GeodSoft logo   GeodSoft

Splitting Large Web Pages on

Some of the pros and cons of large text web pages versus several small pages with the same information are discussed. Both user and web developer perspectives are addressed.

When I began the Making This Site section, everything was in one page which grew very quickly as the site developed. Used effectively, HTML can make if very easy to move around a large page. There are advantages and disadvantages form both the web page developer's and the end user's perspective for using a relatively small number of large pages versus a large number of small web pages.

For a site developer, it is simply much easier to design and develop a small number of large pages than to do many small pages. Even if every section of a large page has anchors and the page has a detailed table of contents linking to the anchors, these are easier to manage than many separate pages. The more pages a site has, the more sophisticated its site management tools need to be. There is little on the web that looks less professional than a site that is a hodgepodge of different page styles, varied graphics and missing, broken or inconsistent navigation aids, yet without good site management tools and the policies to require their use, its inevitable that web sites will become hodgepodges over time.

From a user perspective there is one significant advantage to large pages. Where a site has significant quantities of textual information which needs to be read, few users do such reading online and it is much simpler and faster to print one or a few large pages than to print many small pages. Its also likely to be cheaper to because many small pages will have space and toner wasting elements that repeat on every page but add nothing to the information content. It's for these reasons that some sites go to the trouble of preparing "printer friendly" pages as a supplement to the standard web pages.

Large pages have several distinct disadvantages for users. First, the simple fact that they are large means they will download slowly for modem users and will format much more slowly than small pages regardless of the connection speed. Thus, unless the page has just what the user is looking for large pages are a significant nuisance for the user. Even if the page does have what the user wants, unless the page author has made considerable effort to organize the page well, the user may have trouble finding what they want.

More important to the user is that large pages don't search well. Many web sites have large quantities of information and no matter how well and carefully they are planned and organized it simply is not feasible to find everything via navigation aids and site maps. Knowledgeable persons familiar with the same materials are likely to come up with different ways to organize the material so different users are likely to have very different results in finding what they want.

Properly implemented full text search capabilities mitigate the problems of poor navigation aids and enhance well designed navigation aids. Large documents covering a range of topics will result in many more false positive hits than small documents focused on specific topics. Even with carefully formulated boolean searches, because large documents have so many more words, widely separated words that have no real relationship to each other will meet typical "and" search logic. "Not" also loses what utility it might have with large documents. The only way to successfully search large documents is if the engine provides proximity searching and the user uses it in their queries.

When search results are returned from a site with large web pages, they will have many false positive hits that point to large documents that take a long time to download. After waiting for one or two documents that do not have what they want, especially if they go to the extra effort and use the browser's capability to search the text of the retrieved document, users will become frustrated and find a site that more easily provides what they are looking for.

There is also at least one very real reason why a web site developer may want to keep page sizes small. This site has a clear example. I am planing to put significant portions and eventually the entire contents of a book that I am working on, on this site. At some point I hope to publish the book through conventional print channels. I want the web site to be a promotional tool and complement to the print version, not a free replacement for it. If I put up chapter length sections as single web pages, it would simply be too easy for someone to print the whole thing or those sections they were particularly interested in. Figuring the real costs of time, printer depreciation, toner and paper there might not be much actual savings over buying a printed version but must of these costs are hidden while the cost of the book is entirely visible. If the book is broken into pieces that are approximately the size of a printed page, any intelligent professional who needs or wants significant portions of the book, will recognize the cost effectiveness of purchasing the printed version. This will also make the online version more useful for the search related reasons cited above.

transparent spacer

Top of Page - Site Map

Copyright © 2000 - 2014 by George Shaffer. This material may be distributed only subject to the terms and conditions set forth in (or These terms are subject to change. Distribution is subject to the current terms, or at the choice of the distributor, those in an earlier, digitally signed electronic copy of (or cgi-bin/ from the time of the distribution. Distribution of substantively modified versions of GeodSoft content is prohibited without the explicit written permission of George Shaffer. Distribution of the work or derivatives of the work, in whole or in part, for commercial purposes is prohibited unless prior written permission is obtained from George Shaffer. Distribution in accordance with these terms, for unrestricted and uncompensated public access, non profit, or internal company use is allowed.


What's New
Email address

Copyright © 2000-2014, George Shaffer. Terms and Conditions of Use.