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Length of page as a design/usability issue?
skirril




msg:591999
 2:10 pm on Jan 23, 2001 (gmt 0)

Hello,

I know that long pages are a hassle, but I dont know how willing users are to scroll around in a page.

My question is thus as follows:

I have a page that contais company information, some news headlines, a product lineup and a feedback option.

The whole is text only, and about 9k of it.

Do you think its worthwile to split the page into its sections (signle pages):

- company info
- news & feedback, cotact info, search
- products

Given that I konw a lot of ppl will click on the products link?

Also, is there a good way to automatically generate this from server side includes, without using frames (which will be broken by searches, etc?

 

tedster




msg:592000
 11:17 pm on Jan 23, 2001 (gmt 0)

I read a few studies last year that shows people have become much more willing to deal with scrolling. Just two or three years ago, the prevailing wisdom was that a page should just fill the screen.

If you look at Jakob Nielsen's site [useit.com], you can see that he is certainly willing to ask visitors to scroll, and if there is a "big name" in usability, it's Jakob.

This area is an art, rather than a science. I find that requiring users to click too frequently has a bad effect on site stickiness, but long passages of text are also problematic. So it's a balancing act, and hard to give a one size fits all answer.

To break up long passages and add visual interest, I usually use a colored subhead, or a small graphic as a divider. Some kind of dingbat or a shape that relates to the content works fine and can weigh in under 1kb.

Hopefully someone else can discuss your SSI question. I don't have enough experience with them to really understand what you are asking.

Edited by: tedster

sean orourke




msg:592001
 12:18 am on Jan 24, 2001 (gmt 0)

just to add a few references,

Changes in Web Usability Since 1997 [useit.com] (Jakob)
(the heading "Scrolling Now Allowed")

The WWW page-length debate [robotwisdom.com]

Aside from the psychological shifts, it might be worth noting that many mice have scroll buttons now.

Even if people are more willing to scroll, a page has to end somewhere. It depends on how tightly related the content is. In the case of company information, it seems this is usually divided.

tedster




msg:592002
 2:39 am on Jan 24, 2001 (gmt 0)

Nice links! The second one has lots of extra references to check out as well.

Thanks, Sean.

grnidone




msg:592003
 4:01 am on Jan 24, 2001 (gmt 0)

One thing to keep in mind, at least about the width of a page, is if you keep it only 640 x 480, then it will fit on one sheet of 8 x 11 paper when it is printed. So if it is a lot of information that people want to really study and refer back to, I'd make it no bigger than that just for the printing factor.

-G

england921




msg:592004
 2:36 am on Jan 26, 2001 (gmt 0)

As a web designer, it has been my experience that scrolling is a bad thing. Knock it out into sections. Let people look at the content they want to see quickly and easily.

Another alternative is to include anchored links at the top of the page. That way a user can click on a particular link that will bring them to that section of the page. Don't forget to include a "top" link so they can get back.

tedster




msg:592005
 11:30 am on Feb 27, 2001 (gmt 0)

>> Another alternative is to include anchored links at the top of the page. That way a user can click on a particular link that will bring them to that section of the page. Don't forget to include a "top" link so they can get back.

Good point, and those anchor could be another nice and very legit place to repeat keywords in the name. Does anyone know for sure if they help SEO?

Brett_Tabke




msg:592006
 12:02 pm on Feb 27, 2001 (gmt 0)

I think the big key on long pages is keep the visual noise volumn low, and touch more white space than normail with big headlines. I think people tend to scan big pages to sniff for the content they want. By giving them big short healines, you give them a chance to find what they want/need to be there for.

2_much




msg:592007
 8:20 pm on Feb 27, 2001 (gmt 0)

"Knock it out into sections. Let people look at the content they want to see quickly and easily."

Agree. However, web users are used to scrolling. So I dont' think scrolling is the evil to contend with: it's information overload.

The way I see it, it's okay to ask users to scroll but if you make the information easy to read/register for your visitors. You want them to be able to scan and find what they're interested in, then click on a link with more info. This page should have the "full article", broken down and as short as possilbe (easier to retain user's attention).

