Pagination and Page-View Juicing are Evil

You’ve seen it a thousand times. You’re reading a great article on the web, you get to the bottom of the page, and there it is:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | Next >

The pagination tattoo. The mark of the beast.

Over the last several years, many publishers have convinced themselves that breaking up stories into sometimes as many as ten pages is an acceptable way to present content on the web. The realistic ones at least admit that it’s a cheap way to boost stats. The disingenuous (or naive) ones actually posit that they are improving readability and usability for their audiences by reducing scrolling. Because scrolling is so hard.

I’ve seen both rationales presented by colleagues, and frankly, I’m not on board with either one. There are really only two instances where I find pagination acceptable, and they both seem rare on today’s web:

  1. If an article is extremely long. Like 20 screens worth. And even then, it should be broken up by “Acts” and not necessarily word count. Break it up as if it were a play and try to never have more than a few Acts.
  2. Slightly related to item 1, even a short piece can be functionally broken up. Imagine a much shorter version of that great Washington Post article about the violinist in the train station. The article has several video clips strewn throughout. Those would be logical places to either start or end each Act.

Instead, what I’m seeing more and more of is ridiculous pagination for the sake of juicing page views. Take for example this article which was seeded sarcastically to Newsvine the other day. It’s from a site called Associated Content. The article is a lousy 1504 words and it’s broken up into four pages! I’ve read cover letters that are longer than that.

How is a reader to endure a user experience like this and feel respected by the publisher? Maybe if I’m reading Malcolm Gladwell, I’ll give the guy a break because I’m so lucky to be reading his masterpieces in the first place, but the fact of the matter is that 99% of content on the web (and in the world) is not stuff we’d bow down to, so we should at least hope to be respected as we’re trading our attention and associated ad revenue for some reasonably entertaining or educational text.

As the founder of a news startup, I’m fully aware of the constant pressure to increase page views month over month, but at some point you have to ask yourself if the page view is your most important metric over time. If you could choose only one of the following — long term — which would you choose: a user who consistently generates 10 page views a day on your site but spends only 5 minutes with you, or a user who literally stares slackjawed at the screen for two hours a day with your site running on it, generating only one page view?

Your accountants will always pick the former, but you should always pick the latter. In the long run, it’s not total HTTP requests that will determine how successful you are. It’s what percentage of any given population’s attention you earn. Don’t blow it by manipulating your readers.

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97 Responses:

  1. Matt says:

    Wow, the story on that Associated Content website has so much “Associated Content” (aka crap) all around it that I could hardly even find the main content.

  2. Joshua says:

    Maybe naive, but I just always assumed it was a cheap way of getting more advertising dollars. In the same ad-space, Associated Content can present 4x the ads.

    And unfortunately, just like MySpace, etc… I think advertising is king on sites like that, not the content itself.

  3. Virginia says:

    There’s often a reasonable case for pagination in the case of technical articles and reviews – I’m thinking of Ars Technica’s product reviews, for example, which paginate by particular area of interest. It makes linking to relevant stuff much easier, which is great.

    But as you say, paginating by word count, or number of paragraphs, is absurd, since it frequently results in articles being broken in illogical places. There’s an 1800-word article in my local rag about EMI and DRM today, and it’s broken into four pages – moronic.

  4. Kevin says:

    I agree with Joshua on the advertising thing. That’s the only reason I know of for news sites to break up articles these days. What about store pages like this one. I assume you are comfortable with the pagination on search results (did I read bad things about Microsoft’s infinite scroll here or somewhere else?), but does store pagination make you want to scream too?

  5. Jay says:

    Yep, pagination on news stories in particular can be frustrating. At least some sites offer a ‘single page’ view as an alternative on the first page. (eg http://www.smh.com.au/news/scorchedearth/water-ban-threat-questioned/2007/04/19/1176696970190.html) – although I just realised you still have to click twice on a 2-page story to see both pages regardless!

  6. I think you have to take it on a case by case basis, but do agree that too many use it to juice their numbers. Wired has had some pretty good pieces that are broken up, but I kind of like it that way because they give me a ton of meat on each page and they showed me lots of sparkly graphics that are related to the story.

    Cnet on the other hand is terrible. Whenever I look up reviews, they give me three sentences of content for every page view, it’s pretty weaksauce.

  7. Not to talk shit , but i think this should be applied to the portfolio section of this website most of the items there are small and maybe 300px high

    it would be much easier to scan through them if there were maybe 10 to a page

    i know its probably old and its flash and maybe you dont even need a portfolio now with your fame….

    but it think for ease of use it would make sense

  8. Adam says:

    There is nothing worst than being right in the middle of reading a great article only to find yourself having to wait for a page (more than likely with tons of ad graphics) to completely reload before you can read the rest.

    However, I am starting to see the use of DHTML and Javascript more and more to allow reload-less paginations. The International Herald Tribune uses such a design in their three column layout and the New York Jets’ website uses the technique too, though it completely breaks in my browser.

    I do find that readability is better on these sites, but the key is that you are not annoyed waiting for the second or third page to reload.

  9. Guido says:

    You could always put more ads down the article …

    I think pagination is really a result of the Internet being thought of as an interactive newspaper in the early rungs of the web. If the web was a more virtual/interactive/video type vehicle in the beginning, we would be viewing a different web nowadays.

    But instead “pages” became the way things were always done.

    I think another issue is the perception that users are intimidated by a large article and may not read it if they see the scroll bar shrink and shrink (meaning the page is getting longer and longer)

  10. DocDave says:

    Articles should not be broken period. It’s annoying and unneeded.

    However for other types of content, photo gallery, portfolio, etc., I think it is necessary. No one wants to wait for 1000 thumbnails to load onto one page.

  11. I couldn’t help laughing at this irony: I first saw this post in my feed reader. You cut off your RSS feed after a certain number of words so users have to make an additional click to read more content. Pot/Kettle?

    I do see where RSS feeds are different than split-content -pages-for-clicks’-sake. I just thought it was funny to see a rant against unnecessary pages and extra clicks presented in that same format (even if same for different reasons).

  12. One thing the pagination can show is how far people are reading into an article. That is, are they reading just the first few pages or do they get all the way to the end?

