strategy

Debunked: The “Above the Fold” Web Design Myth

Debunked: The “Above the Fold” Web Design Myth

Kristen Duke

As a marketing and technology agency with plenty of experience with high-end website design, we’ve come to know a thing or two about the best practices when it comes to approaching the “above the fold” issue. Here’s our three-part perspective:

If you’ve spent any time working in web design, you will have almost certainly heard about the importance of keeping things “above the fold” at one point or another.

The argument goes a little something like this:

"If our most important content is not above the fold, most of our visitors won’t ever scroll down to see it.”

While this may have held some truth when the internet first sprang into existence, today, the content "above the fold" doesn’t have to contain everything of importance — it just needs to be convincing enough to keep the visitor scrolling.

The History Behind The "Fold": How Did We Get Here?

The term “above the fold” is a holdover from the newsprint era and the fold was literally just that, the actual fold of the newspaper that separated the top half of the front page from the bottom.

By putting the most urgent or salacious headlines and images on the top half of the folded page, editors reasoned that more people would be lured into buying the paper. It made sense.

We’re now past the age of folded paper and coin operated kiosks. Most of us get our news from our phones or computers — where the fold is a digital one. But that hasn’t stopped most designers from sticking to the unwritten “above the fold” rule, where “above the fold” refers to anything viewable on a website without any action from the user.

What’s The Most Important Information? It All Is.

If it wasn’t important, it wouldn’t be on your website, right? So, how do you know which information is important enough to go "above the fold?"

Well, some marketers prefer to play it safe and crowd the top of an email or website with any and all information they want to communicate.

The result is a top-heavy design with many different communication points and calls-to-action that compete with each other for the user’s attention.

While this approach does convey a message to the reader right off the bat, it may do so by overwhelming them with competing headlines, buttons, and calls to action. To top everything off, this tactic also looks cramped and unprofessional.

So why are marketers still insisting on continuing to design this way?

As previously mentioned, the thinking behind the tactic is that the average user is too lazy to scroll down. But if you’re reading this right now on a phone or tablet or maybe even your laptop, chances are you’ve already done plenty of scrolling to get this far. Are you exhausted? We didn’t think so.

Furthermore, studies have disproven this aged assumption, as 66% of attention on a normal media page is spent "below the fold."

Authentic’s Perspective

As a web development agency with plenty of experience with high-end website design, we’ve come to know a thing or two about the best practices when it comes to approaching the “above the fold” issue.

Here’s our three-part perspective:

First: The "Fold" Is Real, But Not That Real

The “fold” as a guiding design principle does exist and is important, but not in the way that many clients think it does. Let me explain.

When designing a website, you do need to make sure that you design for "above the fold," but only in the sense that you need to make sure that whatever is up there is convincing enough to keep the user on the site, and encourages them to continue exploring by scrolling or clicking on what you provide them with.

There are some clients that take this a little too far by insisting that the most important elements get displayed first, citing that the user needs to see it immediately — although this is only partially true. Users do need to see relevant content that appeals to them, or affirms that they are in the right place, but they don’t need to see the specific thing they are looking for right off the bat — that’s what good navigation is for.

Second: Cramming Content "Above The Fold" Does More Harm Than Good

By putting all of the things you think your user wants to see “above the fold," you are actually doing more harm than good.

You can affect how the user perceives your website with the combination of a few important design principles like color, proximity, and size, which can help them understand it in a clear, concise, and convincing way according to things we know about human interaction and design.

For instance, if a user sees a page on a website that has a message saying "Do you want to learn more?" accompanied by a large distinctly colored button that says "Learn More," they will know what they need to do. That’s because instructions were presented in a clear, concise, and convincing way with the use of color (the button), proximity (the fact that the message and button were the only thing on the page) and size (the message was large enough to be seen and the button was large enough to click on).

But what if there were 5 or even 10 messages just like that in the same space? Does the user now know which big red button to click on? Is the messaging clear enough to have the user feel confident enough about which button to click? You see the problem.

Third: No, Carousels Aren’t the Answer.

Some web designers think they can sidestep these issues with a carousel or slider — a tactic that allows them to show messages scrolling or changing "above the fold."

But in most cases, this approach just introduces a whole new batch of usability problems.

If you show the user a message, and then take it away from them to show them another, how do they know which is more important? Did they have enough time to read the first message? How long does it take them to realize the message changed before reading the new message — oh crap now there’s a third one….how do I stop this thing... you might get where I’m going here.

Based on these principles, it’s fair to say that in modern web design, sliders and carousels are synonymous with frustrating user experiences, and should be used sparingly — ideally "below the fold."

Quality Over Quantity

At the end of the day, when it comes to designing “above the fold” the key is to ensure that your messaging and content is concise and inviting to the user.

If you can create content that successfully does this, and you present it in a way that applies design principles that help the user see and understand it, then you’ve mastered your “above the fold” design.

If you have a compelling story and you’re able to tell it well, the numbers prove that your audience will stick around and happily scroll down to find out more.

 

While we now know that designing "above the fold" for digital is a myth, it should be considered when planning content to ensure users are engaged upon landing on your site. So, it should come as no surprise that good quality content combined with thoughtful design is what ultimately gets the job done.