Search for “optimal web page length” and you’ll get a wide range of answers and a lot of “it depends.” Why? Because there are more important considerations than character count when you are developing web sites. Here are some best practices to keep in mind.
There is no fold
Some web sites may still look like newspaper front pages, but users don’t consume web content the way they read the Times-Picayune print edition. You don’t need to top-load pages with content.
People DO scroll
Increasingly, the typical web experience for higher ed’s key audience, prospective students, is consuming content on a phone. It’s now common practice for visitors to a site to first swipe down the whole length of a page to see what’s there, then return to the top to read or skim the page if they like what they see. Users now do the same when visiting a site on a desktop computer.
Some pages have to be long, and that’s OK, if it’s content your target audience will value, especially if only you can provide it. In higher ed, that can be a longform story on a compelling topic, but it’s often the application section of an institution or school site, a page that explains visas to international students, or other how-to content. Just be sure the content is well structured and users will consume it all.
The big picture
Keep your site’s overall structure in mind as you populate pages with content. Focus each page’s content on the topic promised by the page’s name and location in the site information architecture. If the content strays too far from the topic, that’s a sign the content belongs on another page or a new page needs to be created.
In some cases, long pages indicate that you’ve taken on a topic that’s too broad, and in that case the content would be best served split up among several pages.
Get to the point
Nothing is more irritating to web users than gratuitous content. Users have specific tasks they want to accomplish. We shouldn’t get in their way. If a prospective student has followed a link to download a program’s view book, they’re already sold on acquiring the file. Don’t pitch the program all over again on the download form page. Simple instructions will suffice. In general, restrict marketing messages to home pages and landing pages. Tertiary pages should convey sought-after information simply and clearly.
Stop counting and start writing. Your web pages should be as long as they need to be.