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How many items should we put on a page?

If we’ve got a lot of products or services to show in a section on our website, how many should we put on a page? There are probably three options:

  1. Show them all in a list (which will involve some scrolling down);
  2. Show categories, which click through to much smaller lists (that involve little or no scrolling);
  3. Show just a few with a “more…” button at the bottom.

Despite the third option being popular, I think we’d all agree it’s the worst of all worlds. How long is the list? Don’t know. How are the items ordered? Don’t know.

Let’s forget that one. It’s probably the result of a website being initially set up so that an undefined number of items can be added to the list over time, in a lazy and unthoughtful way.

The options

So we have two real options. The first, even though it involves scrolling, gives the user the opportunity to see everything. The second is easier for the user if they’re likely to know what they want, and will have no interest in items in other categories. For the website owner, I think the choice boils down to whether or not we’d like the user to see everything. If blue widget buyers never buy yellow widgets, then we may as well split the listing into blue and yellow category pages. But if they might buy yellow widgets, and we want to ensure they’re aware of how many different types we’ve got, making them scroll down a bit might not be a bad thing.

A decent compromise is to have everything in one list, but to have a simple ‘contents’ listing at the top, giving a chance for users to ‘jump’ down to a category of interest, rather than scrolling.

In an SEO chat recently, Google said that either approach is valid, and that the user experience should really be paramount. I suspect that comment however was comparing the first two options; to me, a random listing with “more…” buttons makes no sense from an SEO point of view.