Infinite Page Scrolling – How it Affects Users & Conversions

“Which page was that black sweater I liked on? Was it page 5?… No?… Maybe 6?… Shoot. Ok, maybe it was on the first page after all… Ugh, it takes so long to load… Dang it, not on page one, either!… Oh, forget about it, I’ll just look for it some other time.”

The conclusion the customer above just arrived at signals a lost sale for your ecommerce website. Has it happened to you? Even with a high speed internet provider, it takes time to load page 1, then page 2, then back to page 1, then on to page 3. By the time the customer gets to page 5, he can’t even remember what you saw on page 1.

This is where infinite scrolling comes in. To see an example of infinite scrolling, visit the Google Images site and do a search. Instead of having to click the next arrow when you get to the bottom of a page of results, the images just keep scrolling, and scrolling, and scrolling – hence the “infinite” in “infinite scrolling”.

This is a guest post. The author’s opinions are entirely his or her own and may not always reflect the views of Unbounce. David Murton has been helping companies build and maintain their online relationships with customers since 2006. He is also a professional writer and blogger, with a particular interest in the open source Drupal platform.

Benefits of Infinite Scrolling

Infinite scrolling has two main benefits:

  1. It doesn’t confuse visitors by forcing them to jump around between different pages
  2. It’s much faster to load one infinitely long page than multiple pages

Infinite scrolling, therefore, is perfect for ecommerce sites with a large inventory of products. For example, if your site offers 300 different types of sweaters, instead of displaying them on ten different pages, you could set up infinite scroll so that when the customer got to the bottom of the results from page 1, the results from page 2 would load automatically and begin to display.

Compared to clicking each individual pages and viewing 20 or 30 sweaters at a time, this method makes it much easier for customers to scroll back and forth between items they like. (“Hmmm…. do I want the baby blue sweater with the sequin, or the orange one with the rhinestones?”) When the customer has to remember which page an item he liked was on, he’s far less likely to go back and buy it than if he can simply scroll back up to it.

Furthermore, every time a customer clicks on a new page, an HTTP request is sent to the server, and the browser has to load up new information for the viewer. Infinite scrolling preloads this information so that it doesn’t take nearly as long to load the next part of the search results or the next page.

Here are a few nice examples of sites using infinite scrolling:

Disadvantages of Infinite Scrolling

However, every solution seems to invite its own obstacles, and the same holds true with infinite scrolling. One thing infinite scrolling does not allow the user to do, for example, is skip over certain results. If the user wants to skip the first 900 results and go first to the 901st result, there’s no way for him or her to do that when infinite scroll has been implemented onto a page. A customer service response also couldn’t send a link to a particular page of items if a customer were to email in the question, “Where are the baby blue sweaters with the sequin located on your site?”

Another disadvantage of infinite scrolling is that it can potentially lead to a browser crash, especially if the user has an older browser. Even though the browser doesn’t have to load each page in a sequence individually, it’s still loading more data into the window, and that is still going to use up resources. With a slow connection or an out-of-date browser, this could definitely detract from the user experience.

Additionally, since infinite scrolling is a relatively new technology, it’s still a little buggy. At the moment, some infinite scroll users have noted that it doesn’t work well – or at all – on their mobile devices.

Conversion Rates, SEO, and Infinite Scroll

The main question for the ecommerce site owner is a simple one: to infinite scroll, or not to infinite scroll – which will lead to more sales?

Unfortunately, there’s not a black and white answer to this. Truly, it depends upon what you’re selling and what your users want. To find out what your users want, why not run an experiment? Take two products that sell at about equal rates. Make one product display on an infinite scroll page, and keep the other one on an old-fashioned pagination display. After running it for a month or two, evaluate the sales. Did it make a difference? Did you get complaints or compliments about the infinite scroll?

Another concern ecommerce owners have is the question of SEO. Google and other search engines tend to read the beginning of a page, but not the end of it. Therefore, there’s a risk that content “below the fold” on an infinite scroll page – which could be hundreds of items – will not be registered by search engines. Other infinite scroll plug-in designers insist that at least their infinite scroll plug-in is totally SEO friendly.

Try It Yourself

The best way to find out if infinite scroll will work for your website is to dip your toes into the water. Take a look at the sites mentioned above, and decide if it would work for your site or not.

One thing to note is the different ways in which infinite scroll sites tell you or don’t tell you that there’s more content yet to come. Some sites, like CSSline.com, explicitly tell the user “Loading more sites…”, while others simply freeze for a moment, then suddenly more content appears. Which of these would work better on your site?

Infinite scroll may also encourage you to change your CSS code so that there is a stationary footer or header with your site’s contact information. For instance, at the moment you may have a Facebook Like badge situated underneath your “Next” and “Previous” links. If you do away with pagination, where will you put that Facebook Like badge? You can’t put it at the bottom of the page anymore, because the user might never see it. You will need to think through this and the many other caveats that come with infinite scroll should you decide to implement it for your site.

In short, infinite scroll, like so many other design trends, it is what you make of it.

David Murton

About The Author

Photo of David Murton

David Murton has been helping companies build and maintain their online relationships with customers since 2006. He is also a professional writer and blogger, with a particular interest in the open source Drupal platform. On a more personal note, David is an avid piano and accordion player, drawn especially to music of the classical and romantic periods.
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Comments

  1. Kristi Hines says:

    When it comes to those huge sales pages, my only advice would be to make sure the buy it now or sign up here is at the very bottom, because I usually just scroll right past the midsection to the end to find the call to action. If I have to scroll back up and down looking for it, or I can never actually reach an endpoint, I’m probably going to leave.

