UPDATED DATA: Experts' insights for a more profitable e-shop. Get E-Book

How should you paginate search results on your website?

Luigi's Blog | May 10, 2019
How should you paginate search results on your website?

The best way is sure to surprise you.

In the context of websites and eCommerce sites in particular, search result pagination is the process of splitting long lists of items into separate parts – namely, pages. If a user searches for something on a website and many items are returned, pagination will divide these results into several pages and thus show the user only one chunk at a time.

Comparing Three Types of Search Result Pagination

If a website uses traditional pagination, users can visit the next or previous page of results (‘pagination step’) or jump to an arbitrary page by choosing its number (‘pagination jump’). The main advantage of this feature is that users can decide which part of the results they want to visit next.

An alternative approach is called infinite scrolling. When users start to search, the website returns only a part of the results. But as the users scroll down to the end of the page, the website loads additional results and extends the previous list (‘pagination step’). This allows the users to browse as many results as they want without having to click on anything, which is especially appreciated by mobile users.

A smart compromise between the two approaches is called ‘Load More’ pagination. When users scroll down to the bottom of the results page, they can consciously decide whether they want to see more results or not. If they want to continue browsing, they simply need to click on the button “Load More.” New results will either be appended under the current page or the whole page will be refreshed with new results.

Image 1: Infinite scrolling, traditional pagination, ‘Load More’ pagination

From a technical standpoint, traditional pagination is very problematic. Loading the first results page is equally fast for all pagination types; however, traditional pagination loads more slowly the more results are requested. This is due to the fact that it has to retrieve all items from the first to the chosen page and then only show relevant ones, unlike the other pagination styles, which remember the previously shown items and only return new ones. If you want to know more about the technical aspects of pagination, see this blog post.

Infinite scrolling and ‘Load More’ pagination styles are also technically challenging, but the complexity is usually on the client side. Since there’s always new content being appended to the results page, its size increases with each new “page” load and the website gets slower. It is also very important to tailor the browser’s back button correctly for maximum user-friendliness. When the user navigates to a later page, then clicks on a result and hits the back button, they should be taken to the exact same spot where they left off. None of these technical aspects are impossible to implement correctly; they are just a few more things you have to think about.

Analyzing the UX Aspect of Pagination

Aside from technical implementation, it’s also necessary to think about the usability aspect. Let’s start with the worst pagination style: infinite scrolling. While it seems smooth because users can scroll the list of products without any interruption or extra action needed, research by Baymard Institute shows that users usually browse more products with less interest and thus have lower conversion rates in comparison to traditional pagination.

As for traditional pagination, Baymard Institute’s study shows that users perceive it to be slow and the presence of many pagination links discourages them from browsing further. On top of that, pagination links are usually small and located very close to each other, which makes it hard for mobile phone users to hit the “correct” pagination link to follow.

The same UX study concludes that the best pagination type is ‘Load More’. The only question users have to answer is, “Do I want to see more results?” If so, they can simply click and receive new ones. When using this type of pagination, users view more products than when using traditional pagination and pay more attention to each product than when using infinite scrolling. That’s why we recommend it to all our clients and use it in our search.js library (which you can use to easily integrate Luigi’s Box Search into your website).

Surprisingly, traditional pagination is still dominant and our clients often request it. We think that people have gotten so used to it that they think users would feel helpless if a new type of pagination was used. But is that true? Do users like to jump to random pages or do they prefer to click on Load More? To help resolve this dilemma, we consulted our data to understand how people really use search result pagination.

Analyzing How People Use Search Result Pagination

Since the mission of Luigi’s Box is to help clients increase the quality of search on their eCommerce and online retail sites, our data spans user searches from hundreds of our clients’ sites. For the purpose of this article, we analyzed 2 months of search history data from the 200 most active client sites using either traditional or ‘Load More’ pagination.

