Is there a point to paginating articles online?
Is it better to paginate a long article or show the entire article on one page?
The following is a side-by-side of the same article. On the left is page one with navigation and on the right is the full article.
Is there data to support that one is better than the other? If so, what makes it better?
The following is an example of the article navigation for a long article.
The user is given the option of just seeing the whole story, skipping to a particular page or going to the next page.
Wouldn't it be easier (read: better) to give the user access to the entire article right away? If the user reads the first page and then decides they want to see the full story, they'll go through a page refresh and be taken to the top of the page with the full story. That can't be a good UX right?
My hunch is this is some sort of ploy to get more clicks on a site, but perhaps I'm missing a real reason why paginating a long article or post might be better.
So, what's the deal?
It sadly wouldn't surprise me if the answer is something along the lines of 'the more new pages we can split an article into, the more adverts we can add in'.
That's what I'm afraid of. The problem, of course, is clients don't realize that, and they think it's normal or the "right way" to do long-article page design.
There are certain arguments for/against infinite scrolling (http://ux.stackexchange.com/questions/5556/pagination-a-thing-of-the-past) but I think when there's a clear end that's not *extremely* long there's nearly 0 reason to paginate beyond inflating page view statistics and ad impressions
Having a long article all on one page is not infinite scrolling, so the arguments against infinite scrolling seem moot in this case.
I always saw pagination as the same tactic large shopping malls use - make winding hallways with big displays to obscure the other end of the mall. That way you're less likely to think "I have to walk _all the way over there?_" Likewise if I'm on a page where the scroll bar handle is incredibly small I'll think "Geeze, this article is long. I won't read it all." If it's paginated, I get to the bottom of a short page and if the article has caught my attention I'll be more enticed to click through to the rest of the article.
Another take (beside the profit argument), would also be bandwith and with that early enough page layout. As bandwith could be constrained on some device/country/connection. I would also say that splitting the content would allow serving more client simultaneously (avoiding some slow client to keep server connection for recieving the content). Of course the technical argument is kind of moot considering today's standard.
@MichaelKjörling yeah, I wasn't calling this a case of infinite scrolling, articles are (hopefully) quite finite
you know, technically it is very possible to achieve all goals, here is how: display one page (bandwidth), when scrolled down and hits bottom, fetch via ajax the second page and append, in the same hit, call a google analytics track function, and maybe to spice it up, change the ads displayed on sides, and fix those sides so they linger as user scrolls down... see, a pie big enough for all
It's no longer necessary to paginate for users, but content providers love it for advertising.
Common knowledge among content strategists in my work is that you paginate in order to increase advertising impressions. A slideshow with ten slides gets ten times the impressions as an article with ten photos. And an article with three pages gets … well, you get the idea.
In the old days, pagination was about bandwidth. And in the old days, people didn't know or want to scroll. But those days are long gone.
From UX Myths (with many studies cited):
Although people weren’t used to scrolling in the mid-nineties, nowadays it’s absolutely natural to use the browser’s scrollbar. For a continuous and lengthy content, like an article or a tutorial, scrolling provides even better usability than slicing up the text to several pages.
And Google is pushing the full-page version in its search results, essentially saying "full pages are better than paginations." Content Strategy blog Eating Elephant writes about it here: Google JUST SAYS NO to Overpagination.
Interestingly, however, multiple pages can be used to track engagement: if users exit on an article page, you can't tell how long they were there, but if they click through each page, you can track their time on each page and how far through the tunnel they've gone. Magazine's Online summarizes this nicely, based on original comments in Twist Image's article on multiples page trickery.
What to do…
In order to balance business needs for more ad impressions with user needs for the most pleasant experience, consider the following:
Put a "full article" link with pagination somewhere at the top as well as the bottom. (If you only include a "full article" link, you run the risk in some cases of the user believing they are only looking at an abstract, rather than the beginning of the article.
If employing responsive web design principals, serve paginated articles when download speeds will degrade the experience of a full article.
If and when you paginate, do clearly indicate at the top what page the user is on, in case they land there from search results or a link.
[From an in-house developer] If you want the advantages of pagination with a full-page experience, use progressive loading as you see on Facebook and Twitter (also called "infinite scroll," although in this case it's finite).
