Writing for the Web: Are you using progressive disclosure to keep your visitors happy?
By Marc Carson
If you’ve ever sighed at the idea of reading a web page with many long paragraphs of content (I’m looking at you, IRS), I’ve got a new term for you to use: Progressive disclosure.
Web surfers can only handle small chunks of information at a time before they become overwhelmed and leave a website. That’s why it’s important to give them a little bit at a time, then disclose more as they click around to find what they’re interested in.
Sub-sections are very important for this reason. If you want to make your visitors more comfortable, let them click on a link to take them to more specific information if they’re interested. Research shows that this leads to happier visitors who feel less overwhelmed—and probably stay on your website longer.
But what about all that clicking? If we put all the information on one page, that’s fewer clicks—surely that’s ideal? Well, not necessarily. Web usability and neuro-psychology researcher Susan Weinschenk wrote:
It’s not the clicks that count (pun intended) – One thing I’d like to point out is that progressive disclosure requires multiple clicks. Sometimes you will hear people say that websites should minimize the number of clicks that people have to make to get to the detailed information.
The number of clicks is not the important criteria. People are very willing to make multiple clicks, in fact that won’t even notice they are making the clicks, if they are getting the right amount of information at each click to keep them going down the path.
Don’t worry about “too many clicks” as long as your website is giving the right amount of information and keeping visitors well-oriented. The web is a clicking-and-tapping medium, and that’s OK. As a bonus, we can measure visitor interest by recording those clicks, too.
So: Next time you’re writing an article (or an entire website section), think about using progressive disclosure. Keep your paragraphs short and your information broken out into chunk-sized sections.