When building a website and its navigation, an unavoidable but mandatory question should be considered: Should you build your site with fewer pages that have more content, requiring visitors to scroll and scroll, or with much shorter pages and, as a result, more clicking?
Simply put, the answer – at least for general website building – is not that simple. I’d like to approach this subject by teasing out important criteria to consider as you attempt to answer this question and determine what is best for your website (and your organization). Once you understand the important elements, you will be able to decide the best approach for your website.
People don’t read web pages – They scan
More than 20 years ago, Nielsen Norman Group published a pillar research report stating that 79 percent of test users always scanned any new page they came across, with only 16 percent reading the page word by word. This research has been validated countless times and should be considered as our initial baseline knowledge on the subject.
Think about it: When you visit a webpage (on your phone or on your desktop/laptop), do you read everything on the page word by word, or do you read the headlines and scan for other bold text, pictures, and any elements that stand out and look important? Knowing this, your go-to approach could be shorter pages with less text. Generally speaking, you would be correct on this assumption. Most websites that aren’t news- or story-specific don’t have long pages, but rather, less text with more meaning. Website owners need to deliver important messages to users quickly – utilizing visuals to help.
A perfect example of this are product pages for an e-commerce or SaaS organization. Once you land on those pages, you get the basic information about a product rather quickly, but if you want to dig deeper into reviews, specifications, and other related items, they are on the page, but not part of the core experience.
Know your visitor personas
Going back to the aforementioned report that stated 79 percent of users scan and don’t read, what if the target users of your website are in the 21 percent of people that do read? This is where our initial “it depends” comes into play. In fact, I’d argue that the most important element in building your next website is understanding the buyer or marketing persona that your website is targeting. For example, if your visitors are scientists, lawyers, or engineers, chances are they read more than other users because their jobs require them to understand the details, which typically involves a lot of reading (not scanning) of content.
More pages win the SEO game
Strictly speaking, every page on your site has the opportunity to rank for a long-tail keyword. The websites with the most pages generally have more opportunities to rank and, thus, will gain more organic traffic. Each additional page you create is like an annuity that will drip organic traffic 24/7 back to your website. This is one of the key and hidden reasons why blogging can be so powerful for organizations, and this can be another argument for why you should have more pages on your site rather than fewer.
Pillar pages have a place, too
In the last few years, we’ve started to see a resurgence of the idea of pillar pages. Just as more pages allow you to target and win the long-tail keyword battle, pillar pages allow you to win the high traffic and volume keyword battle. Pillar pages are also the definition of longer pages that have a wealth of content and require a lot of scrolling. They can have a place on your website for getting across important ideas and concepts, but they are typically something you come back to and establish once all the low-hanging fruits have been addressed.
If you would like to get a deeper understanding of this concept, check out this great resource on what is a pillar page.
So to reiterate, use best practices (write scannable content) and specific goals (i.e., reaching your target personas), along with the SEO ideas in this post, to build a website that keeps visitors engaged and helps you rank higher on various search engines. Remember, every page can be different. You might have many product/service pages that are short and scannable complemented by one to two longer pillar pages with concepts critical to the problems your website and products solve. Generally speaking, each page should serve its critical importance of giving the user what they need and when they need it without tossing in excessive jargon and fluff.