    Granted, if a reader is annoyed by having to click to see and load the next page, he may stop reading sooner than he would if the whole thing loaded at once. So you have to weigh the value of having data on how much content is being read against the cost of possibly dissuading people from reading to the end.

    Of course, if you don’t actually gather and look at the data about how many people click through to the end, then this point is moot. May as well make it as easy as possible — i.e. minimize clicking — in that case.

  13. Mike D. says:

    Joshua: Yeah, stats/ad-views. Same thing.

    Kevin: Yeah, I’m comfortable with the pagination of search results because most things that are searched for have a million results. It’s the norm, so the general design paradigm around it should assume the norm.

    Jay: Yeah, the “single page view” thing is just so publishers can rationalize their way into thinking they aren’t really taking away any functionality from you.

    Ayush: See comment #10.

    Adam: Yep, those are much better implementations, and they also use multiple columns which is interesting.

    Guido: I agree with you that “pages” may be the result of thinking too much like a paper medium in the early days, but not multiple pagination. Reason being, multiple pagination was non-existent until fairly recently. I’d bet money that its use is peaking right now. It actually takes a lot *more* technology to properly handle a paginated article. I also agree with you about the scroll bar factor, for people who notice it.

    Jonathan: Yes, feeds are much different than pages to me. The design and user experience of my site is very important to me and my implicit contract with readers is pretty simple: if you want to be notified when the site has new content, subscribe to the feed. If you want to read the content, click over to the site. By offering an RSS feed, I’m saving people the hassle of having to check my front page manually. I don’t think that’s unreasonable. I am not comfortable with the full text of my site being available in a format that some people assume they can scrape and use for their own purposes either. An excerpt? Fine. The full text? Nope. Not yet at least.

  14. Having recently added “pagination” to all of our sites we were pretty dead set against paginating any posts at the article level. I personally love to scroll and read but I had loading pages that are 1.5 megs in size. We only did it to our index pages, category, date, and archive listing pages. At the article level you still get one big piece. So I look at pagination of “pages of articles” the only real approach that doesn’t make you insane when reading. It also allowed us to bring back full posts (except for the extended entry ones) on all major pages and really lets readers browse through and see the articles in their original format – before we had only shown the first 10 posts on a category page and now we show the 30 posts at a time and then paginate the entire category.

  15. Eric says:

    Hi Mike,

    Please do not take this the wrong way, but isnt this the same as not providing full feeds? You do not provide full feeds and therefore all your posts are broken up as “Page 1″ and “Page 2″ (1 being the feed reader and 2 being your site) I read your blog through a feed reader then have to click through to see all the content. When I am reading via a mobile device or offline feed reader I miss out on articles as they are not fully presented.

  16. Nima says:

    The idea behind breaking up a long article into pages to so that people on slow connections don’t have to sit around and wait for the entire page to load to figure out that they don’t want to read your stupid article.

    You can make a very legitimate case that we shouldn’t bother with supporting people on slow connections, but I don’t think it’s fair to just discount trying to support those people.

    And as far as full text feeds go, yeah I think its totally lame to not offer them. If someone wants to steal your content having them go to your site is not a whole lot more work, but the advantage is that it makes your visitors happier. You can embed ads into the feed if that’s an issue, too, so I really don’t think there’s a good reason not to offer the full text feed.

  17. Hah! I also hate (arbitrarily) paged articles… And I frequently find myself not bothering to keep reading if I see I’m going to have to click a couple more times…

    Going from a summary to a full view is a completely different matter, though in my opinion works better for high-volume news sites, where I don’t want to be hit with the full article for everything at once… The catch is that if you choose to only show me a summary, you’ve less words in which to grab my attention… In the case of a blog like this, I don’t suppose you really care whether or not you’ve got my attention, and I tend to click through every time anyway, so it seems to work…

    -p

  18. David says:

    I feel the pain on a daily basis.

    One nice tool I recently stumbled across was the Google Autopager Greasemonky script. It automatically loads up the next pages of a google search. No more clicking next! I can see that this could be used on news sites to eliminate the annoying clicking.

    http://lifehacker.com/software/google/download-of-the-day-google-autopager-greasemonkey-252490.php

  19. Mike D. says:

    Jay: Yep, non-article pagination is great.

    Eric: See response above. Newsreaders are a different medium than web browsers. Just as I have not decided to display my full content in newspapers, on TV, or in any other medium besides the HTML web page, I have not decided to display it in RSS either. That may not always be the case moving forward, but it is now. Search for a sentence within any Techcrunch article on a blogsearch engine and you’ll get thousands of hits. Why? Because people scrape RSS feeds and use them in ways they are not allowed to (HTML scraping is far, far less common). I don’t want to track all of this down, and for now, the best way for me to control that, as well as other factors I’d like to control, is to use excerpted feeds. In three or so years, I think maybe two people have complained.

    Nima: I don’t buy the bandwidth argument at all. Page sizes run about 10k per 2000 words. That’s two seconds on a dialup modem. It’s not the text that gets you… it’s all the other stuff, a lot of which will be reloaded upon subsequent page loads. Also, with regard to ads in RSS feeds, they fetch about 1/100th of what ads in web browsers do. Will they work eventually? I hope so. Do they work now? Nope.

  20. I was discussing this with some colleagues yesterday. There’s more than one way to slice the ad revenue argument: Pagination might increase page views, but it decreases average time spent — which is an increasingly valuable thing to some advertisers, who would rather see stats showing 10,000 engaged visitors than 1,000,000 in-and-outers.

    Of course, if all your adds are in the top 600 pixels, this argument falls apart.

  21. Nima says:

    I’m sorry, Mike, but I’m calling B.S. on this “feeds are a different medium” garbage. You aren’t serving complexly arranged graphic driven pages, you’re serving text content. Whether there’s a pretty light blue background around the edge of the page or not does not in any way affect the content, and it’s completely disingenuous to make comparisons to TV and newspapers (?). I can only hope that’s some kind of joke I just don’t get.

    If it’s about ads then just say, “I don’t think I can make as much money serving full feeds.” but please don’t try to convince me that you’re looking out for my best interests by not having a full feed.

