Back In The Day, there was a belief common among web designers that content that doesn’t appear in the browser window without scrolling would not be seen by Some High Percentage of users. They would liken the situation to that of newspapers, where the editors knew that interesting material on the top half of the front page, “above the fold”, would catch the attention of more readers.
Design blog Boxes and Arrows ran a story called Blasting the Myth of the Fold, which questions this belief.
Screen performance data and new research indicate that users will scroll to find information and items below the fold. There are established design best practices to ensure that users recognize when a fold exists and that content extends below it. Yet during requirements gathering for design projects designers are inundated with requests to cram as much information above the fold as possible, which complicates the information design. Why does the myth continue, when we have documented evidence that the fold really doesn’t matter in certain contexts?
While there’s no question that users are more computer literate than they once were, and content below the fold is more accessible, calling it a myth is incorrect. It all comes down to what “above the fold” really means and what it refers to.
Take a look at the AOL poll used as an example in the article. Pretend that the image shown was the actual voting page, as claimed in the article, and not just the results, so people actually had to scroll way down there to vote. And pretend that 327,478 is a significant number relative to the number of pageviews, which cannot be confirmed or denied. And pretend that the page is just a random page the users stumbled upon without looking for the poll, which is unlikely because there’s no other content on the page; the page was made specifially for the poll, as indicated by the header. Even if this were all true, it doesn’t prove anything. Here’s why.
Look at the “above the fold” content. It consists of a few banners, some unrelated headlines, the poll header, and an introduction to the poll. So, the poll starts above the fold. This is akin to a front-page headline that reads “Awesome Amazing Story on page 2″.
How is this supposed to show the “Myth of the fold”?
Of course, I’m doing the same thing here that Milissa Tarquini did in her article: cherry-picking evidence and burning straw-men. I’ve ignored the ClickTale.com data she presented and, even though I demolished her AOL example, I haven’t provided contrarian evidence.
Here’s the bottom line: the fold does matter. Think about it. Put yourself in your users’ shoes. Imagine you’re going to some sites you’ve never been to, looking for information about some product. When you open the first site you see things like “Buy it now” buttons, links to other products made by the same company, ads, and background information about the company. On the second site you see most of the same stuff, plus a large area in the middle of your screen that reads “This product is the bee’s knees, the cat’s meow, and the flea’s eyebrows“. At which page would you be more likely to stick around?
On the other hand, if you’re browsing blogs, or looking for a certain bit of information you believe in on the page you’re reading, or just on a page you’ve been to a few times already, it doesn’t really matter where the fold is. But for a business’s homepage, you’d better be sure the top 600 rows of pixels make it clear to the user who you are, what you do, and what your products are. In fact, Milissa agrees with this:
Functionality that is essential to business strategy should remain (or at least begin) above the fold. For example, if your business success is dependent on users finding a particular thing (movie theaters, for example) then the widget to allow that action should certainly be above the fold.
What it all comes down to is that the content doesn’t need to be above the fold, but the hook does.
Disclaimer: I’m not a designer and I probably don’t know what I’m talking about.