike as a regular visitor of Derek’s site would be scrolling to the bottom every time to reach any other area of the site. I guess my thinking is that at least with navigation on the side or top, if I don’t want to read the article or post, it’s right there. At the bottom, I’m guaranteed to have to scroll.

  27. Keith says:

    I don’t think the issue is scroll or not. As long as people are on the right track (UIE’s scent of information or whatever) then they’ll scroll or click page numbers or whatever.
    I think Derek’s redesign is very interesting. I also think it works really well. I mean, for his site it’s perfect. It puts the content up front and since he doesn’t really have any navigation (although he tackles this a bit on his individual archives) the way he leads the reader from the bottom not only isn’t confusing, it makes good sense.

  28. Ed Sharrer says:

    Hey, you guys embrace your own bottoms… I’ll embrace mine, thanks. ;)
    Many thanks to Derek for making us all think a bit. Very reasonable arguments he presents. Seems to me that the page footer is a logical spot for true “bonus” or “value-add” content, along with perhaps a logical bit of navigation. It certainly shouldn’t be the only spot for those navigation elements, but I agree completely with the idea of rewarding users who cared enough to scroll to the end of the page.
    Props also to whoever noted that this concept applies more logically to content pages than index pages (which may very well need to keep most content “above the fold”).

  29. Dave says:

    I’m all about the scroll. I don’t have any problem with a site that is long in content as long as the content is interesting. If people want to read what you have to say, they’ll scroll.
    If not, they’ll leave.

  30. Perhaps it is a good thing that tradition breaks now and then, it keeps the user on their toes and allows for positive change.
    Scrolling is really not a problem as long as there is clear continuation down the page and no large gaps. I have had a few discussions (arguments) about this with clients who want to cut content short – or squash it together to make it sit in a 600px high box. But, if you have content you should use it, thats the point of a web site, and having hundreds of tiny pages opens a whole new usability can of worms. If people want to read what your saying they will scroll, if not, well you need to be more concerned about why what you’re saying is not interesting.
    The redesign is spot-on.

  31. sadish says:

    just during the same time, I re-launched my website with a new theme., with some of the sidebar content moved to the footer.
    I do think many people reads it, because i get emails from my contact page, whose link can be found only in the footer and nowhere else.

  32. Kevin Klein says:

    “the fold” is an newspaper anachronism, co-opted by slimy marketers (as it had been by “it bleeds it leads” copy editors) to turn the web into a commercial.
    viva la scroll!

  33. “Below the fold” may be a leftover from the newspaper business, but it’s probably an important one. While users like us may see a lot more of the screen because we make and critique websites for a living, the average user probably isn’t so sophisticated. And hence, items that appear above the scroll, if you will, most certainly get more attention from the general population. Look at sites like ESPN (they added a second sidebar column on the right last year), Ticketmaster, CNN, Yahoo, etc…
    Scrolling is fine for blogs, which generally have captive audiences, but it doesn’t really work well with large commerical sites.
    I will say that dividing up long content pages into 5-6 pages really annoys me. Stuff like Bill Simmons column on ESPN, Boston.com sports notes, etc, drive me crazy by forcing me to click. Long articles like that are begging to be printed. Don’t make me click a special button just to launch a new printer page to see it all on one page. I think it’s just a cheesy way of increasing page impressions.

  34. This was the methodology at hand in the redesign of glam.ac.uk earlier this year.
    Example
    It’s all about the logical next action.

  35. Joe Clark says:

    My blog (short for “Web log,” a kind of online journal or diary) has the longest goddamned footers in the business (so long they’re a data table) and I’m not so sure I’m hot-hot-hot about them.
    You do realize that Xplane’s Xblog (short for “xWeb log,” a kind of online journal or diary) did this circa 1999, right, and Flickr still does?

