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.

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Comments on “Yes: Breaking Web Articles Into Multiple Pages Is A Pain”

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48 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Done right, page breaks are not an issue to me. Done wrong, they are always annoying.

The best uses of page breaks I have seen is on sites that do hardware reviews. Using 1 page to handle each area of the review, and letting people know what is on each page is very useful. Yes, they could load the whole thing on me in one shot, but that might not be very efficient for either of us.

One site that annoys me endlessly with page breaks is your good buddy Chris Anderson’s Wired site. They are ANNOYING with their page breaks, especially in mobile. For the longest time, the “view full story” page in mobile would break the mobile site and give you the full regular site as the only option to see the full page, which was truly not a good idea.

The squeeze for page views is there. I know you don’t like the CPM model, but it’s here to stay for the forseeable future. Further, because Google tends to use things like page views and bounce rate to decide if a website is good or bad, many sites are working to shove stuff onto second and third pages just to appease the gods of Google, rather than the visitors to the site, because they want the new visitors from Google every day.

Yawgmoth says:

Page breaks are sometimes necessary (Imagine how much of a scroll would be needed on the front page here)

But over-excessive breaking (MSN anybody?) and advertisements that cut into blocks of text, those need to be added to the Internet Code of…. Good Design’s “What NOT to do, or face our wrath.”

Now, one shouldn’t confuse page-breaks, with summarizing. There is nothing wrong with taking a few FULL lines, with the majority of the article on click. But that works best with websites that aren’t dedicated to information.

To summarize: Every time you break the page, you risk a punch from the rage.

PaulT (profile) says:

Page breaks can be necessary, but far too often they’re clearly done to get more ad revenue. If I’m linked to an article that has more than 2 pages (or consists of the dreaded slideshow), I’ll close the article immediately unless there’s the option to view as one page.

As usual, that’s actually the secret. Actually cede some control to the reader/customer and they’ll be happier. Many wouldn’t use anything but the default option, but then the formatting becomes less of an issue with those who do find it annoying. It might take some work on some sites, but that’s better than losing readers.

tracker1 (profile) says:

Ads can be too intrusive

The irony, is depending on your site, even having ads on some areas can lose you sales/content. I’ve been pushing for removing/reducing ads in certain click-through pages, such as on search results, because in the end, my theory is that we’ll get more page views on those pages that are more important to the user… the final pages after searching. It’s worth noting that this is for a popular classifieds site, and the ads do account for about 1/3 to 1/2 of the revenue most months, so removing them all around isn’t an option, but making them less invasive, and better performing is a good idea. In a single-page app/site, we’ve actually gone to serving/tracking our own ads in terms of a branded experience where ads are paid for by the minute up to 5 min/user… which is working pretty interestingly. There are lots of options beyond being too intrusive with ads and still having them.

Nick Coghlan (profile) says:

Estimated reading times

There’s a much better solution to the “reading times” problem: just include an estimated reading time at the top of the article! Even a naive estimate based on “word count / typical reading speed” is enough of a hint.

I also like how their two “justifications” fight each: a long scroll bar is scary and intimidating and puts people off, but a high page count is a useful indicator of the reading time needed…

snidely (profile) says:

If it's not page breaks, it's your RSS feed.

You can tell The Verge that not allowing people to read full articles on their RSS feed also drives down readership. The Verge has great info, but you can get the same stuff from Engadget, BGR, IntoMobile and they let you read full articles in RSS. I’m happy to go to Verge’s site to share or comment, but hate getting only two lines in RSS.

Anonymous Coward says:

Multiple pages, if the next page can be opened in a new tab, are useful when on a slow intenet connection, as one page can bee read as the nect loads.
Bettter would be a good progresive load.with any in view images given priority in the loading. Image ares should be pre-defined in size, so that the page does not reorganise as each image loads and move what is being read at the time.

Mesonoxian Eve (profile) says:

I’ve been a proponent for “all in one page” since learning HTML, but my position will always be thwarted by the “but we cycle ads between pages” mentality, which is how “next” was born.

It was never for the reader, but sites who can’t sell anything but ads, and yes, it’s because they don’t trust their content to get viewers.

Math is a skill many people don’t lack. To them, “10 pages + 1 person = 10 ad views” because “100 people + 1 page = 100 ad views” doesn’t register as being more profitable.

What’s stellar here is the exact same concept is used in our entertainment, which is why I disagree, mostly, “ad=content”.

When content is broken for content, it’s annoying, and it doesn’t matter how “entertaining” the interruption is.

“Next” is the web’s equivalent of the DVD unskippable preview, and look how long it’s taking Hollywood to stop using it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Beat me to it. While page breaks in flow content such as stories, articles or essays are annoying (unless rendered on non-flow media such as paper)… page breaks in structured content such as reviews, when carefully considered, can be much more useful than a single-page view.

The ability to jump to a subset of information that is personally relevant without having to scroll-and-peek through a large page usually tends to outweigh the annoyance of having to hit next page if reading through serially.