Mashable does a good job of paginating when it improves the experience and defaulting to one page otherwise. Here's a nicely paginated slideshow on pregnancy time lapse videos, and here's a nice full-page article on self-driving cars. Note that the slideshow loads an ad with each slide (often the same ad).
New York Times appears to have designed some flexibility into their system by making pagination beyond the first page a request string in the URL. That way, if they decide to change to full pages, the URLs don't break (I surmise). Anyway, NYTimes breaks into pages without feeling egregious.
Though I think there's a flaw in the _ten slides gets ten times the impressions_ assumption that site designers are making -- if I can tell that content is split across multiple pages, I **don't even bother reading** because **multiple pages are annoying**. Giving up after six seconds may not show up in analytics software, but I'd expect second-page views to be far less than first-page views.
Slide shows really do increase "impressions," but they dilute the click-through rate. http://www.quora.com/Internet-Advertising/How-do-CPMs-hold-up-when-sites-employ-devices-like-slide-shows-to-increase-page-impressions
@JarrodRoberson You can, but most sites are not set up that way. Google Analytics normally tracks on the page jump.
Yes, you can measure where people stop clicking through to the next page, but you can't measure whether people stop reading due to having to click through all the time.
Google Analytics does track how much time you spent on a page - and this is an important metric, if you care about your users. Things like @sarnold mentions *DO* show in the statistics.
@skolima Google's great about tracking stuff like that. It's important to note that while pagination might increase ad revenue on a single article, all else excluded, but frustrating your users will boost your bounce rate and thus harm your SEO.
@skolima Google doesn't normally measure time on a page until you jump to another page: http://www.searchenginejournal.com/tick-tock-the-limitations-of-average-time-on-page-and-average-time-on-site-in-google-analytics-experiment/21439/
Funny then that Google itself splits its search results in pages except for the image search...
@BenBrocka I don't see why the same reasons for or against pagination shouldn't apply in both cases though, other than that search results often are infinite for all intents and purposes. Anyway, that's why it's called infinite scrolling I guess.
Is there any benefit in pagination for mobile versions of an article? The ad argument presumably doesn't count in this instance.
@BurhanAli, I see ad units in mobile versions of articles all the time. Theoretically, it should also help with slow downloads, although I can't imagine text would be all that slow (the ads take longer).
Really? Ads in mobile versions? Ew. In which case single page all the way, given how erratic round trip times can be on mobile connections.
@BurhanAli Mobile ads aren't so bad when they're integrated well. The full-page interrupters are more annoying. Anyway, I'm not saying they're the best, but one must recognize that they are used in ever-widening numbers.
Great answer. A passing thought: for *really* long articles, especially on slow connections, I think pagination can become necessary. But these are definitely the exceptions. (I’m thinking of something like John Siracusa’s OS X reviews).
@AlexChan yay, another Siracusa fan! But indeed, I was thinking of his kind of articles too. It's not mainly about the text, but if you want some huge pictures with good resolution, that'll cost you some time to load too . With paginated content, you can preload these. The only thing I really don't like about pagination is that read it later type apps don't always look for the pagination links and fetch the article.
@sys.stderr yo, fellow Siracusian! :) I know Instapaper held out against this sort of multi-page stitching for ages (http://www.marco.org/2011/07/19/siracusa-multipage) and then later relented (http://blog.instapaper.com/post/18556429689), but I can’t think of a major service that doesn’t do it now. Am I missing one?
Google is a filthy hypocrite about this. Sure, *Image* Search uses a semi-endless scroll. But regular search, which people use far more often, still uses plain old pagination. Why? The cynical side of me says it's because endless scroll in regular search would make it matter less whether a site is on the first page or not, and would then make that site less likely to buy advertising in order to be on the first page.
@Christian: "I don't see why the same reasons for or against pagination shouldn't apply in both cases" - I think the fact that articles are finite on the one hand, and a coherent text on the other hand (that I don't want split up), plays a decisive role. Search results, on the other hand, are "infinite" and lists of disjoint items (that has to be arbitrarily broken down somehow). I'll have to think deeper about it, but I vastly prefer non-paginated articles, while at the same time, I strongly wish for Google to return to pagination for their Image Search results.