Web Design: One Long Page vs Multiple Short Pages?

One piece of advice that I have come across more than once in my readings on web page design is that a web page should be able to fit on one screen and that content longer than this should be split across multiple pages so that no one page is longer than one screen. The reason given is that people do not want to have to scroll down.

Evidently the wags who tout this philosophy think that people would rather deal with finding and clicking on a link to load the next of who knows how many pages and incur the associated wait for each - rather than to simply hit their page down key and enjoy the instantaneous results it provides.

Some purveyors of this strategy are more forthright. They point out that by breaking a single story or article into multiple pages, you can judge how interesting the content is by how many pages the reader is willing to click through. It is worth noting that designers who take this stand are implicitly stating that clicking a link to advance to the next page is more annoying to the reader than simply scrolling down and that the article will have to be really good to get readers to click a link to advance to the next page.

I suspect that the real motivation for keeping pages short is numbers. An article contained in one HTML document gets only one page view (1) for your site but take that same article and spread it across 10 pages and now your site has potentially 10 page views. Not only that but for sites supported by advertisements, that would be 10 times as many ads delivered to the reader.

As a reader of content on the web, I absolutely HATE the philosophy of breaking single articles or tutorials across multiple screen length pages for the following reasons:

I will concede that there is one time when it does pay to break one document into multiple smaller documents. This is in the case of tutorials that are heavy on the use of large graphics where if the tutorial were all on one page, the total download for that page would be in excess of a few hundred thousand bytes. In this case, the designer is being considerate of the reader by breaking the content down into smaller, more manageable chunks. Typically each of these chunks is longer than a single screen: it is page weight (2) and not page length that dictates the number of pages.

If you are a novice web designer and have perhaps been swayed by those who tell you to split a single article or tutorial across multiple HTML documents just so that no one page is longer than one screen, ignore them. Use your own judgment. Ask yourself this question: if I were a visitor to my site, would I be happier having the entire article together on one HTML document or split across multiple HTML documents? Decide for yourself.

1 - Page View
A count of the number of web pages viewed by visitors. Page views should not be confused with page hits. A single page view typically consists of multiple hits with each hit representing a single file that makes up one part of the page. For example, when you accessed this web page, that represents one page view and three hits: one for the html file, one for the CSS file, and one for the graphic that appears at the top of the page.
2 - Page Weight
Page weight is the total number of kilobytes associated with a single page of content. The page weight byte count includes the HTML page itself, associated image files, referenced CSS and Javascript files, etc.

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