  22. Mike D. says:

    Nima: Do you actually read my blog? See the following:

    1. Here
    2. Here
    3. Here

    I take the visual display of my content (yes, not just text) very seriously. The techniques used in 1 and 3 were apparently so “complex” (as you mention) that someone even created an entire project out of it.

    This is a design blog, for the most part. It is not intended for people who don’t care about that.

  23. I’m almost always opposed to pagination. Even when it’s not exploitative, I think it’s a cop-out — e.g. “we don’t know how to organize this data, so let’s split it arbitrarily.”

    Pretty much the only reason I see to paginate anything is when it is technically impractical to display everything on one page. Some examples: millions of search results (Google), thousands of email subscribers (FeedBurner, where I work), hundreds of photos (Flickr).

    Someday, someone will invent a replacement to pagination. I’m still hoping it will be me :-) Or maybe we’ll outgrow the need altogether, with faster servers, wider pipes, and snappier browsers.

  24. I’ve actually come across sites with Top 10 lists (Top 10 Action Scenes!) in which each number is a sentence or two of text — yet the article is spread out over 10 pages.

    The only thing this guarantees is that I only find out about one of the top ten action scenes.

    In the long run — paginating probably loses as many page views as it gains. I stop visiting sites if the tactic is employed.

    As for the RSS issue — even assuming Mike has nefarious purposes — he’s asking for “one” page view, rather than 5-10. I certainly don’t see anywhere in his article where he states that we shouldn’t hope to get people to our sites — just that we shouldn’t be greedy bastards once we do.

    With that said, I use RSS as a notification tool — so I’d be coming to the source anyway.

  25. Nima says:

    Yes, Mike, I have read your site, and with fair regularity since about January, and I don’t recall seeing anything like #1 in that time. You know what you’re posting better than I do, but what I have observed is that the overwhelming majority of your posts are not “design” based. I have a blog and I put a lot of energy into the visual of it too, but it translates through into a full content feed.

    But look, this is your site, and you post what and how you feel most comfortable doing so. Let me just say, as a reader of your site, that I would appreciate a full content feed. You absolutely have the right not to offer one, for whatever reason you choose, but I think you could, and I think that would be very nice.

  26. Jim Ray says:

    Fear not, help is on the way my friend. Maybe now we in big evil media can get back to the task of designing better user experiences instead of spending braincycles figuring out how to game Nielsen.

  27. Wow, great title—and did I hear sarcasm in that comment about Gladwell?

  28. Mike D. says:

    Jim Ray: That is money. Great post!

    Justin: No way! Gladwell is the best. One of the few print authors whose books I end up purchasing and reading.

  29. Mike, I generally agree with you. The problem is in saying, flatly, that pagination is evil. As your piece actually points out, sometimes long pieces really do need to be broken up into “acts,” and it’s actually better for a user if they can link from act to act, rather than setting them up as single articles (forcing different navigation) or as one gigantic scroll-fest.

    The other truth is that it’s very hard to generate revenue far down on a page. But again, I’m talking about the sort of thing that I publish — long articles on technical topics that really deserve to be broken into logical chunks, not six-paragraph news stories where paragraph six is auto-forced onto its own page!

    The funny thing is, I’ve seen the stats — using multi-page to juice page views is a joke. Because in my experience, unless you’ve got a really good, meaty article (the kind that actually FITS in a multi-page context), clicks drop off 75-80 percent from page one to page two, and it’s a quick slide into oblivion from there. So as a page-view juicer, pagination is not really very effective, and the people who are relying on it are going to have to float their crap game somewhere else before too long.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    -Jason, whose web site does paginate, but never arbitrarily

  30. I hate partial text feeds, which is what your feeds are. They are rude and inconsiderate of readers. I generally don’t subscribe to them. Funny enough, the way I learned of this blog is through a comment on my own blog in a post about full-text vs. partial-text feeds. Bah!

  31. Mike D. says:

    Thanks for the comment, Robert. I’m well aware of your stance on full-text vs. partial feeds and I don’t blame you for feeling that way at all. The last time I talked to you, I think you said you followed about 1100 feeds. I follow about 100 and I consider myself massively oversubscribed.

    So here’s my point: your newsreading habits are about as much of an outlier as exists in the world. You are a feed-devouring machine. People who get their news from town criers are *actually* more common than people who follow that many feeds. I’m not even being sarcastic about that. So there are two possibilities in my mind:

    1. You will always be an outlier, in which case, partial text feeds will remain just fine for the foreseeable future.

    2. You are a trailblazer of news consumption behavior, and in X number of years, a good portion of the world will follow.

    Either 1 or 2 are entirely possible, and if 2 becomes a reality, I have no problem changing my position. I wouldn’t bet a thousand dollars either way.

  32. tiffany says:

    I apologize for being too lazy to read through the previous comments on this. Please forgive me if it turns out I’m repeating something that’s been said 5011 times above.

    I question whether pagination actually does boost page views. If a story is written in that traditional inverted pyramid style, you don’t need to read past page 1 in order to read the whole story. In fact, one paper in a chain I used to work for found that most people don’t click through to page two.

    Plus I know how I read myself. If an article is more than a page or two long, I don’t read beyond the first page. Again: I’ve got most of what I need to know by then.

  33. Yeah, I’m in total agreement here. Glad to see you’re thinking the same thing as a founder of a news startup.

  34. You miss a HUGE point that I was trying to make.

    It’s not that +I+ read feeds. It’s that thousands of people read my link blog (including many influential people at Google and other places).

    Do you want them as readers?

    Why/why not?

    How will people find your blog?

    Guess what, influentials like me (er, weirdos like me) who read hundreds of feeds and then tell our readers about which feeds are best (or which items) ARE how many people will find your blog.

    So, if you want more readers put out full text feeds.

    If you don’t care about getting more readers, then, yes, partial text feeds are just fine.

    Partial text feeds tell me that you are rude and unwilling to treat me — as a reader — well.

    It’s the same disease as those who do page view pagination.

    You should look in the mirror.

  35. They are rude and inconsiderate of readers.

    Reading a post from a well-designed blog via a text-feed is like looking at a xerox of a great novel when you have access to a hard-bound edition: You can do it — but why would you want to?

