Yes: Breaking Web Articles Into Multiple Pages Is A Pain
from the stop-it dept
I made this same basic argument almost seven years ago, but it seems that many news websites still think it’s a good idea to break up stories into multiple pages. Farhad Manjoo, over at Slate, has an article arguing why paginating long articles is a bad idea, whose only purpose is to goose page view numbers and ad views for websites — and it does nothing to make the reading experience better. Somewhat ironically, he’s writing this on Slate, which does paginate stories. At least Slate has a “single page” option, which is what I linked to above, though you can look at the idiotically broken up version if you’d like as well.
From my standpoint, sites that do excessive pagination — especially if they have no “single page” option — are automatically less interesting to me. I find Forbes to be one of the worst here. While I think the site has some good reporting, I will often look for alternative sources to link to stories, because I don’t want to send users to a page where they’ll have to click five times just to read a single story. To me, this makes Forbes look really bad: like it knows it has to trick readers to get page views, rather than trusting its content. If Forbes doesn’t trust its own content, why should I?
Thankfully, Manjoo points out that some newer, more innovative sites — such as Buzzfeed and The Verge (both of which are immensely popular) — have decided that breaking up stories into multiple pages just doesn’t make any sense:
I asked Joshua Topolsky, the Verge’s editor, whether he had a hard time convincing the advertising sales department at the magazine to ditch pages. He said he didn’t: “From the beginning, there’s been a company-wide belief that we can marry great advertising with great content and not have to cheat or trick our users,” Topolsky emailed. “And so far, that’s proven 100 percent correct. Our traffic has been on a big climb, and I believe advertisers are really beginning to see the true value in engaged users who care (and return) versus sheer volume of pageviews (though our pageviews have also been through the roof).”
Jonah Peretti, BuzzFeed’s founder, echoed this sentiment. BuzzFeed publishes dozens of photo galleries daily, and lately it’s been getting into longform reporting, too. (See Doree Shafrir’s 7,000-word piece on nightmares.) If it paginated, it could boost its pageviews significantly. But it has never paginated, and Peretti suspects the site never will. (Even BuzzFeed’s homepage isn’t paginated—it keeps loading older stories as you scroll.) BuzzFeed can afford to run stories in full because its advertising model—which relies more on “branded content” and not banner ads—doesn’t rely on pageviews. For Peretti, the most important metric for a story is how many unique people click on it, and how widely it’s shared. He says: “If you build things that people are excited about sharing with their friends—if you build things that don’t annoy people and if it’s presented in a user-friendly way—then, long-term, people will share content more, new people will come and check out what you’re doing, people will have more positive feelings about you, and … OK, maybe it’s a little bit utopian of a view, but it’s working for us.”
In other words, what I suspected seems to be true for those sites. If you trust your content, and trust your readers — and want them to share your content — you don’t break up your stories in annoying ways. You make it easier for your readers to consume and share your content. Hopefully other sites will begin to realize this, though considering how long we’ve been discussing this, I doubt it.
For the most part, it really does seem that those who go for pagination seem to come from more old school media businesses — and perhaps that’s not surprising. They look at things through older metrics, such as how many page views, rather than metrics like how many people share your content. On top of that, I find the arguments “in favor” of pagination, questionable. Manjoo asked Slate why it paginates the articles, and was told that readers like it better that way.
“Pages that run too long can irritate readers,” Plotz said in an email. “We run stories of 2,000, 4,000, even 6,000 words, and to run that much text down a single page can daunt and depress a reader. So pagination can make pages seem more welcoming, more chewable.” An editor at another site made a further point that pagination can be a useful signal to readers about the length of an article—if you see an article with 10 pages, you know to set aside a lot of time to read it (or skip it).
Depress a reader? Really? I recognize that there’s TL;DR syndrome, but that would apply to long articles whether they’re paginated or not. Also, the idea that the number of pages is a “symbol” ignores that we’ve already got this magic thing called… scrollbars, which effectively do the same thing.
The whole thing just seems like a rationalization for trying to boost pageviews by annoying readers, and that doesn’t seem like a good long term strategy.