    • Oli Gardner says:

      Yeah, I think I’d like to see them use a repeating CTA like you would on a long landing page – or analogously to some spreadsheet software, have the headings/sorting controls repeated at relevant intervals to keep the purpose and interaction present.

  2. Dan Atkinson says:

    I think you ruined this article in a single unqualified sentence:

    “Additionally, since infinite scrolling is a relatively new technology, it’s still a little buggy.”

    Also, the article you link to makes no mention of mobile users, or problems encountered by them.

    In your statement, you make the assumption that infinite scroll is a single implementation technology and that every implementation of it will be flawed, just because it’s relatively new. This reasoning is flawed and very naive.

    Just because something is new, it doesn’t mean that it will be flawed. The chances are indeed higher that bugs will exist, but that doesn’t mean that every implementation of infinite scrolling will suffer the same problems, given that the functionality can, and will differ greatly between implementations.

    • David Murton says:

      Hi Dan, thanks for your comment.

      Of course, I fully agree – just because a technology is new doesn’t mean that it will be flawed. I also agree that functionality will differ greatly between implementations.

      However; I was speaking of the overwhelming majority here (sorry if I didn’t make this clearer.) And it’s in my opinion a fact that the absolute majority of infinite scrolling UMAPs are noticeably buggy. I think this statement you quote from my article holds true, even if a certain percentage of websites defies it.

  3. Oli Gardner says:

    Regarding the use of social sharing widgets, and the impact of their position with an infinite scrolling page: you can implement sidebar elements that move with the page content to allow them to be positioned in the correct place at all times.

    This is something I would recommend to keep your CTA’s top of mind.

    The KISSmetrics blog does it well, e.g. http://blog.kissmetrics.com/evolution-of-web-design/
    You’ll notice how the sharing buttons stay in view constantly.

    • Nicole says:

      HI! :) Yes, I have encountered that exact same problem, but how do I make the widget stay on view all the time if I put it on my sidebar?? Thank you so much!

  4. This article seems unusually biased against infinite scrolling and doesn’t reflect common-sense arguments for such implementations, i.e. “the customer prefers it”.

    I’d argue that Google and Twitter are both proponents of using data to improve the experience, and both have elected to use it. Future versions of the article could improve on the current one by discussing implementation challenges and potential solutions.

    FWIW, I would love to implement Echo – particularly the infinite scrolling comments widget – on an Unbounce landing page.

    • David Murton says:

      Hi Brian,

      Yup; reasons why it should be implemented are listed in the first section about the Benefits of Infinite Scrolling.

      As to Twitter and Google; the nature of both websites makes it a non-issue for them, as the info presented through their infinite scrolling isn’t designed to directly convert into sales.

  5. Ben says:

    Another issue with is that you might want to look at all results. Say it’s just 3 pages of information and you’re happy to see all of the entries. But unless you’re implementing infinite scrolling in a way that indicates how far along you are you might give up on ‘page 2′ not knowing how much longer you have to see all options.

  6. [...] Ever encountered the “infinite scroll”? You know, when a page appends itself with more listings, photos, Tweets etc. when you reach the page (rather than using pagination). David Murton shares the perks and pitfalls of infinite scrolling from a usability perspective. [...]

  7. marko says:

    Good post! I hate the infinitive scroll, but in your explication there are very interesting reasons.

  8. Implemented scrolling internet web search @ Norele.com. If the data base has the information, this is truely the fastest way to research. At issue is whether the load time of paging search or the scroll time of Norele search used is more user friendly.

  9. MySchizoBuddy says:

    How would you bookmark page 4 of an infinite scroll with total page 10 or send it to your friend?
    One solution is to update the url to reflect that your on page 4 and the infinite scroll needs to look at the url first and then decide whether it wants to load just page 1 or the first 4 pages.

  10. Alexei says:

    Darn thought this was going to be an article about jquery.infinitescroll.js

  11. Alexei says:

    Darn thought this was going to be an article about jquery.infinitescroll.js!

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  14. Jens says:

    I tend to leave sites which use infinite scroll.
    Why?
    The reason is, I have absolutely no control of how much content will be displayed. Some sites go on and on and on and on loading more and more and more and more content.

    When reading longer articles or browsing lists, e.g. of products I usually have the scroll bar as a means of orientation of where I am and which passage/product/image interests me.
    This is no longer possible with infinite scroll. I lose orientation, do not know how more much content will appear, hardly find (for me) relevant content the longer the page gets and leave the site never to come back again.

    Nonetheless I do believe this method could be vastly improved and made really usable when the user is provided with a means of previewing and jumping to “pages”. In this context I think about PDF Readers, which allow the user to display the single pages of the document in a left column and enable continuous scrolling. Implementing such a technique in websites would surely boost the usability of infinite scrolling.

  15. Collin Davis says:

    David, I would like to touch on the last negative that you mentioned in the post about SEO. As is known, Google doesn’t have an affinity for long pages nor does it like see too many links on a single given page.

    So this is a problem with infinite scrolling. I have seen the cached version of a few pages of websites using infinite scrolling and as you pointed out bots crawl only the upperfold that are default for the page. So in case of products or items below the fold, it would yield to lesser link juice and these could only be accessed via the sitemap then.

    Don’t you think this could be a problem for SEO?

  16. [...] to David Murton, infinite scrolling has two primary [...]

  17. Hi guys, a good discussion about infinite scrolling for ecommerce is discussed here:

    http://ux.stackexchange.com/questions/33406/infinite-scroll-vs-pagination-in-e-commerce-websites

    A couple if websites including Etsy and Booking.com have tried it.