    On the flip-side: How is it rude for a designer to want someone to come to his/her meticulously crafted website in order to view content as it is intended to be viewed?

    Either way — I don’t see how a partial feed can be considered rude — at worst he’s choosing to sacrifice a bit of his audience: That’s his choice.

    You apparently want to read his work — he wants you to see it in a particular format. Where does “rude” fit into this, again?

    Bah!

  36. Partial text feeds tell me that you are rude and unwilling to treat me — as a reader — well.

    Your comment tells me that you’re demanding and that you want the world to revolve around your preferences whether it makes sense for other people or not.

  37. Mike D. says:

    Robert: I do anywhere from 125,000 to 150,000 unique visitors a month here so I’m fine on traffic.

    Not to sound rude but yeah, I really don’t care if you link to me. What I care about — to the main point of this blog post in fact — is that I’ve developed a community of people here who I really like (and hopefully they like me). I don’t have any problems with trolls, I’ve engineered my way out of comment spam, and I feel I provide a pretty decent signal-to-noise ratio. In other words, I don’t post for the sake of posting or for the sake of boosting stats.

    I do believe you that since I’m not offering full-text feeds, you won’t read my feed, and as I said, I’m cool with that. Plenty of other “influentials”, to use your word, do. People from Google, people from Yahoo, people from MSNBC, as well as the great independents like Kottke and Gruber (both of which linked to this post and are currently sending thousands of people to it). They don’t base their decisions on what’s in an XML file… I’d like to think they base it on what I write.

    So to address your statement once again: will I lose you as someone who reads my feed and maybe links to me? Sure. Will I lose even 10% of any other “influentials” in the world? I doubt it.

  38. Raj says:

    I’m just going to come out and say it… i LIKE having long articles broken up over pages. sorry, but it makes sense to me how i read it. i hate scrolling ad nauseum for long stories. i hate it at daringfireball, i hate it at alistapart, etc. maybe i have a.d.d., i dunno. but i prefer the multi-page approach.

    i WOULD like it BETTER, however, if articles like these actually had chapter names attached to those page numbers. sometimes i may be interested only in one section of an article, or land on the front page of an article and think it has nothing to do with me, until i see a chapter heading on another pagee that does. would anchors on a long page do the same thing? sure. but i don’t LIKE that method better. i’m not a stupid user that can’t work a scroll wheel. but seriously, if your article spans more than, say, three screens’ worth, i’m not going to complain about adding a natural break to another page.

  39. Eric the B. says:

    Man, I’ve seen some bad stuff from Scoble, but that was astounding.

    1. I *hate* full feeds. I’ve got my little RSS summary page and I can quickly flip thru it and click on what seems to be interesting. I’ve stopped subscribing to sites with only full feeds (I’m looking at you next, FSJ! ;-)

    2. Agree about pages…hate them. I’m looking at you, David Pogue and the NYT. Just give me the whole d@mn article. I’m in an airport, quickly grabbing pages to read on the plane. I don’t want to have to stop after exactly 500 words, or whatever the cut-off is. Don’t even start with cNet (why do I read them?)

    3. I *like* reading on a well-designed site. That’s probably why I got here from DF. No flashing crap or “win an iPhone” ads.

    4. “Rude” is being a demanding prick (oh, and an arrogant one). “I’m going take my (eye)balls and go home if you don’t do what I want.” Nice response, Mike. #35 about a quality book vs. a photocopy sums it up. Not caring about/appreciating a site’s design would identify Scoble to anyone as a microsofty. I try not to get into the Mac/Windows thing, but that was just such a softball.

    Peace

    eb

  40. Nima says:

    Ok, Mike, I’ve thought about it and you’re right about bandwidth being a poor excuse for paginating a standard article. The only way I can make the math work is if the article is extremely image heavy, which is typically not the case.

    But I do agree with Scoble that the parallels between pagination and full content feeds are much greater than you may be admitting. There are edge cases where both are valid, but not for most sites. I’m not convinced this site is one of those edge cases.

  41. anon says:

    Instead, what I’m seeing more and more of is ridiculous pagination for the sake of juicing page views.

    Funny – some people say the same thing about homepage refreshes.

  42. Funny – some people say the same thing about homepage refreshes.

    Except, it’s updated to provide new information. There’s a functional point to it.

    Does that even count as a page view? Seems as though Nielson should be able to tell when it’s an automatic process.

  43. Mike D. says:

    Raj: Interesting.

    Eric the B: Yeah, it is definitely a Microsoft way of thinking. Concentrating too much on the data layer and not at all on the presentation layer. Oh well… like I said, I don’t really care. There is plenty of linkage to go around, for people who care about such things.

    anon: Like who? We only added a ten minute refresh after a ton of people asked for it. Some people keep our site up all day so as Brian said, it’s a feature for them. Drudge refreshes every three minutes which seems extreme, but whatever. If we got any complaints at all, we’d remove it.

  44. RET says:

    Definitely evil. As someone who grabs a couple of dozen articles from various feeds and newspapers to read on my laptop whilst I commute, it is incredibly frustrating to find you’ve only got the first page of something interesting, and the rest of it must be manually chased down at some later stage.

    Full feeds address this to some extent, but like the previous poster said, it’s like reading a photocopy of the book. It significantly detracts from the experience. In any case, it’s no help at all with newspaper sites, where you open a dozen links from the front page in tabs to read later on. Sydney Morning Herald, I’m looking at you here.

    And of course, you miss all this exciting discussion and name-calling if you only tune in to the RSS full feed ;-)

    cheers
    RET

  45. Yeah tend to agree with you Mike (and others). I know of many ‘popular’ and ‘famous’ web related websites that use this method however.

    I think if you really need to have this broken up page system you should put the “1 | 2 | next” up the top with the bottom and also an inline menu system like Wikipedia do, this way it allows easier navigation.