"By giving them big short healines, you give them a chance to find what they want/need to be there for"

Exactly...provide them with headlines, not too much info. on the index pages. Break the content up into short, relevant pages. If there is too much info, try to break it up into pages. This, of course, depends on the type of site. My experience has been that this works well for pure e-commerce sites.

tedster




msg:592008
 10:15 pm on Mar 5, 2001 (gmt 0)

A couple added points:

1) Visually impaired users with screen-reading technology are probably happier with longer pages, rather than breaking up the content with more navigational chores --- actions like clicking to a new page require them to change modes on their appliances, and then change back to listening.

2) A very long page can be difficult to scroll properly, because a relatively small scrollbar movement generates a much bigger corresponding movement up or down the displayed page.

Alecto




msg:592009
 7:28 am on Mar 6, 2001 (gmt 0)

Web pages should always scroll, if even just a few pixels. People are so used to the scrollbar that if they see a page without one, they'll think it's broken, and that they're missing the information below.

For a page with different types of information, from an SEO point of view, I'd say it's better to put different info into different pages, to avoid dilution. Also, it isn't a good idea to just take copy someone has given you that was designed for another medium and post it on the page. Writing for the web has to take into account web-specific peculiarities. For starters, someone who is writing for the web should have the word 'Google' tattooed onto the back of their hand. The way Google indexes, every page on your site is a potential entry page and should be treated like one.

I'd say, for example, the 'company info' page should be separate from the 'products' page. Both should be reinforced to the hilt, and both should work as a welcome to the site.

chiyo




msg:592010
 7:55 am on Mar 6, 2001 (gmt 0)

Alecto, I'm assuming when you say you have to write for the Web in a different way you are refering to ad copy and advertorial copy. Agree also that in reading on the Web people have lower attention spans and want to read quick short "bites".

However, real writers would bite your hand off if you changed their words... and I for one hate reading material that has "optimised" the useful content into oblivion!

These days I just ignore it.

One good think about Googles page rank and external citation ranking is that keyword weight and text optimization methods are not as central as before.

iid love to see an example of one of Shakespeare's plays optimised for the Web (:-)

tedster




msg:592011
 8:22 am on Mar 6, 2001 (gmt 0)

Welcome to Webmaster World, Alecto

>> People are so used to the scrollbar that if they see a page without one, they'll think it's broken

That's an interesting point, and the first time I've heard anyone express it. I'm thinking about a page I have that doesn't create a scrollbar at 800x600 up. It has some DHTML eye candy and seems to function pretty well, but just maybe the factor you're describing comes into play. I may add a few pixels and see if clickthrough improves. Thanks for the idea.

>> However, real writers would bite your hand off if you changed their words

Yeah, I've run into this attitude, but not so much recently. I hope it's gradually being educated out of business.

If writers are up to date, then they've learned a bit about the demands of writing for the web, because that's where a lot of contracts are these days. The best actually ask about keywords before they create any copy at all.

Before I started my web business, I did a lot of copy writing, and I still write some technical marketing copy. Most top level websites realize they need a writer who also understands the web.

Professional writers should be accustomed to being part of a team. They regularly work with editors to pack the best punch into their paragraphs. It's important for a writer not to feel overly "precious" about their words.

In my experience this kind of trouble comes with the small to mid-size company, where the business owner fancies themself to be a writer. That's when the copy becomes so very precious. And often, this is the very business that doesn't rigorously measure the results of a marketing campaign, and doesn't change materials based on results.

The positive sign is that I see less of this lately. My last web writing assignment began with the company giving me a list of fifteen key phrases they wanted the search engines to see -- I didn't have to ask!

chiyo




msg:592012
 8:31 am on Mar 6, 2001 (gmt 0)

I have to disagree Tedster..

I prefer to leave webvertorial and actual content separate. They are two separate things.

For example, for me in another country, (and I would guess others too), the Americanisation of English on the Web is very apparant, often jaring. Its like the different between CNN and the BBC.

Agree that writers working in a team to produce good "for the web" copy should leave their literary pretensions at home - that's their job after all -just like an ad copywriter...

