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Frequently Asked Question

Why do we use vertical scrolling?

Vertical Scrolling

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Browsers are used by millions of people worldwide and they are indispensable. The most commonly used are MS Explorer 7 or Mozilla Firefox 3. Why do we need them? Browsers are a means of displaying a page that has a (URL) or website address, which you as the visitor will type into your search.

But have you ever noticed that more often than not the web page that is brought up on your screen is too big for you to view the whole page on your window? That is why, without you realising, scroll bars are automatically shown by browsers so that you are able to scroll down the page to view the entire contents of each web page.

Vertical scrolling is the scrolling up and down direction of a website. This is normal web practice and below we will discuss the reasons for this. A long abandoned web practice is the horizontal scrolling. This was a scrolling technique from left to right.

Between web developers and designers, the text viewed on vertical scrolling is sometimes called "below the fold". The "fold" is the point of the website page at which the visitor to the website will need to scroll to read further. This expression originates from the idea that many people will look at the top (above the fold) of a newspaper and whatever catches their attention at the top will be the deciding factor as to whether they will purchase the newspaper and read the content below the fold of the newspaper. Of course that is not strictly true! People buy a newspaper knowing they will have to take time to not only unfold it but also to read it! The same with websites, people search for the first impression on the page to catch their eye and then envisage spending time reading and browsing that page and other pages on that website.

Forget about the Fold

“Above the fold” is a term commonly used by editors and web designers in order to prioritize important headlines to the user.

Our experience shows that some web users have a preconceived notion that any content of value needs to be displayed above the fold. We believe that this preconceived notion should be challenged since many of the underlying reasons are out of date. Consider a few reasons further.

The fold is inconsistent.

The location of the fold on the page varies widely for many reasons, notably:

  • screen resolution
  • default font size
  • browser window size
  • the browser itself
  • toolbars installed in the browser


The question here is not the placement of content. Important and prominent content should be large and near the top of the page, no question about that. Rather, the question is:

Does the scrollbar present a usability problem?

Back in the digital-ice-age, when web pages and computer documents were new, Yes, scrollbars were a usability concern. However, it’s consistent use and implementation across word processors, operating systems, and web browsers have alleviated this concern.

"On the Web, users expect vertical scrolling.  
As with all standard design elements, it’s better to meet
user expectations than to deviate."
Jakob Nielson

For example, someone who followed a link straight into a website (e.g. from a search engines result page), they should be able to see the websites logo and website name and telephone number straight away, without the need to scroll. Typically the first place visitors look is in the top left to find this information, as this is where most websites show their identity. This helps the new visitor identify the website and decide if the content is relevant.

There are also other elements on the page which need to grab the visitors attention without them interacting with the website, for example the navigation bar. This is because the websites author should want a new visitor loading the website to immediately know that there are more pages on the site which could be relevant.

Does the visitor need to see the whole navigation bar? The answer is different for each website, as in some cases it might be perfectly acceptable to only see the top of the navigation bar, this might be enough for the visitor to locate it on the page, then if they want to use the navigation bar, they can scroll down the page to see the rest.

Footer links are perhaps a good comparison though, not surprisingly they can usually be found at the bottom of the page, and normally include things like a copyright notice, a link to a terms and conditions page and a few other utility links. Anyone who is looking for something they expect to find in a footer (like a site map link), should not think twice about scrolling to the bottom of the page.

The scrolling you have on the SWDL website is a normal browser scrolling which varies from one computer to another, a website may work on your computer without scrolling but will definitely change on another computer (not yours ie a laptop or an iphone) as this is always different from one person to the other...from one computer to the other ie screens vary normally from 800 x 600px to 1920 x 1200px. Usually the horizontal scrolling is the one to bannish and is considered as bad practice but the vertical one is a very difficult one to overtake and very widely spread. Web technology has moved on from the simple page style, that was a custom that was used in the past. But as you know, web technology and websites move as quick as other advertising technology.

All the very big and very successfull websites (Top 10 UK) ie:

...without exception all have vertical scrolling!.

A website is not like the print industry where you can fix an absolute rule and that''s it, a website is almost as organic as the viewer and they are the ones to define the parameter (you don''t need to be an IT guy to get this point).