Even in sufficiently large flow content, pagination would make sense if it were approached like “chapterisation”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

if only there was some sort of hyper-linking option to allow for jumping to subsets of information on the web?

I might have to patent a “method for allowing a user to move in nonlinear fashion between elements of a document or documents containing one or more topics of related or unrelated content on the internet

🙂

Keroberos (profile) says:

Re:

I agree with this. Some of the review sites I read have 10 plus medium resolution images per page in a 10 plus page review. That would take some time to load on a slow mobile/home connection. Not all of us are lucky to have fast home internet connections–mine would not have been considered very fast even 10 years ago–today it’s just a sad joke–a five minute drive away, that’s not even an option.

Anonymous Coward says:

Frustrated... much ? :D

There’s no magic bullet to manage long content.
To me, being able to navigate through long content matters. A long page you only get to scroll down an up is a pain in the ass. Split pages or not, usability is in the execution.

What REALLY pisses me off is the recent and fast-rising tendency of sites to welcome you with a layed-over video add for every fucking article you open up, like Wired does now. And (i don’t even mention YouTube pre-content ads….). It feels like going backwards into the early web of 90s when advertisment was devised by web-illiterate Comm agencies… coming from WIRED ???? What the fuck is happening ????

Jeff Rivett (profile) says:

I blame Steve Krug

Krug’s book, “Don’t Make Me Think”, was the reason I had to break up long pages in a previous job. I hated needless pagination then, and I still hate it. However, I’m increasingly convinced that it’s a personal preference, and there’s no ‘right’ way to do it. In a perfect world, all sites would offer both options and a browser preference would set my default for all sites.

Crysm says:

Just use a browser plugin

Yes, paginating articles is stupid.

Does it bother me? Not since I installed a browser extension to automatically depaginate articles. If anyone uses Chrome, AutoPagerize is a good extension for this.

Should I have to install a browser plugin to get around stupid website design? Well, no, but that’s another issue.

Andrew says:

Visual vs. semantic formatting

To me, it’s all the legacy of the Anderssen boom years. Instead of letting the client format and re-flow the text the way the user would like, early commercial demand led to obsession with visuals and the ongoing race for exact rendering of still-dysfunctional Web UIs (I’m somewhat proud to use Lynx – it defies ACIDx boldly, scoring “JavaScript Not Enabled”). Imagine the alternative web where syntax was more DocBook-like and browsers could reflow text into vertical columns on large screens or squeeze tables to fit smartphones. Instead we are left with a resource-hungry kind of smart terminal providing the dumbest experience ever.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re:

i use adblock and noscript when i view your site

Cool. I use noscript myself. The sidebar video ads tend to be distracting.

i’m a pure drain on your website and revenue

How so? You are still reading the articles and with your comment you have actually contributed content.

Perhaps Techdirt isn’t really the right place to try and score a point on this one. Mike has always maintained that Techdirt is really more or less a loss leader for his consultation business. Besides driving interest to his main business upfront, it also serves to build and maintain Mike’s credibility, which also generates more business for him.

whats worse, piracy or adblock? is adblock piracy?

No, adblock is not piracy. It’s no different than using the bathroom during broadcast TV commercials or changing the radio station when the song ends.

As for what is worse, that is an apples to airplanes comparison, so it really cannot be answered.

Anonymous Coward says:

One nitpick

You mention the use of the scrollbar as a measure of article length. With auto loading ajaxified JS these days, that’s not always going to be true. Currently, when the JS autoload takes place, it loads an entire article so yes, the scrollbar (though it moves of its own accord after an autoload) is still a decent yard stick for determining article length.

What about next year though? When these autoload JS scripts and thier back-end partners start to become more intelligent about loading only partial articles? At that point, the scroll bar becomes meaningless and might as well be removed from the window.

Claiborne (profile) says:

Page Breaks and scroll bar

“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.”

This can be true if comments don’t also load under the story. I have seen scroll bars that are almost non existent due to 500+ comments under a short story.

RissaWasTaken says:

Not just annoying...

Well, one thing that wasn’t really brought up at all is that journalistic standards for article content have always followed an inverted pyramid format: Important information in the beginning, with the less important stuff toward the bottom. They used to do this due to the limitations of physical space in printing. The writer would write all the vital things in the beginning so that when the editor inevitably (physically) cut the end of the article off to fit it in the paper, none of the crucial details were left out.

The web has removed the necessity of that manner of writing, but pagination works (kind of) to put that back in. The important stuff can still be at the beginning – where people will read it – and the unimportant stuff can be at the end – where people won’t.

It’s manipulative more than anything else, and not just for page views. It means you can make all sorts of claims/assertions/theses at the top while effectively leaving out contradictions by shoving them on the sixth page in the hopes no one bothers to go that far.

For some it’s probably about advertising dollars, but for others it is almost certainly just as much about being able to ‘get away with’ slanting your reporting, if only to stick the talking points for the headline-only readers of today.

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