I don't see columnists for major newspapers, Salon, and other on line serious research or literary sources, even news sources, changing their style to be published on the Web, and it would be a sad day if it happens. Leave that to the Webvertorial team and keep the actual content separate.

chiyo




msg:592013
 8:39 am on Mar 6, 2001 (gmt 0)

just an extra bit to be more positive...

We take the actual words of our contributors and columnists, but the Web guys create the title, metags, content right at the top and bottom, and add links every so often. Our editor does suggest to contributors what the best topics may be based on the keywords each site is searched for.

tedster




msg:592014
 8:44 am on Mar 6, 2001 (gmt 0)

Chiyo, yes, we see eye to eye here. I was speaking more of marketing copy.

Even straight news copy is edited for the web. If you look at the print versions of my local newspaper (Boston Globe) and then look at the story as published on the web (boston.com) I think you will often see some interesting edits.

Columnists are an interestiong question. The thing is, the web itself makes demands on writers and readers that print doesn't. No, keyword gyrations wouldn't enter into the picture, but I'll bet the top columnists on the web are very aware of the specifics of this medium. You've simply got to get to the point more efficiently if you want to be read.

chiyo




msg:592015
 8:58 am on Mar 6, 2001 (gmt 0)

Just an interesting point..

Some of our columnists are quasi intellectuals. Their columns are sometimes briliiant stuff, and columnists from nonEnglish speaking countries have a local style that we wish to preserve and not dilute by optimising. They also write for other mediums as well and 2 or 3 have 5 or 6 books behind them.

Firstly, While we print the actual title of each column submitted in the actual page we actually use a more descriptive optimised title for the <TITLE> metatag.

We also keep the length of columns short and send back for editing if it is too long or split into two parts.

Just a couple of ways we try to get the best of both worlds.

Alecto




msg:592016
 6:18 pm on Mar 6, 2001 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the welcome tedster. I came to that conclusion about the missing scrollbar when I designed a page specifically to be without one and then saw that it seemed to look not quite right.

chiyo, I'd better clear up some stuff for you.

>> I'm assuming when you say you have to write for the Web in a different way you are refering to ad copy and advertorial copy.

First, when I say you have to write for the web in a different way, I mean everything, not just ad copy and advertorial copy. If you're just transplanting a column from a newspaper onto a web page, that isn't a case of writing for the web. It isn't even a case of publishing on the web. It's simply a matter of copying onto the web.

A columnist has to take into account factors specific to the situation of the column. Above all, the fact that it will be edited. The web offers the possibility of publishing unedited writing. Isn't that supposed to be a 'writer's' dream? To publish without someone editing their work? I would consider it a humiliation to have an open forum to express myself and then have someone else decide what I should and what I shouldn't say. A columnist writes within the column. If he wants to write for the web, then he'll have to come out.

>>Agree also that in reading on the Web people have lower attention spans and want to read quick short "bites".

I can't agree with this. People want different things at different times. I know I do. But if someone is on the web, they are there for a reason. I make it my prime objective that if I have content they wish to see, I can arrange for them to find it. And tbe reach of the search engines is crucial to this purpose.

Don't be too apprehensive of the word 'optimize', chiyo. Think of any completed piece of writing as being 'optimized'. But optimizing for a column is different than optimizing for the web.

Also, chiyo, you mentioned that some of your columnists are quasi intellectuals. What are the rest of them? :)

2_much




msg:592017
 4:16 am on Mar 7, 2001 (gmt 0)

Very interesting points. Recently I've been performing some experiments pertaining to this issue.
I started writing content for sites a few months ago, and was using my "college essay" style...which to be honest was very wordy, intellectual and convoluted.
I started reading up on usability, web writing, etc. and realized what a mistake this was.
About a month ago I changed the text on a couple of sites based upon what I had learned (scanning, necessity of using direct, simple language, time factor - all web users are in a hurry and have thousands of other options, etc.). These 2 sites that I changed have doubled their orders (same rankings and hits)!
Now I'm going to experiment with different styles: direct, friendly, engaging, etc...That should be another interesting experiment.
Let me just specify that this is for e-commerce sites. Of course style has to vary by category.

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