ClickTale Critique

For my a midterm in one of my classes at ISU, ITK 367 – Designing the User Interface, I had to do some research on a topic. I read late last year about a report stating that the fold of the browser, this is the place that you need to start scrolling to read more content, did not matter. I tracked down this report and it has some interesting information. However, marketing speak takes over and they stretch the facts way too much. Sites that picked up this information parroted some of the faulty conclusions and I wanted to put this out as a counter to this information. Not to say that the study is invalid, but some of the conclusions simply are not substantiated fom the data.

Late last year, I read a number of news reports that talked about the fold a browser window having little effect on users when they go to web sites. For my paper, I did some checking to find out the source of the information. I found that a company called ClickTale has a three-part report on the effects the page fold has on users. The first report, “Unfolding the Fold,” details how users interact with web sites. Using 120,000 page views collect over a two-month span, they indicated that 91% of pages clicked had scrollbars and of the page what had a scroll bar, 76% of users scrolled to some extent. Of those with scrollbars, about one quarter of user reached the bottom of the page. Even for pages longer than 4,000 pixels, this scrolling process held true. This first report gives some indication that users do not see just the top of the page, but rather tend to look through screens when surfing.

The next two reports titled, “Scrolling Research Report V2.0 part 1 and 2” delve deeper into how users scrolled through pages. In these reports, the findings seem to show that users are much more likely to scroll down the page a little than all go all way to the bottom. Participation drops seems to drop rapidly after the user scrolls more than 500 pixels. However, the analysis seems to show that the percentage of people scrolling to the bottom of the page remands near a constant 20% no matter how long the page. The first part of the report showed in interesting breakdown of where the fold is. There were three major locations, 430, 600, and 800, that corresponded to the typical screen resolutions. The most common was, 600, equates to 1024×768. The actual fold varies slightly from machine to machine since users have different set ups including extra toolbars and programs to improve their surfing experience.

I feel that the data provides valuable insights on of users interact with web page, even if a number of their conclusions are seriously flawed. The major part that I took away is that it provides evidence that designers do not need to put everything on the top of the page. People seem to accept scrolling as a part of using web sites.

Some of the researcher’s analysis seems to be correct, but problems start showing up in the concussions based off this research. In the first part of, “Scrolling Research Report V2.0,” one of the conclusions is that web sites should maximize images while minimizing text because people tend to browse. Nowhere in the data does it show that people tend to scroll down the page more if there are more graphics or multimedia objects. We need an analysis between text and graphic heavy pages before making this statement. Another conclusion is that you should break the page layout into sections. Again, the data does not support this. The researcher noted that as people scrolled, viewership dropped exponentially or linearly depending on position. If breaking the page up into sections worked, the data might show plateaus where people paused between section breaks.

One assumption that I feel they over reach with is the fact that the footer is important. They state that one in five users scroll to the bottom of the page and spend 10 – 15 seconds at this point. Since the second most time spent on each a page is the bottom after the top is the bottom, one could make this assumption that having information at the bottom is a good idea. However, if one reads a page they might scroll ahead of where they are reading, this means that the bottom of the page is where they spend to catch up with their scrolling. Of course, people spend more time at the bottom because many sites have reference links and blog comment boxes there. In addition, if your click the browser back button to go back a page it takes time to do this action and to load the previous page. More research needs to happen before this assumption could be deemed valid.

Despite the major leaps of faith in their assertions, I do agree with their two major points. The first is that the top sections of the page are the most important parts of the page since nearly 100% of the users have the content on the screen. The other point that the page fold plays less of a roll than it did since at least three-fourths of users scroll down the page for more content. It would not surprise me that the biggest reason for this is the addition of the scroll wheel in mice. Even if these two statements are good, I think that the results stated through the research go too far. Coming from a for-profit corporation, this is not unexpected since the information from the report came from the same tools they try to sell. This also makes the information somewhat suspect since you do not know if the researchers did the work scientifically by trying to approximate site usage through commercial as well as educational and personal sites.