  46. Stephen says:

    A few points:

    (1) We operate a Web site that in our niche is fairly major. However, virtually all our advertising is CPA or CPC. CPM is a thing of the past with the measurability and accountability that characterises today’s advertising. Turn(dot)com is our only advertiser willing to buy CPM, and their rates end up earning us less money than we’d get if we ran CPC ads from AdSense. Given this, more page views do not increase our revenue. We get one chance _per visit_ to make money, when the user leaves the site via an ad. Either these sites that you are complaining about have found some magic source of CPM advertising I don’t know about, or advertising and profit are not the motive for their breaking up the pages.

    (2) Which brings us to another possible motive: bandwidth. When you operate a web site and analyze your logs and other data, you learn a lot of things that may not be readily apparent to outsiders. Since that information has competitive value, you may not want to reveal it. Perhaps some of these sites are seeing a large number of people coming in, scaning the first few paragraphs, and clicking out on their merry way to some other site 10 seconds later. We see that a lot on our site. Why not feed the 20 percent of content that will satisfy the 80 percent of visitors, and then cut your bandwidth and server load 50 percent or more?

    (3) You ridicule the “excuse” of a better user experience by having content above the fold. I personally agree, but you certainly must know that this is a very contentious issue among usability people, with smart people lining up on both sides.

    (4) As another commenter notes, this is not only an issue for articles. Google gives me 100 search results on a page if I ask. Why does Flickr only display only a few thumbnails? Why do bloggers give me a tease paragraph, making me click to the next page to read it?

  47. Mike D. says:

    Stephen: Thanks for commenting. Let me try to address your points –

    1. CPA/CPC works extremely well in some cases and CPM works extremely well in other cases. On a general news site, CPM is the only way to go. On a more purchase-oriented site, CPC/CPA is great. It’s branding vs. transactions. There are places for each. I do agree with you that pagination may *actually* not produce an increase in page views, but the perception among many publishers (including my old employer, Disney/ESPN/ABCNews) is that it does… and that’s what’s causing these decisions to be made.

    2. I commented already on the bandwidth issue above, and my opinion is that *text* (which is what these people are rationing out) isn’t the cause of much bandwidth consumption. It’s basically everything BUT text, actually. Text is cheap.

    3. I agree that there are bound to be people on both sides, but I personally haven’t read anything notable from the other side. Please point it out if you remember where you saw it… would be an interesting and potentially educational read.

    4. Google and Flickr paginate because they have to. It would be impossible to do otherwise. Both have a potentially infinite amount of data they are returning on your queries.

  48. WTL says:

    I always find it sad when I visit a site that paginates an article because it is a clear sign that user experience isn’t what is most important to them – getting high page views is.

    I’ve been to a few sites that spread articles over the course of as many as ten pages – which I never finish, because I can’t be bothered to keep clicking and waiting.

    I suppose the best thing “we” can do is to just plain stop clicking on the next page links..

  49. Ali Reid says:

    Love the article.

    That scoble et al seems a bit heavy handed don’tt hey? there has got to be more to life than worrying about people like you trying to black hat. I give you the benefit of the doubt, Mike. In fact, the benefit of no doubt.

    Is there not another “reason” for pagination that i can’t see mentioned much here, where extra pages allow publishers to serve more top-of-the-page ad banners and the like? Some sites charge per impression, so more places to impress means more space for advertisers. See hong kong’s ‘www.AsiaXpat.com’. But hell, you can’t blame people for trying to squeeze SOME cash out of their efforts in this insane landscape!

  50. Farrelley says:

    I agree with Mike. I think another good reason to break up the pages are for tutorials. Most of the time when I am reading a article and I get to the bottom of the page and there are multiple pages (more that 2) I just give up and stop reading the article.

    Good article and many good views!

    Southwest Florida News

  51. spugbrap says:

    I hate partial-text blog RSS feeds as well. I have unsubscribed from several for that reason. I decided that if there’s a particular article that’s noteworthy, I will probably hear about it (with additional commentary) from one of the other bloggers that I read regularly. This doesn’t always happen, but it irritates me to no end to have to click through just to hear the main idea.

    However, if an author is courteous enough to always get to the point right away, so that I can tell quickly if it’s worth my time to click through, I’m not quite as annoyed. I generally won’t click through based on a catchy title alone, so blogs that try to grab my attention with headlines, then include nothing in the feed body except a [more] link, will quickly find their way out of my subscription list.

    It’s also irritating to have partial-text feeds which cut off in mid-sentence. Can’t they at least finish the paragraph, first?!?

    A good feed reader/aggregator should provide enough customization to allow each user to choose how much of each post they want to see, to start with, and then allow reading full content easily, with a click/keyboard shortcut/etc. I think it’s the job of the feed reading software interface to provide this functionality, and when bloggers take that responsibility into their own hands, it makes it even more of a chore to get to the full content.

    Imagine this .. A user sees a headline (and maybe a short snippet) in their feed reader, and presses a key to expand the full article. But, they only get another sentence and a half. They’ve already expressed that they want to read the whole thing, the way they are accustomed to expressing it (pressing a certain key), but now they have to grab the mouse and click a [more] link as well, which most likely opens the full article into another window/tab/etc., taking them away from the user-friendly/consistent interface they are comfortable with.

  52. Gene says:

    The Washington Post very consciously creates more pagination in popular stories. Take a look at their traffic column “Dr. Gridlock” sometime, and you’ll see that they routinely give it twice as many pages as a long form front page article about, say, politics. Because Dr. Gridlock is a Q&A column, one must usually read the question on one page, then go to the next to read the answer. Sometimes you’ll see as many as 2 sentences per page.

    Just as annoying are blogs — especially “corporate” ones — that require the reader to go to a different page to read comments, thus upping the pageviews and reloading ads.
    This is not only annoying, but it has the effect of removing the reader from the continuing narrative of the blog. To read more entries, one has to go back.
    I much prefer having comments appear either in a pop-up window or some kind of Ajax hide/show format. Anything that causes the reader to stop and reload something is evil.

  53. I not only agree…but fall victim to it in an unusual way. I write for a major online publisher, and the name of the game is page views. In fact I’m paid on how many page views I have.

    I’ve never created multiple page articles, but have had my publisher split them up. I personally feel it interrupts the flow of the piece you are writing. But I also don’t entirely blame the publishers. They need to make money and have to keep their shareholders or CFO/CEO’s happy…so they come up with lots of tricks to keep their jobs…it is a lot of pressure…and I don’t envy them.

