Clicking is dead; long live scrolling

March 7, 2018 11:00

By Fergal Carr, SVP of Consumer Product at @Hearst Newspapers

This article first appeared Feb. 25 on Medium and is reprinted here by permission. We've clarified the math on the fun fact below- more here.

Here’s a fun fact: The average consumer scrolls up to 300 feet on a mobile device on a daily basis - that’s equivalent to at least 5 miles in a year.

As an increasing amount of daily traffic shifts to the mobile environment, I’ve often wondered if we are asking too much of readers in terms of engagement.

Most publishers depend on catchy or well-written headlines in the hopes of grabbing readers’ attention and generating a click-through into an article, but I would argue that this behavioral expectation is becoming a burden. Remember, it wasn’t too long ago that we didn’t even have scrolling; users had been required to navigate articles via page-up and page-down buttons on the right side of their desktop monitors.

Take all social media experiences for example.

Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and Twitter all depend on a newsfeed layout. These are designed to be “snackable” experiences, and users often spend not just minutes but sometimes hours mindlessly scrolling through posts and links.

With emerging technologies evolving for personalization and machine learning, we still haven’t fully adjusted to changing user behaviors, continuing to rely instead on the action of clicking as our main connection point and driver.

With an average of 2–3 hours spent exercising our thumbs every day via our mobile devices, it may breed an era of Thumb Wrestling strength tournaments!

Now back to clicking. How many times have you abandoned a site after clicking, as the page didn’t load quickly enough?

Wouldn’t it be much more enticing if you were able to simply scroll to the next article and continue, or get a preview of a few upcoming articles?

Some news publications have already adopted this approach. Axios, for example, have created their user experience to enable readers to view a snippet of an article. This allows readers to quickly catch up on recent events, and lets them dig deeper if they are interested in a specific topic or news story.Wouldn’t it be much more enticing if you were able to simply scroll to the next article and continue, or get a preview of a few upcoming articles?

“We aimed at reducing the decision points readers needed to make while consuming content. We found that readers tended to engage in more content, and likely not content they originally came for in the first place.” Matt Boggie - CTO, Axios

Google are now piloting their Google Stories (Stamp), which aims at expanding on the existing AMP platform with more features and functionality, similar to that of SnapChat or Instagram. This will enable publishers to showcase more visual stories, making it easier for readers to consume more content and spend time with publisher brands.

Of the three established user behaviors (scrolling, swiping, and clicking), the reliance on clicking to drive user engagement is the most difficult to perform. Social media sites have us accustomed to swiping and scrolling, and have proven (for better or worse) to continue to capture our time and attention.

For publishers aiming to capture this reader attention, as well as drive habit, there is something to be learned from behavior on social media. Publisher experiences need to evolve and, to an extent, align with social media habits. This will form a closer connection with the younger generation, for whom “swiping” and “scrolling” are now second nature. Pairing this behavioral habit with rich in-depth content on a daily basis, will be a recipe for future success.

After all, every social media site can’t be wrong, can it?

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Thanks for reading!