Don’t get into a crinkle over the fold

by David Lai
13 May 2015
8 min read
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Don’t get into a crinkle over the fold

The term "above the fold" refers to the portion of a website that's visible without scrolling when a page first loads. Of all the prevailing design and usability myths out in world wide web, it's not uncommon in creative review meetings - even to this day - for requests for call to actions and "essential" pieces of content to be above the fold.

Let's take a look at some of the myths out there about the fold and why it's something to generally not stress over.

Ironing out some myths

1. Myth: If my key piece of content isn’t above the fold, no one will see it!

Why it isn’t so:
These days, we have a myriad of devices that are capable of accessing and displaying web pages. Everything from smartphones to tablets to televisions to the humble desktop computer. In an age where this is the web, it’s hard to even say where the fold is. We no longer live in a world of fixed-width grid systems where we could almost guarantee that any device accessing our website would have a resolution of at least 1024 by 768 pixels.

To try to squash and manipulate a design to try and fit all the important stuff above the fold is not only bad from a user experience perspective, these days it’s virtually impossible. Give the design some room to breathe and I guarantee your users (and our designers) will also breathe easier.

Why it kind of is:
This isn’t to say that the content above the fold isn’t important. It is. But just like the newspapers from which the phrase is originally derived, its importance stems from the fact that what is above the fold needs to compel the user to explore further below - and not abandon the page.

2. Myth: Users don’t scroll!

Why it isn’t so:
There’s a mountain of data out there to show that this simply isn’t the case nowadays. It’s become an almost natural form of interaction, especially when interacting with online content. Practically everybody scrolls. In fact, scrolling has become so ingrained in our behaviour that the graph below from Chartbeat shows that users actually start to scroll before a page has even fully loaded. The very top of a page has about a 20% lower view rate than compared to slightly lower down the page.

Graph of scroll depth vs percentage of users viewed
Scroll depth vs percentage of users viewed. Source: Chartbeat Blog

From that same study, what’s also interesting to note is that the duration of time with which a user is engaged with a website is longer below the fold compared to above it, as described by the graph below.

Graph of scroll depth vs time engaged
Scroll depth vs time engaged. Source: Chartbeat Blog

Why it kind of is:
There are some cases where people won’t scroll. The most obvious being when there’s no compelling reason to do so. In other words, to make sure users do scroll:

  • Ensure your above-the-fold content - whether it be text, images or video - is punchy enough for users to want to scroll further (or at least, not so bad that it would want to make users leave the page).
  • Try to avoid the appearance of content ending when it really hasn’t (in other words, use visual cues to imply that there’s more content further down the page). This could be as subtle as images or text being cut off, or as explicit as a glowing arrow telling the user there’s more content below. That said, even with no visual cue, about 91% of users will still scroll further on.

3. Myth: A call to action will convert better above the fold!

Why it isn’t so:
The placement of a call to action, whether it is above the fold or below it (visible immediately or visible further down the page) will generally not have any affect on conversion. Luke Wroblewski sums up why best:

The issue isn’t whether the call to action is visible. The issue is whether your call to action is visible at the point where someone has become convinced to take action.

In a homepage optimisation case study for Crazy Egg, they found that placing the call to action after content which addressed user concerns (explaining how the product worked, re-framing value and placing emphasis on product difference) resulted in an improved conversion rate of 30%. This was on a page that ended up being 20 times longer than the original. Ultimately, don’t worry about the length of your content pushing down action links. Just make sure they appear after the supporting content that addresses a user’s concerns.

Why it kind of is:
All that said, having a call to action above the fold is not necessarily a bad thing. Most especially when you have visitors that already know what you do and are sold on what you’re offering. This might be because of things like word-of-mouth, positive reviews elsewhere, or offline marketing campaigns. If that’s the case, don’t prevent your users from doing what they came to your website to do. Make it obvious and allow them to perform that task, fast.

Setting things straight

To sum up:

  • Don’t worry too much about what’s above the fold. Just make sure it’s interesting enough to make the user want to explore on.
  • Users will scroll. Long pages of content are fine, so long as the content’s relevant. Cater for users that scan pages by diving content up (visually with contrast and/or through the use of headings) and maximise imagery to convey information that may otherwise be tedious to grasp with text alone.
  • Call to actions work best once a user has become convinced to take action.
  • There are exceptions and knowing the why will help with the when to do things differently.
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