    And it does drive traffic. I’ve seen them split my articles up and BOOM…it goes from a few thousand page views to 100,000+.

    We’ve gotten so use to free content that we are now victims of our own desire to get something for nothing. But at least one way to bypass this is simply look for the PRINT icon in an article…which pulls all the content into one giant page. Better than nothing.

    Alan

  54. Matt says:

    Tom’s Hardware is a particularly nasty offender of pagination. Most of their reviews have a single paragraph on a page and usually drones on for 20+ pages. I can’t even read reviews there anymore because I just get angry.

  55. John says:

    In general I agree that pagination is annoying, but it’s not always annoying… occasionaly, for certain types of articles, I agree with Raj. One reason, I think, has to do with visual memory. If I’m reading something that’s pretty technical or dense, I sometimes like to go back and reread a previous section to refresh my memory and help understand a later section. If I can remember any specific phrases that were used, I can search for them, and a single page document is better. On the other hand, sometimes I don’t have any specific search terms in mind, in which case multiple pages help me remember where to look for a particular part of the article.

    For example, in a 10 page document, I might be on page 7 and decide I need to reread something that I remember being roughly a third of the way down page 4. If it was all on a single page, then I’d have to remember that the relevant passage was roughly 43% of the way down the scrollbar, which is a lot harder to find quickly than 1/3 of the way down on the page that says “4″.

    This is somewhat related to a frustration I have with audiobooks (of which I consume plenty due to a long commute). If I’m reading a print book and want to reread some passage or show it to someone else, my visual memory is usually pretty good at helping me find it quickly: I can often remember whether it was on a left or right facing page, near top or bottom, etc., as well as roughly where in the book it occurred. With an audiobook, however, my only means of navigation is scrolling, so “roughly where in the book” is all I have to go on, and its much harder to find a previously read (well, listened to) passage. I know, that’s a tangent and not nearly the same thing as pagination in web articles, but still, the feeling of frustration is similar. I hate trying to find something I remember reading by scrolling up and down through a really long page, I’d rather click to different pages, my brain is better at finding things that way.

  56. Geoff Airey says:

    I believe it’s a way to control what the user sees with the content.

    With Ads at the top of the page, seems to me that it’s a way to keep them in focus with the reader. Once you get past the first full page of scroll the ads disappear.

  57. Mike: >>Robert: I do anywhere from 125,000 to 150,000 unique visitors a month here so I’m fine on traffic.

    Congrats on that. Over on Microsoft we had 4.3 million uniques a month. Over on my blog, according to WordPress.com, I’m getting 30,000 HTML uniques a day and more than 100,000 RSS subscribers a day.

    People who are on my link blog say a link there is worth some nice traffic too (and influential traffic, a TON of people inside Google and other big companies subscribe).

    But, if you don’t want more traffic and are happy with what you’ve got, I’m not going to argue with you. Partial text feeds are a great way to ensure that.

  58. Mike D. says:

    Robert: Yeah, I figure that if I write anything that is truly of interest to you, you’ll probably find out about it from secondary sources, as you have over 600 of them. Problem is, I only write a few posts per month so the opportunities would be few and far between.

    For the hour or so per week I put into Mike Industries, I’m definitely happy with the traffic and linkage I get. This blog is not a profession for me… it’s just a way of experimenting with the medium and connecting with community. As it stands right now, my RSS feed is a notification mechanism for my blog. That could easily change in the future, but that’s the way it is right now. The blog is the primary medium.

  59. Karl G says:

    The only site where I’ve been happy with the pagination is Ars Technica where I get 4-5 screens of text before I hit a new page and the split is by section.

  60. TDavid says:

    I, too, really dislike pagination for articles. It’s a clear money grab in 99% of the cases. Modem users would rather wait a little extra time for the full article to load then be shuttled off to four other pages for a 1,500 word article (or worse, to a PDF file!)

    Ironic perhpas, but would also add that sites like Digg and to a lesser extent Newsvine often require multiple steps to get to the original source of a story. This is a bummer too, Mike.

    I realize many blogs are like this too, but it’s even worse when a site like Digg links to a blog that links to another blog that links to the source story. And worse yet when some don’t even link the original source of a story so you have to hit Google to find the source.

    Take for example your Newsvine page, Mike: http://mike.newsvine.com/ — you end up there, read a few sentences and then it is “continue onto the main story.” If you are sourcing another story then it’s another click.

    I’m not rigid about full feeds for others but for myself since day one at my main blog (almost four years old now) I’ve run full feeds. I don’t believe any of the blogs I contribute to use partial feeds any more either.

    A few switched from partial to full and never looked back. Who knows Mike, you switch to full and maybe double or triple your readership over time (a lot of the type of people you would like to read your blog do prefer full feeds) … might at least be worth the experiment :)

    Good post.

    (oh btw, your blog doesn’t accept email addresses with + in them, might want to fix that: e.g. mike+newsvine@blahblah.com)

  61. dd says:

    it needs those site improve usability, at same time we needs way to avoid inconvenience by making userscript specific for those site, for example there are greasemonkey userscript GoogleAutoPager or Pagerization for google serp page.
    http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/7623

  62. I’ll echo Ars Technica making good use of pagination. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any other good use for it. I can’t imagine what an article would look like all on one page there. I won’t buy the argument that someone gave it it allowing easy linking to sections, though, as you can “permalink” main headings, or every heading.

    I do agree on feeds being different from the site itself. I actually don’t like partial feeds myself, but know people who do like them for various reasons. The feed reader program called Akregator gets it right: there’s an option to either 1) view the feed, or 2) view the page of the feed. For mikeindustries.com, I have it load the page rather than the feed, allow the best of all worlds: I know when the site is updated, I view the web page post, and I don’t have an extra click to view said page.

  63. Emma says:

    Have a look at this;

    http://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=3036052&page=1&CMP=OTC-RSSFeeds0312

    the second and third pages and just a couple of paragraphs each, how much does that make your blood boil?