  36. Benke says:

    A project with a no-scroll goal went terribly wrong: I managed to fit the english version to a 1024×768 screen but the french translation was to long for that.
    Content that made sense to be on one page was divided in four or five pages. Senseless, at least in my opinion.
    I don’t mind scrolling. The “space” key is my friend for scrolling down and “shift”+“space” takes me back to the top. It’s like a scroll wheel for the poor.

  37. Luke Redpath says:

    I truly hope we aren’t going to see a trend in putting essential page items like navigation at the bottom of the page. I think its a terrible and somewhat arrogant decision to assume that people wont mind scrolling just to navigate a site, and a completely separate issue to the idea of scrolling.
    I have no problem with scrolling and will echo most of the sentiments here in that I believe most people have no problem with scrolling either. But you shouldn’t have to scroll just to navigate. Don’t break convention just for the hell of it, or to be cool or different. It’s just annoying.

  38. Luke – No is one saying put essential page items only at the bottom. Read the previous comments. What Derek is talking about here, is that the bottom of the page is under-utilized, and it can be a place to put “logical next steps” after someone has read an entire page.
    This isn’t about a new trend that everyone should jump on, and it isn’t about putting navigation at the bottom of all designs. It’s just an embarrassingly obvious place to store extra, related information. It’s harmless, really.

  39. Luke Redpath says:

    It might be a good place to store extra information, but I don’t think that its a good place to put important or vital information (such as any form of global site navigation). Yes, perhaps users do scroll more than convention suggests, but to force users to scroll to access vital information is not a good idea.
    It is however a good place to put certain information, such as information related to what a user might have just finished reading and I wont disagree with that.

  40. Joe – I think you footer-pioneering guys are the exception, where most of us are just placing a copyright statement. So, it certainly isn’t an earth-shattering concept, but overlooked (at the very least by yours truly). And for the record, I think your data tables are the bomb dot com.

  41. Mike WS says:

    It’s interesting that most of the above use the term scroll as synonymous with vertical scroll. I don’t mind vertical scrolling (though I tend to use the Page Up/Down keys rather than the mouse) but having to scroll horizontally has and will put me off using some sites.
    So I just visited that site and, having found myself looking at a horizontal scrollbar at the bottom of my viewport, I doubted if I would again. But then I wondered. Why?
    It wasn’t the header banner ‘cos that just fits; It wasn’t the much vaunted footer, either. The culprit, it seems, is the address right at the bottom which needlessly, and unesthetically, juts out. The sidebar content also extends a little further than the banner. I see no reason why this should be. Surely not intentional? At least the main content is near to the left side of the document where it should be. BTW I am using Safari 1.3. It might not happen in IE:)
    Sorry, I should perhaps have addressed this to Mr. Powazek directly but when I see horizontal scrollbars I also see a red mist. I certainly do not embrace the (sideways) scroll.

  42. Hi guys, excellent discussion.
    I am just in the middle of my site redesign and have decided to use the bottom of the pages to include links for subscribing to my newsletter and a couple of the latest posts in my discussion forum, of course I have links to both sections above the fold but I wanted to have something more interesting at the bottom, and not just the usual copyright and text based menu stuff.
    Regards!

  43. Jim says:

    Calling the aversion to scrolling “complete bullshit” is too harsh. The fact is this *was* true at one point, and has become far less of an issue over the years. Not quite the “complete bullshit” alleged.
    http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9712a.html

  44. Boris Stumpf says:

    I totally agree to scrolling and reading long texts. So why not use a “bottom bar”? For years I said to fellow webdesigners, friends etc. that scrolling is just a normal thing for everyone able and used to writing some text in any office software. So things outside of immediate focus (when opening a site) don’t bother. Maybe it’s nearly the same as placing main navigation and other essential things in a right hand sidebar. Which seems to be normal for blogs.
    The main point for me is just that:
    If a site is really interesting, people will really “use” it. And if using means scrolling and reading, they will do. So finally they will get the point regarding essential content in a bottom bar.
    Maybe it’s a good feature for blogs, especially those which are assigned to (and great in) storytelling. As Derek’s…

  45. For commercial sites I like to have main content items top and bottom which means navigation should be part of the footer. I believe that it makes it easier for users to navigate your site if they don’t have to scroll all the way to the top. I like the idea of a “call to next action” for the user just above the footer. It says “Now that you’ve read the page, what do you want to do?”

