Some people believe in the Bigfoot family – a giant ape-like creature named Sasquatch, who roams the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, as well as his cousin, Yeti, who braves the cold, rugged terrain of the Himalayan mountains.
Others believe in a giant lake monster that inhabits Scotland’s Loch Ness. Here in my home state of New Jersey, the Jersey Devil is said to inhabit the Pine Barrens.
Some people also believe that web pages have a fold, much like a traditional newspaper’s fold, which separates the top half and bottom half of the front page.
They’re all wrong.
Of course, this is where we get the phrase “above the fold,” a design concept that refers to the location on the front page of a newspaper where the lead story and the most compelling photograph should appear.
For some reason, this concept became a golden rule in web design. All important information, a call-to-action and the most valuable ads must appear above the digital “fold” because no visitor in their right mind would ever scroll to find, consume and engage with this hidden content.
This is also wrong.
Personally, I never understood why we should use a decades-old term from a completely different medium to dictate where something should be placed on a web page.
The fold may have been in the same general place on computer screens 10 years ago, but today’s monitors and devices come in different sizes.
The mythical fold could be in a different place on your laptop, your tablet and your smartphone. When you rotate a mobile device to change the screen orientation, the fold changes again.
With mobile browsing on the verge of surpassing desktop browsing, adhering to the “above the fold” concept is not only a waste of time, but it completely ignores how people consume content.
Yes, the most viewed the parts of a web page are those that can be viewed without scrolling, but that has nothing to do with a mythical fold. It has everything to do with content.
If the content at the top of your page is strong, people will assume content that may not be immediately visible is also valuable and worth the effort to scroll. Or click.
An article published in Adweek last week referred to Chartbeat research that broke down the most viewed parts of a web page. In the top spot was the part of the page that’s just above the fold. In a virtual tie for second, with slightly less viewership, were the area just below the fold, the very top of the page and the middle of the page.
The most time spent on a web page was actually well below the fold, with peak viewing time beginning at about 1,000 pixels. As a point of reference, the mythical fold was at about 550 pixels for this study. I bet this research makes a few display advertisers’ jaws drop.
As for calls-to-action, research involving landing page tests has shown that placement above or below the fold had no impact on effectiveness. Other studies show that a call-to-action placed below the fold actually performed better – sometimes significantly so.
Here’s one explanation. If I’m visiting a website for the first time, I equate a big, bold call-to-action at the top of the page as a somewhat aggressive sales pitch. Why would I buy from you or even contact you if you haven’t yet given me a compelling reason to do so?
Like most people, I’m weary of overt sales pitches. But if you give me strong enough reasons to do business with you, I’ll find and respond to that call-to-action, regardless of where it is.
Every product or service offering is different. Placement of content, a call-to-action or any other element of your website should be dictated by the needs and expectations of the target audience, not some mythical fold or an incorrect assumption that visitors won’t scroll.
Want people to scroll? Instead of trying to squeeze your best content into the top of every page, start by making sure each page has a strong headline.
By the way, “About” and “Services” are page titles for navigation, not headlines that inspire and motivate people to keep reading. And scrolling. Powerful headlines for each individual page are just as critical as the headlines we write for blog posts and news stories.
From a design standpoint – although I’m no designer and won’t claim to be here – I’m a big fan of clarity and simplicity in both message and design. Visitors won’t scroll and click to view other content if they have to struggle to wrap their head around the content in front of them.
But again, the effectiveness of your website has nothing to do with Sasquatch – err, the mythical fold. There is no Sasquatch and there is no fold.
If you still insist that there’s a metaphoric fold on a web page, I’ll go back to my argument that there’s a different fold for each screen and orientation, making it inconsistent and even more irrelevant.
It’s all about content. Great content – a combination of compelling copy with strong headlines, captivating design and vivid imagery – creates an appetite for more great content. Even if it means scrolling beyond the non-existent fold.
How important is the “fold” when you’re developing a website? As a visitor, what makes you want to scroll?
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