    ;o)

  64. Isaac Lin says:

    Regarding pagination being a recent phenomenon, and picking an example close to home, hasn’t ESPN.com been using pagination for quite some time? As mentioned in the comments, the New York Times is a long time user, and dpreview.com’s reviews also consist of multiple pages — quite justifiably in this case, I believe, due to the length of each page. I can also think of various feature articles where it makes sense to separate the article into multiple pages.

    (The irony for me is that although separating long articles into multiple pages improves its on-screen browsability, I dislike reading anything too long on screen, and so will generally print it to read — which is much easier if the article is just one long page!)

  65. Mike D. says:

    TDavid: Actually, if you click the little grey arrow next to external headlines on Newsvine, you go right to the story. No extra clicks necessary. Thanks for the heads-up on the plus signs in e-mail addresses. Will try and fix that right now.

    Christopher: Now that IS a great solution! I might have to try Akregator out.

    Emma: Yes, ABCNews is one of the worst offenders. You can imagine my dismay while working on that site and having no say about it.

    Isaac: Nope, ESPN started doing it towards the end of my employment there. I’m going to say 3 or so years ago. And as with ABCNews, you can imagine my further dismay. :)

  66. Ali Reid says:

    This Scoble guy is a funny one. Why don’t you PM Mike instead of swinging your genitals in a public forum, where it’s not welcome?

    Do you really require that people grovel at your feet for your on-paper-influence? Your numbers are of no interest to me. Truly influential people don’t need an army of yes-men. Quit looking for them.

  67. Peter000 says:

    Geez this blog entry is long. I wish he would have broken it up so I didn’t have to do all that damn scrolling. I kept losing my place.

  68. Mike D. says:

    Ali: Haha, yeah. One thing people should never lose sight of is that unless you’re desperate for attention, “bad” traffic is often worse than “no” traffic. Maybe not if your blog is a full-time job, but if it’s a hobby like most people’s blogs are, then definitely. It’s weird just how quickly you can tell if you’ve been “dugg”. You don’t even need to check your stats app. You just start to see like 10 imbecilic comments in the span of a half hour or so and then you realize these visitors came en masse from somewhere else. I really only want people here who either a) enjoy reading this stuff, or b) have interesting things to say. Preferably both. Going about one’s normal business seems to accomplish that task just fine.

  69. Matt Snow says:

    I totally agree. Please just let me hit the space bar to scroll my own page, thank you, instead of forcing me to find your pagination navigation.

    I am an Art Director at Adobe, and recently redesigned one of our online newsletters. The articles used to be 3-4 pages, but I changed them to be one long page. IMO, much easier to read.

    You can compare the redesign here: http://www.adobe.com/newsletters/edge/march2007/articles/article4/

    with any article from the old version: http://www.adobe.com/newsletters/edge/march2006/

  70. It’s a shame when the cost of providing a service conflicts with how that service can be provided, but CPM and eCPM is still king for publishers and advertisers, and until advertisers dare commit to another metric we’re stuck with paginated articles.

    If a publisher does not have a financial motive for paginating and they still are out of some habit, well, that’s just silly.

  71. Maria says:

    Great article.

    I read hundreds of books and magazines a year. I’m also a graphic designer, so my industry is centered around words and images. But when I arrive at a site with ridiculous page divisions (one or two paragraphs and then a jump), 99% of the time, I close it.

    The parallel would be for me if I purchased a book where every other page was stuck together with glue, and I had to manually use an Exacto to separate them. I would find that very annoying no matter how interesting the content is.

    “Don’t Make Me Think” discusses barriers to entry and engagement….I think Steve Krug could add a whole chapter on “Don’t Make Me Click Unnecessarily.”

    MediaWeek had a discussion about this earlier this month. I already tossed that issue, but the jist was that advertisers are starting to get jumpy about supposed page views and want more accountability with how many impressions (and especially, happy/receptive impressions) they’re getting.

  72. “The disingenuous (or naive) ones actually posit that they are improving readability and usability for their audiences by reducing scrolling. Because scrolling is so hard.”

    You’ve missed one major point. Small pages increase perception of FAST page load. Time after time fast pages have proven to attract users.

    Just ask google.

    Kevin

  73. Mike D. says:

    Kevin: That point is not lost on me at all. I simply don’t buy that reducing the amount of text on a page has much to do with load time at all. HTML runs about 10k per 2000 words, gzipped that’s about 1k per 2000 words. So a whopping 10,000 word essay (long!) runs about 5k or 10k depending on how long the words are and whether or not there’s crufty markup in there. Pure words do not bloat pages is what I’m saying.

  74. Aren’t there other reasons for Pagination? I work for a college, and IMO opinion incoming students need to be lead toward a goal. Pagiantion can be helpful in guiding a student through a process like applying for financial aid or registering for a class. But of course it has to make sense. not just based on a word count. Advertising isn’t an issue for us.

    Sometimes you have to look at the audience in conjunction with the content.

    Also, I prefer titles to numbers for page links. We don’t use it for every article we post, just where it makes sense. Our article tool at least gives us the option of pagination or one long article.

  75. Mike D. says:

    Thomas: Yes, definitely. That falls into the category of paginating by “Acts”. So for a college admission site, the acts could be “Learn, Apply, Followup, etc”… or even by numbers “Step 1, Step 2, Step 3″ if you are trying to break up *actions* required by the user into digestable segments. For articles though, rarely are any actions necessary.

  76. Maybe, but long articles are easier to read if there are pages for another reason. For example say the article was a legit 8-10 pages printed. Because reading a webpage is different than reading printed material (time factors, eyestrain, etc.) breaking up the content into chunks THAT MAKE SENSE can be a good thing. Now that we are seeing bookmark services pop up, you could be reading an article in the airport at a public kiosk (if you are into paying for that sort of thing) or an internet cafe, get to a stopping point, say the end of a page, and bookmark the next page. then you finish the article at your leisure.

    Now, breaking up an article because you filled a paragraph, yeah, I disagree with that.

  77. Richard G says:

    If I’m reading a really good article, I’ll keep following that next button to the end. If it’s a crap article, I’ll surf away after the first page or two. Seems to me that paginating an article lets the editor or publisher tell which articles are being read and which are not – certainly good feedback. Clicking a next button’s not much more effort than clicking the scroll bar or hitting page down.