  46. Sean Scott says:

    From visiting the site in question from stylegala, the first thing i noticed was the header and then the lack of navigation. I quickly looked to the right nothing, scroll down a litle bit nothing again.
    The problem with a bottom scrollbar is that if there is no indication of its presence and surfers (new visitors that is) are not in the mood to go through the current thesis on the page, it won’t be seen.
    Now to address the issue of above the fold and marketing. Asking the user to scroll to see your entire message is like saying please turn the page to see the full ad. Sure it can work but 8 times out of ten it won’t (btw that number was not scientifically derived)
    Just an observation.

  47. Tom says:

    Regardless of whether or not it’s practical (and in this case, it seems to lean towards being fairly useful), it’s “different” and catches the eye initially. I think it’s a well done site which appeals to most graphic designers.
    Unfortunately, the media and public aren’t going to catch on quickly. As nice as it looks, it probably wouldn’t work well for anything other than a technical or personal blog.

  48. I personally really liked the way Powazek explained it, and totally agree that it’s rather rude to your good readers, who do scroll down to the end of the page, to just give them a copyright message and let them go.
    You should at least give them somewhere to go after that.
    Anyway, I’m not so sure about moving everything to the bottom, although it looks magnificent design-wise. But still functionality-wise, it might be a bit restricting.
    Another important factor, I think, is how much content there’ll be on the page; If you’ve got one or two articles, then you can allow yourself to move everything below them, but if you have more content, then it won’t work quite the same.
    I’m thinking of experimenting a bit with these ideas on my blog and maybe moving some elements south, but certainly not everything.

  49. Dan says:

    It’s rubbish about non-scrollage. The only people who don’t are the computer illiterate who haven’t yet been taught that you can. You turn pages of a book, don’t you? Then by hokey you’ll scroll! People also turn DVD and such cases around to read the back!

  50. Phil says:

    Having scrolled down, fascinated by the discussion, to become number 51, I am somewhat disappointed that there is not more at the page bottom.

  51. Steve says:

    Be disappointed no further, though alas, this pitiful addition may not be worth the roll down.
    May I interest you however, in scrolling up to the top?
    And painfully scroll backwards we must as our generous host as found limits in his generosity and thus neglected a “jumpback tag”.
    To the Scroll then, good sir!

  52. steve says:

    Scrolling is a sin when the whole page scrolls so that your navigation, and all the “branding” for your site can disappear. Please, please, use divs with a css defined height and overflow:auto
    :) Steve

  53. Denise says:

    I think giving the “scroll to the bottom” reader something as a reward is a good idea. I will definitely be working on my bottom — EH! That just sounds so “wrong!”
    LOL
    Meanwhile, I’m building tables so I can get most of the links above the “fold”
    Doesn’t make sense to add content to my blog since it is a major shopping site and will have over 600 links, but perhaps adding a newsletter with facts about listed company history, a stock ticker, current information, sales & coupons would interest those who scroll down.

  54. Pete Boere says:

    If you give anyone a flier, they check the back to see where it ends; before you start reading a letter you first see how long it is so that you know how long it’s going to take to process the information.
    As the majority of websites have vertical scrolling then people just roll their mouse wheel without thinking about it, whether there’s anything to scroll or not- that’s not based on research but observation- basic human intuition has always been making up for inaccessible content, because missing it, in many cases has larger implications.
    On the web scrolling isn’t difficult or unintuitive, so it can hardly be called an accesibility issue- when given due common sense in their application.

  55. ndwl says:

    Scrolling is OK within reason, and can even have some advantages, such as giving a page apparent weight/depth of knowledge on a particular subject, however even with a ‘mighty mouse’ scrolling through #55 (now #56) comments is pushing it!