The final word on ‘the fold’ debate

There is a piece of feedback that strikes fear in the heart of any designer: “But what about the fold?”. For many people in the design community, this issue is dead and buried. For clients, less so. But what’s the truth? Are designers being too dismissive of this problem? Are clients misinformed? As with many things in life, the truth is not as clear-cut as either side might wish to believe.

Here’s the final word on the debate. For now.

“Here’s the final word on the 'Below the fold' debate. For now.”

What is the fold?

The ‘fold’ is an old concept from newspaper publishing that said the most high value content should be on the top half of the newspaper’s front-page design. This is because newspapers were typically displayed for sale folded in half, with only the top half visible to the passing customer.

It is used in the context of web design to refer to the area of the page that’s visible without any scrolling. It is assumed that the same logic applies – if you can’t see what you are looking for straight away you might leave, particularly as people don’t tend to scroll. But what’s the truth?

Do people scroll?

One of the arguments against the fold being a problem on web pages is that people scroll, so we don’t need to be too concerned about what they see on first view. This is true – evidence shows time and time again that people do indeed habitually scroll down when they visit a webpage, so we shouldn’t be concerned that people wont scroll (*see caveat below though!).

Is there even a fold?

Today, websites are viewed on many devices, with huge variations in screen size. Many people think that this variation has made the fold debate obsolete. However, despite this variation, responsive web design actually means that all devices end up seeing very similar variants of the header area of a webpage.

* When is the fold a problem?

There is an occasion when people do not scroll. This is when the user incorrectly perceives there to be nothing more to see on the page than what is currently visible in their browser viewport. This is rare, but is sometimes the result of design cues that discourage scrolling – stark, horizontal lines at the bottom of the screen (a ‘false floor’), or designs that perfectly ‘snap’ to the browsers viewport.

Conclusion

The fold is not an impenetrable barrier. People will scroll down*.

We do not need to try and put everything above the fold. However we need to communicate value as quickly as possible, to keep the user on that page and stop them from leaving.

So what they see above the fold is still important – as it sets expectations for the rest of the page. For example, a page headline that successfully communicates the value of staying on the page is incredibly important as it will help stop people leaving the page and encourage them to explore by scrolling down.

People do scroll, but they also do bounce / exit if they don’t quickly see value or aren’t where they thought they were.

The further you put something down the page, the fewer the people who will see it.

This is a numbers game where drop off rates rise the further you get down the page – something scrollmaps in Hotjar (analytics tool) show us quite clearly. Therefore page hierarchy is important – typically, high value content should be at the top, lower value content at the bottom.

Does this mean that ‘long’ pages are a problem? No – interesting content is what keeps someone on a page, and keeps them scrolling down. For example, our new Hospital Bag checklist page for C&G Baby Club has 17min+ page times from PPC.

A page should be as long as we can keep it, without losing the interest of and relevance to the audience. Pages are only too big when they become slow to load – but even then clever tech can negate this problem.

  • So does the fold matter? Yes, in the sense that it’s important to make a great first impression, and to let people know where they are.
  • Do people scroll? Yes, unless you trick them into thinking there’s nothing more to see.
  • Can a webpage be too ‘long’? Only when we’ve run out of things to keep it interesting or relevant.

You’ve made it this far

Now, let’s promise to never talk of the fold again, and instead focus on making web pages awesome for our users. Thank you.

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