Pagination, Web Traffic, and Usability

(or another story about why usability and functionality go together)

Pagination is a method of breaking content into multiple pages. We are all familiar with search engines, that give their results paginated: 10 results in page 1, 10 more in page 2, etc. Actually, pagination became widely known because of that use. Some HTML e-book-like pages had an early version of pagination too, even since 1996 (no clue what happened before). And, of course, fora (or forums, as some would say–yikes) use pagination a lot.

Functionality

However, nowadays we can see pagination everywhere. It is a feature which is easy to implement. As a result, websites use it a lot. Especially for news portals (tech, politics, everything else), it has become a must.

The functionality served by this component is to deliver content avoiding cognitive overload: if the content of a page is too much and the reader might get lost, we can make the reader’s life easier by breaking the pages into more than one.

This functionality is served very well in search results and fora/discussion groups. The content delivered there is a list of distinct items. The content of each page doesn’t depend on the previous pages. So, the content is delivered, and cognitive overload is avoided at the same time.

News portals though, are quite different. There, a news story has to be readable. That is, apart from usual writing techniques, there has to be a reasonable flow in the reading process. Let me give you an example.

Some time ago, I came across a technews portal with amazing content. Let’s call it “IWN” (not a real name). I started to visit the portal regularly and signed up for their newsletter. However, it was terribly difficult to read. Why? Pagination.

Overuse

Pagination is terribly overused in IWN. See the example below, showing the last lines of one of their pages:

textPagination screenshot

Overuse of Pagination example

A quite short article has 5 pages! This does not serve the functionality of pagination, for two reasons:

  1. The content is not really delivered to the reader. The reader has not a visible and usable option of seeing all the content. They see a part of the content only, which leads to:
  2. cognitive overload! In each page the reader has to remember the content of the previous pages, or the page they’re reading doesn’t make sense. Moreover, if they want to look at a previous paragraph, they have to reload many pages until they find it.

Some readers may have additional cognitive overload. I, for one, was feeling like I was getting robbed when I was visiting IWN. They were stealing my web traffic. This thought was persistent, and I couldn’t concentrate on what I was reading. Their practice of using pagination in order to increase their traffic made me never visit this technews portal again. Despite their amazing content.

Am I overreacting? They have used pagination in other cases too, so the “web traffic robbery” assumption is doublechecked:

paginationSlideshow screenshot

Pagination instead of a slideshow

Guess what happens when you want to see the next image: a new webpage loads! That’s really annoying, tedious, and time-consuming. There are numerous slideshow components out there, and there’s also the best practice for such use: Flash.

Overall, overuse of pagination can make a site lose some of its traffic. I daresay, such a site would lose readers who really care about its content, which is a pitty. Maybe it’s more of a shame than a pitty, since, ironically, they do that to force increase their web traffic.

Good Use

It is very easy, with little–almost no–effort, to apply good practices. In the first screenshot, if the reader click “Print” they’re linked to the full article, with no menus, etc. However, this workaround is known to a minority of web visitors.

Adding an extra link to this full version costs nothing and offers a lot. See an example of this use below:

good use of pagination by newScientist

Good use of pagination by NewScientist

Both “Read full article” and “PRINT” lead to similar pages. Or, if the reader prefers, they can stick with the pagination. Here we can see that pagination is not used simply as a feature, but its functionality is well served.

Moreover, the choice is up to the reader to decide the way the contect will be delivered to them.

Combining the use of slideshows or Flash components, we can see how pagination can be applied without being annoying. Thus it can be applied without leading to loss of web traffic in any way.

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