Every web designer and developer has heard that dreaded statement from a client. “But I want that information to be above the fold!” which is inevitably followed by the project coming to a screeching halt as we try to figure out if there is any way to fit 5000 pixels worth of information into 800-1000 pixels worth of space. Not a pretty site! (pun definitely intended)
So is it truth or myth, this idea of the fold? Well the only thing that is for certain is that it’s not a black and white issue. First, lets look at the facts. ClickTale has done some great research in this area and approached the topic from many perspectives. Initially their studies in 06/07 were simple and they concluded that:
- 91% of the page views were long enough to contain scroll-bar
- Of those, 76% were scrolled to some extent
- 22% of the page views with a scroll-bar were scrolled all the way to the bottom
Draw your own conclusions from those stats, but what I see is that everyone breeches the fold, and users are accustomed to scrolling. (and that was back in 2006!).
Testing was again done in late 07 with more of a focus on attention and time spent on different portions of the page. The results of that test can be looked at in detail here. The basic results are that people naturally spend more time at the top of the page. In fact the top portions of a website get 17x more exposure than the other portions of the site.
So right about now you are probably saying. “Wait, I thought you were going to debunk the fold myth?” Well…no…I’m not because a decent amount of research is available that supports the thinking that if its newsworthy or important or valuable to your website, then it should be placed above the fold. That being said, there is a discussion that ensues, “Is above the fold all that matters?” and I am here to say no, there is more to the story.
So how do we live outside of the fold, how do we cross that ominous boundary? Can we reclaim that real estate that could mean so much to our site layouts or are we all just doomed to make landscape, non-scrolling flash websites? (Sorry Flash guys, no offense)
The other top of the page
Well first, if we look closer at the statistics of page views we discover that there is another golden area of real estate, (although it is still a developing area that is mostly low income housing) For as much time as the users spends at the top of the page, and then scrolls rapidly toward the bottom, there is a beautiful pause that happens once they arrive there; an extra few seconds of contemplation about what to do next. Sounds like an opportunity for a call to action if I have ever heard one.
Take advantage of this decision making location and restate your most important purpose, make a last ditch attempt to answer their biggest fear or address what is holding them back from converting, or simply restate your value proposition in a creative way.
Slow Yer’ Roll
Scrolling is second nature to users these days, so fearing that they will not move past the top of the page is ridiculous, however scrolling is often done at the speed of light with little consideration for content and more of a glance being taken at the page as a whole. Add on top of that the introduction of fun technologies like Logitech’s Hyper-fast Scrolling which allows a user to scroll “hundreds of pages with a single flick of the wheel” and you get the picture of what we are up against.
But good design has the ability to stop users in their tracks, perhaps the biggest error is ignoring the real estate that is below the fold. We need to pay even more attention to the content that logically needs to reside in the lower 1000+ pixels and give it some extra love.
For the mid page content, draw attention to key points with striking typography and layout. Add imagery, bullets and hi-lights to get a second look; and for god sakes be brief and to the point because you wont keep them here for long.
I have had a long standing belief that its not just what’s above the fold, but what is within the fold, or what you can see within one screen of information. A page that is being viewed that has a nice bright box with compelling titling that you can’t quite read because 80% of it is below the fold has such “scroll appeal” that it can actually get more of your page and therefor more of your site seen.
It is important to provide leaders on pages at every opportunity and especially on longer pages. Ask yourself, “Am I balancing the information so that the user always knows there is more below the fold worth reading?”
It’s what we do…
Overall, remember, a huge part of designing for the web is overcoming obstacles and challenges. Making the complex more digestible, making the boring intriguing, grabbing the attention of those with short attention spans. The fold is just another obstacle, and to that I say, &%$! you fold! I will design beyond you, I will iron you out, I will get the user to the bottom of the page!!