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Website design in-depth: Should attorneys use an infinite scroll?

Website design in-depth: Should attorneys use an infinite scroll?

Infinite scrolling has become a popular feature for websites, particularly those that are image and content heavy. Infinite scrolling, as the name suggests, is a method for loading content continuously as the user scrolls through the page. Infinite scrolling eliminates the need for pagination; the user never actually reaches the bottom of a page.

The infinite scroll gained recognition through use on sites like Pinterest and Facebook, each of which have seemingly infinite amounts of content available to load and serve to visitors. The feature has become so popular that the Jetpack WordPress plugin offers an easy to install infinite scroll module for WordPress blogs. Businesses no longer have to have a big budget to have their very own infinitely scrolling website.

There are some advantages to using the infinite scroll. It removes the need for a many navigation elements, leaving space for the design to remain uncluttered. Preventing all content from loading up front can also help with initial page load times, which makes it less likely people will click away before seeing the page.

But as with most trends, the infinite scroll has become overused — sometimes to the detriment of a website. Site owners should analyze the purpose of their sites and the audience they are trying to reach before jumping on the infinite scroll bandwagon.

Does continuous scrolling work for attorneys?

Website function

An infinite scroll works well only for a few types of sites. It is good for feed-based sites, like Facebook and Twitter as well as blogs and microblogs. The infinite scroll is for explorers and people who have time to look through a content feed to see what comes next. It can also work for a retail business that is able to place things in categories. A shopper could, for example, look at a continuously scrolling page of running shoes without having to click to load more options.

Infinite scrolls work less well — and can actually create usability issues — for informational sites on which the visitor is trying to do research or learn about a specific topic. Some of the disadvantages of an infinite scroll include:

1. Indexing. A page that uses infinite scrolling is one, single page. Without the infinite scroll, content would be broken into multiple, indexable pages. Google's bot could crawl the site and index all pages. The Googlebot is not, however, as good at emulating user behavior, like scrolling until more content loads. Therefore, web crawlers may not ever see a good portion of your content, and as a result that content will never appear in search results.

There are workarounds for the indexing issue, but they are technically complicated and require a fairly high level of coding proficiency. The solution is not something that an individual installing a Jetpack module would easily be able to implement.

2. Inability to bookmark. When someone is doing research online, he or she may find it helpful to bookmark certain pages to revisit later. A visitor might, for example, want to return to a specific practice are page on your site. And you want to encourage that. Return visitors are more likely to convert. However, with an infinite scroll, bookmarking becomes cumbersome if not impossible. Users, particularly those in demographics that may not be as web savvy or as able to remember multiple actions, could become discouraged without the ability to bookmark pages.

3. Frustration when trying to achieve a specific goal. Perpetual scrolling is not good for people performing goal-oriented tasks. These users want to find an answer or solution quickly; they do not want to simply scroll to see what comes next. Instead, they are looking for a clear path to the information they have searched for. Throwing more and more content at such a user can be overwhelming. Visitors who are comparing your firm to others may be turned off if they cannot quickly find what they are looking for.

4. Confusion. Continuous scrolling breaks the scroll bar, meaning users cannot estimate how much more content there is on the page. They may not know whether to keep scrolling and could miss important material.

5. Browser functionality. Not all browsers handle infinite scrolling equally well. Each time the user scrolls to reveal more content, the additional loading uses browser memory. People with older browsers or those who are trying to perform multiple tasks could see their browser performance compromised. From a user perspective, this just seems like the page is taking too long to load.

What can you do?

Given the nature of attorney websites and their visitors, perpetual scrolling could cause more confusion than benefit. But that does not mean attorneys cannot use other HTML 5 or Javascript features to offer a rich experience to visitors.

Attorneys should focus on employing interactive elements that their visitors will find useful. For example, cases often follow a similar process from initial consultation to final outcome. A firm could develop a step-by-step guide to that process containing multiple slides a visitor can click through. This both keeps the visitor engaged and gives him or her access to helpful information.

When deciding which features to use on a website, it is helpful to know what is possible and critical to be able to determine what is effective. Trends can provide inspiration but should never be used if they don't fit your website's purpose.

Kristen Friend
Kristen Friend holds two bachelors degrees from Indiana University and an associates degreee from the International Academy of Design. As Art Director for Custom Legal Marketing, her work has been awarded Webby Honorees, WebAwards, Davey Awards, Muse Awards, W3 Awards, and many others. She is also a contributor to Entrpreneur Magazine through the Entrepreneur Leadership Network.