Mike Cushing / Design Digital Strategy / December 11th, 2014

Are You Sure Everybody Scrolls?

Scroll depth is one of the most important considerations for any website, affecting everything from content strategy to design. The digital industry thrives on new research and methodologies, so we were intrigued by a new case study from Huge showing how different design cues can entice users to scroll through website content.

Our own work requires striking a balance between above-the-fold and below-the-fold content, and we constantly feel the pain of building a content strategy that will draw users through a page. Since every new insight helps us push our own work forward, we wanted to examine some of the work we’ve done and compare it to Huge’s findings.

As expected, their case study provides an in-depth look at affirming design decisions, but it also reminds us to rely on our feedback loop from actual end-users to ensure our design hypotheses actually work in practice.

Not Everybody Scrolls

Huge’s study specifically tested the visual cues that entice users to scroll to page content below the fold: a scroll arrow to indicate further content, a short image that leads users down the page to view full above-the-fold content, and an animated element that draws users below the fold.

From Huge Inc.
From Huge Inc.

In all tests, more than 90% of users scrolled at least a little bit, and in three tests more than 90% scrolled to the bottom of the site. As Huge says in its study: Everybody scrolls.

This data definitely affirms what many of our designers already knew – choosing the right scrolling cue is incredibly important to ensure users find the content they need.

To track the effectiveness of those cues, we use Google Tag Manager to track scroll depth across 352inc.com and our client sites. We looked at a few of our sites that are designed similarly to the site Huge tested (with a large above-the-fold image), and we consistently find that only about 40% of end-users make it more than 75% down a page. That’s not necessarily bad, but it definitely isn’t as high as the 90% threshold found in Huge’s user testing.

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 3.51.16 PM

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This isn’t surprising: ask 10 designers about above-the-fold content, and you’ll get 10 different answers. And this is why it’s so important to establish a solid data loop that starts with user research and culminates with end-user data.

The Start of the Chain

I asked Krissy Scoufis, our Associate Director of User Experience, to break down what the case study meant for our UX designers and clients. She explained that designers are of split opinion when it comes to scrolling, but scrolling has become so ingrained in how we interact with online content, it’s practically a natural behavior. Huge’s findings are very much aligned with our view that if users see value in scrolling, they will scroll.

Since all of the visual cues performed so similarly – and well – we know that designers will have incredible freedom to design a scrolling cue that is consistent with the design of any particular site, as long as further user testing and data supports the decision.

We see a disconnect between Huge’s results and our own data because user testing only reveals a part of the picture.

The Difference Between Testers and Users

Kittens-Playing-With-Newtons-Cradle

When conducting your own usability tests, it’s important to remember the distinction between testers and end-users.  User tests – even un-moderated tests – rely on a tester’s motivation to fully complete a task. Huge didn’t share the parameters of its user tests, but we know they created a scenario that would reflect that of a real user.

In her article, Rebecca Gordon of Huge recognizes that the visual cue is far from the only factor that determines scroll depth on a page, and user testing can help a designer choose the best form of every element on a page. However, we can always take a more comprehensive view of data to ensure that every element of a design is working in concert.

Testers provide incredible feedback when deciding if a single design element can be improved, but it’s important to remember that user testing in a vacuum can lead designers astray.

A More Comprehensive Experience

The beautiful thing about digital products is that we can test, track and iterate upon them endlessly. Our testing chain starts with user studies like Huge’s to ensure each element operates at its highest level, and extends to track the behavioral patterns of end-users with the final product.

Data and ongoing research allow us to determine how a customer feels, how they react to elements of a site, and provides a plan by which UX designers and marketers can make iterative changes to improve our websites.

So if you’re only focusing on little bits of the user experience, you’re missing the big picture. The new wave is customer experience, which offers a broader view of user data to capture a full journey throughout your site.

The big takeaway here is to test everything at every opportunity to figure out the best ways to improve the experience you provide your users.

Huge Implications

As digital strategists, we are all striving to create the best experiences we can, so every new insight elevates the entire industry. Case studies like this always offer a fresh opportunity to examine our own work and learn from our peers, so we’re excited to see what comes next.

Do you have any insights to share regarding your design decisions and page scrolling? Join the conversation below.

Image credit: Robbie Shade

  • Peter VanRysdam

    You know how long it took me to find this comment section? If it were higher, I wouldn’t have had to scroll to find it.

    I almost feel like people thought about this less when the trend was bigger and bigger screens. Now that tablets and mobile are such big factors, this is more critical than ever.

    • mikecush

      Agreed. The most important thing to remember, though, is that we can test and track everything these days. Every site and test will reveal different insights, so it’s important to build a data loop that focuses on the big picture.

  • BurtonHohman

    Great summary Mike! I haven’t had a chance to read through Huge’s case study, but did they differentiate between mobile and desktop traffic? I feel like scrolling is inevitable in mobile, I’d love to to see a breakdown in scroll data between mobile and desktop.

    • mikecush

      This study did not break down mobile design, but it’s the first in an ongoing look into usability elements, so hopefully we’ll be able to explore this a bit more.

  • http://innervates.com RJ Gazarek

    The oddest thing is that based on your findings – your home page is the same as the one with the worst results – why are we not eating our own cooking?

    • mikecush

      Well, as it turns out – we’re constantly looking at data (like our own results + user testing), and we’ll be rethinking our site soon. But as for eating our own cooking, I think we are…we don’t think any single source of data is enough to definitively prove any sort of user behavior; no matter how well a test performs, you also have to back it up with end-user data.

      • http://innervates.com RJ Gazarek

        Can’t agree more – well stated! I do like your home page – but I will say, the first time I saw it, I wasn’t immediately drawn to keep scrolling. I mean, as a marketer, obviously I know there’s more – but it wasn’t immediately apparent to me that there was more to see – it seemed like a 1 viewport page at first. It is quite nice though.

        • mikecush

          Thanks, and thanks for the feedback! Constant improvement is the name of the game, so that’s much appreciated 🙂

  • Christopher Burns

    I personally never felt like above the fold mattered that much. But this gives some conclusive data so now I know that the right answer is “it depends” and I have a better idea on what sorts of things it depends on. Thanks for the insight.

    • mikecush

      It all depends on the objectives of your site and the needs of your audience, obviously. The fold matters if the fold matters, and luckily we can easily determine if users are missing below-the-fold content.

  • http://352inc.com Lincoln Anderson

    I’ve seen some really cool designs coming out recently where the “scroll cue” is blended into the aesthetic. It’s less obvious, like a little chevron, or in the composition of a photo. Just ‘hint” that there is more. I suspect we’ll see some more clever stuff next year. Thanks for this update – it’s a tricky thing to track all the viewport and scrolling data and make sense of it!

    • mikecush

      There’s so much data out there, even finding time to look at it all can be a challenge. That’s why it’s nice to see people doing and sharing research.

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