We purposely selected clients whose businesses range from traditional book, clothes or electronics shops to sellers of groceries, medicines, and even telecommunication products. Every client site in our analysis contained at least 1,000 searches with a median of 17,600 searches per client.

Image 2: Pagination usage in search sessions

Note: When people use steps, they visit the next or previous results page, whereas when people use jumps, they click on an arbitrary page. When a user searches for one query and browses result pages, we log it as one search session. When the search query or filter is modified, this is considered a new search session.

At the beginning, we wanted to understand how users use pagination if they can choose. As traditional pagination allows ‘next’ or ‘previous’ results page steps as well as arbitrary results page jumps, we looked at client sites using traditional pagination.

As you can see from Image 2, 88.7% of search sessions contained visits of only first results page. This means that these users did not use search result pagination at all. The next or previous pages were visited only in 9.7% of sessions, which indicates that people used pagination without any jumps. Only in the remaining 1.6% of sessions did users execute at least one jump.

Image 3: Usage of steps vs. jumps

When analyzing sessions that used search result pagination, we noticed there was a big imbalance between sessions with steps only (85.8%) and sessions with at least one jump (14.2%). In addition, next or previous page steps comprised 91.5% of all pagination actions made, while jumps made up only 8.5% (Image 3). Furthermore, 33.2% of all jumps were jumps back to the first search results page. This means that in addition to low overall usage of pagination jumps, in a third of situations, the user only wanted to return back to the most relevant results.

From this comparison, it is clear that people don’t click on arbitrary pages. Think about it: Can you remember the last time you Googled something and then clicked on the 5th or 10th page of results? It almost never happens!

Analyzing the Relationship Between Search Result Pagination and Conversions

As you can see, most people don’t use pagination jumps. Should we throw traditional pagination away for good or keep it for the minority of users who like it? To find the answer, we consulted our data once again, but this time from the point of view of conversions. At Luigi’s Box, we use conversions to mean “achievement of desired action,” which can variously be adding an item into the shopping cart or consuming content (blogs, videos) for a certain amount of time (8 seconds) after clicking on it in search results.

We divided client sites into two groups – the first group included sites with a custom search engine solution (of various quality) while the second group contained sites with Luigi’s Box search (tailored to the clients’ specific needs). In both groups, traditional as well as ‘Load More’ pagination were used based on the preference of clients.

Image 4: “Custom search” customers – “first page only” search sessions

In the first group, “first page only” search sessions represented 87.9% of all search sessions and led to 80.9% of all conversions. Search sessions using only steps represented 10.4% of sessions and led to 14.2% of all conversions. The remaining 1.6% of sessions with jumps led to 3.9% of all conversions. What follows from this analysis is that on websites with a custom search engine solution, users sometimes have to paginate to find the items they want to buy.

Image 5: Luigi’s Box search customers – “first page only” search sessions

In the second group, 93% of search sessions contained “first page only” visits and in addition, led to 94.1% of all conversions. Search sessions with only steps represented 6.3% of sessions and covered 5.6% of all conversions, while sessions with jumps represented 0.4% and covered 0.3% of all conversions.

Image 6: Results of clients using Luigi’s Box search compared to clients with custom search

So what’s the conclusion of this analysis? A higher percentage of user satisfaction with “first page only” (no pagination used) in search sessions (+5.8%) and a higher percentage of conversions (+16.3%) mean that using Luigi’s Box search enabled users to find and buy relevant items more easily. Since users saw relevant items appear in the first few results with said items sorted by relevance, they didn’t have to use pagination at all. And in case they were curious to visit subsequent search pages, they knew they would always find their preferred item at the top of the first page.

High-Quality Search Is All That Matters

Let’s return to the beginning: What’s the ideal way to paginate search results? The answer is now clear. The best way is the one users don’t have to use at all. In fact, having a high-quality search engine is the most important thing. If, however, you are designing a website and want to give your customers a top-notch experience while browsing, go for ‘Load More’ pagination. It’s faster and more effective than traditional pagination.