What should be seen first by the visitor?

Now we have considered the main website template, we can start looking at the page content.

This area should be unique to each page. But it is at this point website authors should be considering if scrolling really is harmful. In most cases having content on the page that requires the use of the vertical scroll bar is perfectly acceptable.

For example, if the page is for an article, then presumably the title and first paragraph can be seen without the visitor scrolling. This will be enough to capture their attention to read the entire article. Visitors can guess that they are on the correct page without any interaction. From this point on, the visitor is reading, they are soaking up the content and, noting that it''s relevant, they will continue to scroll down the page until they have read what they wanted to read (and perhaps a little more... if the content is that good).

Points to consider

Some website authors can be so scared of creating a scroll bar, they split their articles onto multiple pages. Although a lot of authors do this to show as many adverts as possible, it is still really frustrating for the visitor to have to actively locate the "next" link, use it, wait for the next page and then find where they can continue reading. Most people are just happy to scroll a little but at least keep on the same page.

You will also have noticed that most computer''s mouse sold today come with a scroll wheel, or other device for moving up and down the page. This is mostly because vertical scrolling is so common that having an easy scrolling tool makes life that little bit easier.

Scrolling will always happen

At the moment, some website authors go by the rule of ensuring that all of their page content fits into a browser window that is maximised on a 800x600 display. They do this to "ensure there is no scrolling", as they believe that no-one will view their website in anything smaller than that.

There is a small problem with that statement, for example, How about people who have installed extra toolbars on their browser? Or those people who like to see more than one window at a time, so they don''t maximise their browser window? Or people who have managed to get a default screen resolution of 640x480, but have no idea on how to change it?

A growing audience that website authors should consider are visitors who use a browser like Opera on their mobile phones. With that tiny screen, it can almost be guaranteed that they will get a scroll bar.

So, instead of trying to stop vertical scrolling by cutting back the content, the websites author should just understand that scrolling will happen, and instead spend their time making sure that its good content that people want to read.

An internal scrolling trick?

There are a few websites that have put a large block of text into a content box on the page, which itself has a scroll bar. Sometimes this has been done so that it fits visually into the design of the page. As you can see http://www.avon-printing.com or http://www.eclipse-siteservices.com has an inside scrolling which is a javascript element Site Web Developers Ltd added 3 years ago and improved this year to allow people with small screens to view a small part of the website (it works just with 400 px height) and hides a large amount of text so people don''t get overwhelmed by it but it can also be used in an attempt to stop the main page from scrolling. Many website authors refer to this technique as "overflow auto", and some older developers may call them "frames".

Unfortunately this usually just adds to the problems. For example, if the visitors browser still is not big enough for the whole page, then the visitor will have two scroll bars to deal with - this can confuse allot of people when trying to keep track of both scroll bars.

It also makes it harder if the visitor wants to resize that box... with a browser window, that can usually be re-sized quite easily, but a content box is usually out of their control.

Content is King!

You should now be happy that scroll bars are perfectly acceptable, more so with the vertical scroll bar.

But it is possible to go the other way, and that''s by diluting the pages content. Short and sweet! If the websites author has something to say, and that can be said in a 3 line paragraph, they should not pad that out to multiple paragraphs to fill out the page, as in most cases it does not add any additional value. If they do this, then it might be the case that the websites visitors get bored, or cannot find what they are looking for, and move on to a different page or website, under the impression that page did not have anything relevant to say. A website is an divers advertising tool which allows information to be shared and without restriction, it is not a interactive leaflet but more an interactive catalogue.

Keep in mind that quite a lot of people will skim read text until they find a bit that is relevant to what they are looking for. If the text has been padded too much, then it is unlikely the visitor will scan a large block of text (perhaps only the first paragraph) before they move on.
Others aspect which is not the least is Google love content, the more the better. If you want to get a good page rank, you have to start to add content inside your website.
Don''t forget, a website is one of the best media and a fantastic marketing tool... if you get to the first page of Google, business will be Good!.

So if there is still a point to cutting back text, just don''t let that reason be the so called "below the fold" problem, the info is not on print, it is online and people ain''t that lazy!