Time.com's bounce rate down 15 percentage points since adopting continuous scroll
Three major news website redesigns this year look very different but have an important feature in common: articles that seamlessly transition to new content, without requiring readers to click or tap headlines and then wait for new pages to load.
This "continuous scroll" strategy for news sites' article pages is gaining momentum. It's been adopted by Time.com, NBCNews.com and LATimes.com, reflecting the fact that direct homepage traffic is waning (see the New York Times innovation report), and traffic from social media (particularly Facebook) just keeps growing.
So as readers increasingly enter sites from "side doors" or article pages, media organizations are trying to figure out how to get them to stick around. Pew recently found that visitors from Facebook are far less engaged than direct visitors. Here's how sites that relaunched in the first half of 2014 are addressing that problem by making use of the continuous scroll (aka infinite scroll) feature in their article pages:
Since its March redesign, Time.com's bounce rate — the percentage of visitors who leave the site after viewing only one page — has declined by 15 percentage points, according to managing editor Edward Felsenthal. The percentage of desktop visitors going to another piece of content jumped 21 percentage points between February and May.
Felsenthal attributed that to the continuous scroll, which provides a clickless path for readers to reach another story. He said the left rail, which serves as a "traveling homepage" of links to the top stories of the moment, also helped.
The fact that Time.com queues up top stories, not related stories, is crucial to the site's strategy for serving social visitors, Felsenthal said: “In many ways the major objective of our redesign was to showcase for those users the full Time offering.”
That seems to acknowledge that much of what attracts social media readers to the site initially might not be the content deemed most editorially important. So now, readers going to the site for a story that may not be what you'd expect from Time.com...
This is what a kiss looks like from inside your mouth http://t.co/IgRIkDt1Wn
— TIME.com (@TIME) February 7, 2014
... will scroll into Time's more substantive top stories once they get to the bottom of the article. (For what it's worth, Felsenthal told Digiday, “We don’t want to do really clickbait-y Facebook posts, because it’s just not what the brand’s about. But we do want to tease.”)
World news typically doesn't receive as much social engagement as softer content does, but Time's redesign means more visitors will at least be exposed to hard news. Post-redesign, Felsenthal said, "The mix of our top 10 articles is more reflective of where we want to be."
The redesigned NBC News takes a different approach from Time. Article pages transition into related stories, not top stories. And some stories are compiled into "storylines," so if you're interested in "hot cars and kids," you can read a stack of more than 30 stories.
Mobile page views in June were up 30 percent over the previous 12-month average, according to an NBC News spokesperson. On average, NBC News readers on desktop and mobile are seeing nearly 20 percent more pages per visit than before the site's February redesign.
Los Angeles Times
The LA Times redesign is less seamless than the other two in terms of transitioning quickly to the next piece of content. There's a choose-your-own-adventure quality to the layout; non-blog stories transition into a section page instead of another article page based on which section you choose:
That gives readers more control over where the site takes them next, but requiring readers to choose what they see next adds some friction that the other sites lack.
A spokesperson for the LA Times said it was too early to share specifics about how the newspaper's new site is performing. She summed up the goals of the May redesign:
• Eradicating print-centric and antiquated web concepts, such as “the fold,” “the jump,” “endless clicking” and “the dead end” with endless scrolling and multi-directional navigation
• Seamlessly pathing readers from one piece of content to the next, with section fronts and article pages anchored by a row of thumbnails that automatically transport readers to related coverage or other sections
Quartz, Fortune, and Cosmopolitan
The homepage-less Quartz is a clear influence here, particularly for Time. Whatever page you arrive on via social media occupies the top spot in the story stack, with top news — not related stories — below. Editorial news judgment plays a big role in the reader's experience.
Quartz senior editor Zach Seward said it's nice to see others emulate one of his site's signature features: "It must mean we're onto something." He also said he doesn't like the term "infinite scroll":
The intent is to help users who get to the end of a story but want to keep reading. Some sites have dead ends, others create paralysis of choice. We choose to quietly suggest just one more story, which users can easily scroll into or just ignore. It's all about that one moment rather some kind of infinite experience.
Seward recently told Digiday's Ricardo Bilton that Quartz estimates "readers view about 50 percent more stories per visit than they would without the option to scroll.” And, Seward said, "When people choose to read another story on Quartz, about 80 percent do so by scrolling, as opposed to clicking on a headline."
Time Inc.'s Money and Fortune have also adopted the Quartz-inspired Time.com template for their redesigns. And at the "sexy new Cosmopolitan.com", a long stack of related stories is presented to readers at the bottom of article pages.
The article page is the new homepage, so what goes on underneath articles seems to be the paramount concern when redesigning a media site in 2014. Some, like Time and Quartz, choose to "quietly suggest" a particular story. Others, like the LA Times and Cosmo, are using the space below stories to offer lots of choices for readers. But all of them have redesigned with an eye toward that second click or page view.