Why it’s time to dump the above-the-fold myth (And adopt a common sense approach)

bulls hate the color red

Bulls charge when they see red – Myth?

Bulls hate the color red! Have you heard this statement before? I’m sure you have. It’s been repeated in books, movies, my favorite cartoon and by my grandmother. But it turns out it’s not the color red that makes the bull attack. In fact bulls charge at whatever object is moving the most.

Which means this old myth can get tossed out of the ring!

Now I’m sure you have also heard that all your important website content should be displayed above-the-fold. It seems like this myth never dies. The fold is one of those guidelines that has been thrown about so much that it’s now become a ‘rule of thumb’ for web design. Even today web designers continue to blindly follow this rule, applying logic that made sense in 1999.

What is above-the-fold?

“Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” I remember in the ‘classic’ movies there was always a shot of a little kid calling out the headline news of the newspaper. The newspaper was always folded with the upper half displaying the latest grabbing headline in bold. This is really what above-the-folder means.

Papers are often displayed to customers folded so that only the top half of the front page is visible. Thus, an item that is “above-the-fold” will be one that the editor feels will entice people to buy the paper. Of course it then followed that this same rule would be work just as well for Websites. And it did!

How is above-the-fold used in Websites?

Above-the-fold when used in website design refers to the portion of the webpage that is visible without scrolling. In the early days of personal computers, screens were small. And content displayed within the boundary of this small screen was deemed as above-the-fold. So back in 1999, something visible within the 800 x 600 pixel dimensions of the home page was more likely to be seen, read, and clicked on. Similar to a folded newspaper, if your website content appeared above-the-fold or within the visible area of the monitor, then it was golden. But, hey that was 1999.

Where is the fold today?

Today, in our multi-device world, screen sizes vary drastically. There is no set definition for the number of pixels that can define the fold. This is because different screen sizes will show different portions of the website without scrolling. Additionally, many websites adjust their layout based on the size of the browser window. So the fold is no longer a static feature of the page. So it follows that you would need to design a different above-the-fold for every possible device. That’s not very practical is it?

Yet people continue to push this rule

Just a few weeks ago I read this review on a reputed forum. “Above-the-fold screen real estate is absolutely precious.  I feel you’re wasting too much…blah blah blah”. Yes, this guy has got the statement correct but for all the wrong reasons. The content above-the-fold will get the most attention and is crucial for first time visitors in deciding whether your page is worth reading at all.

What are these wrong reasons?

One of the big concerns way back when was that users would not scroll (or simply not know to scroll) and would therefore never see the content below-the-fold. So designers would squeeze as much content above-the-fold and they still continue to follow this rule. But in reality we don’t need to focus on above-the-fold. Instead we just need to focus on good content delivered in a well structured design. If we do that, visitors will scroll naturally.

Always placing your call to action (CTA) above-the-fold: Having a call to action(CTA) at the top of the page does not automatically mean a prospect will take action. In fact research has found that higher conversion rates have nothing to do with where the CTA is located. Instead it has everything to do with if the CTA is visible at a point when your prospect has become convinced to take action (i.e. the CTA follows the right amount of quality content). So to put it plainly ask yourself this – how desirable does a prospect find your offering at the point you are asking him to take action?

Trying to make a prospect take action before he knows the value is like putting the horse before the cart. It makes your web page look like a pushy salesperson. And we all know what action we take when that happens :-). That is why the fold is a myth.

I bet you are thinking .. If the fold is myth why is it still around?

That’s because as I said earlier content above-the-fold will get a visitor’s immediate attention. However it’s important to design for the today.

Don’t push all your quality content on the visitor at once because you think they only have 4 seconds before their attention drops. Think about the ultimate journey you want them to take and how your visitors will navigate the site. Make your design intuitive for your visitors

Each site, in fact each page should have a different goal of getting the visitor to take a action. That goal could be to subscribe to newsletter, buy a product or get more information. So create an experience that makes sense, let you content tell a story which will make it easy to navigate the site.

What should I do next?

Take a good hard look at your website. Analyze each page. Are you pushing your Call to Action to early? It’s not always necessary to have call to actions above-the-fold. It makes sense in certain contexts – for example a site like amazon.com does not need to convince anyone (the typical amazon.com visitor is already sold on amazon.com). They just need to quickly buy the products on sale, hence all actionable items have to be as easily accessible as possible (above-the-fold).

Just like the myth about bulls hating the color red, it’s time to stop blindly following the above-the-fold myth instead use a common sense approach to designing your website.

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