  78. and then you have to wait all over again for it to load…

    no thank you

  79. Kirby L. Wallace says:

    Right there with ya, man. These days, if I have to go to just about any news site, the first thng I do is disable browser script (kill flash and other annoying distractions), and when I get to an article, I don’t even bother trying to read it without first looking for the “Print This Article.” Whenever possible, I do my online reading with the “Print Version” of the article.

    Nothing, and I mean, NOTHING annoys me more than trying to read something with some damned annoying flashing, blinking, jumping thing going on in the corner of my eye. “Oooh! Oooh! Lookie. Over here… Oooh! “

    Well, maybe what’s worse is having to click through 6 pages of this stuff.

  80. adam says:

    scrolling is so hard, even though most (if not all?) mice nowadays have “scroll wheels” on them :P

    I mean…unless you get the $10 close-out deal from Big Lots or something…

  81. Stephen says:

    Scoble seems mightily out of order for his ‘mine is better than yours’ attitude. I’ve never even read his blog (although I have heard of him) and probably won’t even bother now. Who cares how many views this guy gets. If he’s as arrogant as his comments suggest, I’m not missing a thing.

    As far as parital feeds and pagination go, the two are linked together – although the bigger evil is pagination. Both relate to time spent online, however, and the solution to both is to keep the end user in control. For pagination a clear link to a full-page option at the top and bottom of the article works wonders for me. For feeds, I’d like the ability when I register on a blog to choose if I want to recieve full or partial feeds.

    Nice article and great views by all the commentors. This peice really give a rounded idea of pagination and falls in wonderfully with Nielsons, information scent article, that a person can hunt all day for information on something and then stumble across a single source that has it all.

    Thanks alot
    Stephen

  82. [...] despicable practices such as “maximizing pageviews” to increase ad inventory. This is evil, and if you or your boss insists on measuring success in pageviews, you need to take a deep, hard, [...]

  83. Atmosk says:

    Great article, but you could probably improve the layout of this page by adding a navigation tool bar towards the bottom. That way there wouldn’t be so much information on one page and you could split it up improving the readability of the article. Just a thought.

  84. Mike D. says:

    Atmosk: Did you even read the article? Or are you being sarcastic…

  85. Atmosk says:

    no no…. I read it I just think that the page layout could be improved by splitting it up into a few different pages. You know improve the flow a little. Just some constructive criticism thats all.

  86. Mike D. says:

    Atmosk: The entire post is less than 600 words long. It’s only one screen tall on a standard iMac monitor. Less than two screens on a laptop. What you’re suggesting is exactly what I’m denouncing in this post. Breaking up articles (especially incredibly short articles like this one) into multiple pages does not improve the flow at all… it retards it. Hitting your spacebar to scroll down is a lot easier than repeatedly locating a Next Page link and then moving your mouse to it and then re-scrolling to the top of the article text of whatever page you’re on.

  87. Greg says:

    I only read the first few paragraphs of this. I needed a page break to give me a pause. I can’t do without them…

  88. Atmosk says:

    I am not trying to contradict your article… It is just some constructive criticism. If nothing else you should provide a short synopsis of the article and have a “read on” link. This would improve the flow of your website and entice more people to read your article.

  89. Mike D. says:

    Atmosk: Ok, well in that case we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I think splitting up a tiny 600 word article into multiple pages is insulting to the audience… which is essentially the point of this entire article.

  90. Atmosk says:

    Thinking is not to agree or disagree… that is voting. -Robert Frost.
    I am just offering constructive criticism. I don’t understand how a ‘seemingly’ established author such as your self can be so opposed to advancement and overall self betterment.

  91. Mike D. says:

    Atmosk: I’m not opposed to “advancement and overall self betterment” at all. Quite the opposite. I just happen to think your thoughts on pagination are a step backwards, so I — and probably 99% of other blog authors — don’t employ them. That is the beauty of the internet. You can publish one way and I can publish another. And anyone can denounce or support any method they choose to.

  92. Mike says:

    Nice article, I think that some people split up articles because alot of people have slow connections and it takes them a while to load the page. I just put the whole article on one page.

  93. Mike D. says:

    Mike: It may be true that some people convince themselves that that is a good reason, but it isn’t. As mentioned above, the actual article text of a page usually makes up a very small percentage of the load time.

  94. bjarke says:

    imagine google without pagination.. I dont think I want to wait for 1.000.000 results to be rendered on the page :)

  95. iggdawg says:

    I’d like to ad an amen to this. The text in a given article would take a 56k user a moment to download. If it’s them you’re worried about, ease up on the ads and graphics content. I mean, if you’re really worried enough about slow connection users to force everyone to deal with it. I recently installed the Auto Pager firefox extensions, which loads pages-to-be automagically. It’s been awesome having it do the clicking for me. I realize this in essence loads all the pages and all the ads, thereby justifying the pagination… but I’m just so sick of having to deal with stupid website layouts that I’m more concerned with getting my content delivered to me than anything. its not like I click ads anyways.

    I’ll also agree that this is a text only argument. I don’t think anyone would debate that galleries need to be paginated. I just got done totally reworking my image gallery script since my pics/misc folder got to be too much of a beast for a monolithic page.

    Anyways, well written article. I’m glad I’m not the only one that can’t stand this.

  96. I agree with most of what you said, although I do think there is a case for pagination in some cases.

    News Articles should be never

    Technical Articles with multiple stages I can see having them that way you can break the reading up if your learning somthing new and it already has predefined spots to stop.

    But I agree 100% that if all you are doing is trying to juice pages or get more ads its just bad practice.

  97. Zen says:

    This also applies to ‘slideshows’ that are used to paginate content. Stupid stuff like “10 Ways to improve your resume: ” has 14 slides: an introductory slide, the end slide, two ad slides in the middle, then the content- which of course has a title and only two sentences of content.
    It’s not Flash, javascript, or hmtl pagination either, each slide represents an entirely separate page (pageview!).

    (I didn’t read all the comments, but I don’t think this has been mentioned yet. Sorry for the necro, StumbleUpon brought me here)

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