The scrollbar is one of the most important and underrated features of a common web page. Most web designers don’t put a single thought into the scrollbar. After all, if the page is long the bar will scroll and if it isn’t, then it won’t. This is a reasonable approach to most normal content pages where there is likely less than two “pages” worth of content to scroll through. In some cases, you want your web page to have no scrolling at all and some web pages were designed to be long and scroll-heavy.
But the moment you start monkeying with the scrollbar features, you’ve got to start thinking about the impact that will have on user experience. Extremely long pages need to be carefully designed to ensure that the scrolling is an enjoyable journey and if you make changes to the scrollbar itself, these changes can have a profound impact on how your readers experience the web page as a whole.
Let’s dive into four of our most important pointers for how to think about your scrollbar when designing, testing, and updating your pages.
1) Understand PC vs Mobile Scrolling
The first thing to grasp in today’s mobile-first and responsive web design is that scrolling is very different between PC and mobile scrolling. On the computer, most people use their mouse scroll-wheel. Those without a scroll-wheel use their arrow keys because holding and sliding the bar is undeniably tedious. Too much holding and sliding is bad for the carpal tunnel.
Mobile scrolling, on the other hand, is done with the finger tap and slide. This requires your clickable assets not to trigger during a scroll and for the page to respond precisely to finger movements (or the scroll-fling) to please your users.
2) Use the Sliding Scroll Effect With Care
Sliding scroll, as you may have already guessed, is when the page keeps scrolling after the control is released. Slide scrolling is something that is incredibly popular for mobile when used within reason. Every mobile user wants the scroll-fling to work.
PC users, on the other hand, tend to not enjoy the sliding scroll. It can add a small amount of entertainment when used with extreme moderation, but when they are trying to scroll precisely and the web page flies out of control, no one is having a good time. Sliding scroll is a particular problem when your page can’t tell the difference between a scroll-wheel-click and a mobile scroll-fling. And if someone actually grabs the scrollbar, it needs to move precisely with their mouse without sliding.
3) Make Sure You’re Scrollbar Compatible
Speaking of the scroll-wheel, the mobile-first design has brought on a whole new frequently made mistake in website design: websites that completely ignore the movements of the scroll wheel and might not even respond to the arrow keys.
The scroll wheel is the primary way that PC users navigate longer pages. It saves PC users from the carpal tunnel feeling and allows for tight control of the browsing experience. When a page doesn’t respond to the scroll-wheel, it creates infinite frustration. People who are used to never reaching for the scrollbar are forced to click and drag. And heaven forbid if that scrollbar then slides around under their mouse.
4) Know When to Infinite-Scroll and When to Pillar-Page
Lastly, put some thought into just how much scrolling is going on. Some pages benefit from the infinite scroll, like an endless display of pictures or social media posts. While most content pages are better off being sectioned into a navigable tree or menu of related content rather than being strung along into an overly long single page to scroll through.
Pillar pages were designed, in part, to help break up huge informative articles and content pages, essentially acting as a directory full of summaries and helpful links to the in-depth extensions of the central concept page. If your content page gets too long, think about how to break it up into a pillar page and support pages instead.
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