In the old days, when people read newspapers, stories “below the fold” were less important than those above. In displays, people could only see the top half of the folded paper, so those stories had to be interesting enough to motivate people to buy the papers.
The proverbial fold on a web page typically is the space in the first 500 pixels from the top of the browser window. According to Jakob Nielson, famed web usability consultant, in the early years of the web (1994 – 1996), users didn’t scroll at all. “They simply looked at the visible information and used it to determine whether to stay or leave,” according to Nielson.
Nielson says the reason for this was based on other learned habits when it came to computer use. They simply didn’t scroll down much when it came to using other software applications and user interfaces.
But in 2010, in Nielson’s report “Scrolling and Attention,” ( http://www.nngroup.com/articles/scrolling-and-attention/) he says users are now acclimated to scrolling on the web, changing his previous guidelines. He evens advises presenting a long piece of content in one scrolling chunk as opposed to split up across multiple page views.
Awesome news, right? People are scrolling down and have been since at least 2010!
But even today — freshly into 2014, we still get questions and concerns about the fold. Here’s a few reasons why you need to put your fold fears to rest:
Mobile. The percentage of users accessing the internet via a mobile devices is growing rapidly and daily. The way users interact with web pages on a mobile device varies largely from how they view a website on a desktop. Web pages load slower on a 3 or 4g network so users would prefer getting the information with one page load than multiple page loads so there is a need for more meaningful content on the home page. And the view of the page is different. They are panning and pinching and zooming in on pages making that imaginary fold line irrelevant.
Screen sizes. Desktop screens are getting bigger and bigger. So a top heavy website can actually look “old school.”
Content. Everything today is about meaningful content both for human users and search engines. So having important information all over your home page that links to even more meaningful content in the deeper pages of your site matters big time.
While designers rejoice that the whole kitchen sink doesn’t have to be squeezed into the top 500 pixels, you still want to be strategic about what goes higher on the page. The “top” of the page is still important as far as getting your message across efficiently and motivating the user to go further for more information.
Here are some guidelines to consider:
- Answer at least four of these questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why near the top of the website.
- Present the website menu and contact info in plain text near the top of the site. This will load faster on mobile and is likely what the user is looking for in that capacity.
- On longer scrolling pages, include the call to action near the top and at the bottom of the web page, so wherever the user is on the page, he knows what you want him to do.
So hopefully you are freed of fold fear and can rest assured that, with strategic content placement, your users will happily move throughout the page and even deeper into your website. Folding is for newspapers and laundry but not for websites. Hooray for scrolling down!