Don’t talk about page length in web design reviews

Discussions about page length are almost always more effective when they are discussions about

  1. Concise writing
  2. Information architecture
  3. Prioritization
  4. Form usability.

Almost inevitably, if you have a web design review meeting, someone will say “these pages are too long. I have to scroll too much.” This inevitably leads to an unproductive discussion that’s mostly about who’s the loudest person in the room, because there’s no right length to a page but everybody seems to think they know the perfect length.

Unfortunately, the person who thinks the page is too long is usually a higher-up who’s heard that nobody reads online. Don’t get me started. Everybody reads online. Anyway, if you work in an org or business that does anything remotely interesting, there are people you work with generating valuable, long-form content. You should get that content online. So how are you going to do that when the higher-up is the loudest person in the room? You’re going to redirect the conversation in a more productive direction.

Think about it this way. There are only a few different kinds of pages. Landing pages, content pages, index pages, home page. (I’m being rough. If there are more categories I should consider, let me know and I bet they’ll still fit the model.)

  • Landing pages: if these are too long, it’s because you’re asking for too much info in whatever form you’re using to collect user data. This is not a discussion about length, it’s a discussion about information needed v. user willingness to fill out your overly-demanding form.
  • Content pages: these should be exactly as long as they need to be in order to say what they need to say. The page can be too long if it’s poorly-edited, but it can’t be too long because the content is too much. Some content is long-form. Did your best editor agree that it’s appropriately concise? Then it can’t be too long.
  • Index pages: if an index page is too long, then your information architecture is bad, leading to too many items being on the page. It’s not the length of the page, it’s the bad IA.
  • Home page: if a home page is too long … well, there are a couple different kinds of home page:
    1. Home pages that are really top-level index pages. If these are too long, it’s an IA problem, just like with lower-level index pages.
    2. Home pages that promote featured items. If these are too long, you have too many features and you’ll probably have to convince somebody their department can’t be featured every day, or it’s not really a feature, is it? Or leave each of them up for a shorter length of time, so on any given day there are fewer. Anyway, this is a prioritization problem, not really a length problem. Maybe that loud executive can help with that.

Is this all starting to make some sense? The point I’m making is that when you feel like a page is too long, there’s an underlying reason that you really should be talking about.

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