Have you wondered, “How long should this page be?” A quick Google search gives you answers ranging from “300 words” to “5 paragraphs” to “as long as necessary – but not too long!”
None of these answers are very helpful. That’s mostly because page length doesn’t have a rule, it has guidelines. Here are a few myths to avoid and guidelines to follow when writing your page content.
Myth: People don’t scroll
More than once, I’ve heard a designer, copywriter, or developer suggest breaking a long page into multiple pages. There is a common misunderstanding that people don’t scroll, and therefore less content is always better. This has been perpetuated by well-intentioned mobile-first designers and content creators who often cut down on content to make sure it is easy to view on a small screen.
But research going as far back as a 1998 study from UIE(!) shows that even back then “most users readily scrolled through pages, usually without comment.” More recent studies and articles report that infinite scrolling is an accepted navigation practice.
Why? Given the size of today’s screens, even the shortest text on mobile requires scrolling. Popular social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have therefore ingrained the concept that continued scrolling will reveal continued content. As the patterns has become commonplace, people have stopped expecting web content to stay “above the fold.”
What’s more, if your audience has come to the page they expect to find information or accomplish their task, why would you then make them click to additional pages to find half the information? More clicks means more opportunities to leave the site. Unless user testing shows otherwise, it typically makes sense to keep relevant content on a single page.
Myth: People don't read
Saying that people don’t read is like saying that students don’t learn, or children don’t eat vegetables. It’s a cop-out, a way to avoid the truth. Children will eat vegetables if their parents introduce them in a good way. Students will learn if teachers appeal to their interests and motivations. And people will read if the content is relevant, and presented in an engaging way.
For content to be engaging it needs to be both useful and usable.
By useful I mean it must relate to what the target audience is looking for. It must answer their questions, or offer new information they can’t find elsewhere (but want to find!).
By usable I mean it must be readable. It should have headers to break up sections, bullet points, tables, images, or other content elements that aid comprehension.
People will read when they are engaged in what you are writing because it relates to them, and when it’s easy for them to consume and understand the information.
Myth: Concise content means less content
Often when someone says “can you be more concise?” they’re asking for fewer words. To be concise is to share information in a quick, or shortened way.
Unfortunately, particularly when experts are writing for laymen, “concise” just turns into “less.” Here’s an example of a starter sentence:
“To write concisely means to write without any unnecessary or unneeded words. It should allow a sentence or paragraph to be as long as it needs to be, but without excess fluff terminology – but that doesn’t mean the sentence (or paragraph) doesn’t need all of the information in it.”
Edited to be shorter, it might read:
“To write concisely means to write without unnecessary words or excess fluff terminology.”
Edited to be concise, it might read:
“A concise sentence or paragraph has no unnecessary terms, but contains all the information required to be well understood and valuable.”
The concise version is slightly longer, but it’s also better written. Rather than simply cutting words, I rewrote the sentence to try to get the information across in an engaging way. The focus should be on choosing descriptive words that decrease the number of terms or examples needed.
So, How Long Should Your Page Be?
A good page of content is long enough to cover the subject, engaging enough to keep people reading, and personalized to your target audience.
If content feels too long or boring, perhaps it’s not targeted or relevant enough to the audience. If it’s difficult for people to find content on the page, you might need to add headers, bullets, or other content elements. If you’re worried about having too much content on a page, consider what the purpose of the page is and if the goals are too varied for your target audience to find what they’re looking for.
Ultimately, all of these guidelines have one thing in common: they’re designed to focus on your target audience. Personalize for them, engage them, and help make content readable for them, and they won’t steer you wrong.