Does placing content “above the fold” to avoid scrolling still matter? After a call last year with a client to review their new website we were building for them I realized this topic was still front and center in marketers’ minds. During the call, the client rightly wanted to see more relevant content on the screen without having to scroll the page. We were making the case that not all screen dimensions are the same and the fold sits different places for different users. Additionally, usability has changed and through effective design we can guide the client to relevant content below the page where users are now more comfortable venturing. I get where the client’s mindset comes from. This was a subject often researched and discussed back in the 90’s and early 2000’s. However, in a new age of online marketing I knew I had to dive deeper into the topic and provide insight. So, lets start with where the mantra originated.
Back in the mid-90’s during the birth of the more commercialized Internet and more importantly in this case, the website, usability expert Jakob Nielson published a study discouraging the use of any content below the point on a page where one would need to scroll. This is because his findings said only 10% of online users ever scrolled down a page. Flash forward to 2007, and another usability group called ClickTale published a study suggesting that 76% of all users now scroll a web page. Promising, but as a marketer not a definite sell to convince me otherwise because roughly a quarter of my customers might miss important information I have to say if it is below the fold.
These two research studies are the most publically sourced when you search this subject. The issue I have with them is they have lived way past their viable lifetime. Online marketing has moved fast. Technology quickly becomes obsolete and is ever changing. So how does a study still hold its weight in gold when the technology its based on has changed drastically? The most frustrating part is no usability expert has produced another study of which I could find. So much has changed in online marketing and the creation of websites that to make an argument on if “the fold” still matters you have to marry the trends these studies show with the the changes over the last 5-6 years.
The Past 5 Years
In the past five years, according to research published by Everett Rogers, we’ve witnessed a shift in the lifecycle of technology adoption. His research showed that about 20% of people adopt technology in its early stages, 34% adopt it in the middle, and about 50% adopt at the later stages.
In my opinion, over the last five years we entered the “Late Majority” stage of online marketing. Before then we were still just getting used to the basics. We had far less systems to worry about, more common screen sizes, and very simple things we could produce through HTML, Flash, and Java. We were slow to adopt and still learning the capabilities and navigability of the technology in front of us. In a sense you could say it was a very linear age of online marketing. Over the last 5-6 years we were introduced to the full power of social media, the explosion of smartphones and the apps and mobiles browsers they offer, tablets and mini tablets, HTML 5, CRM integration, automated marketing, the slow death of Flash, etc. There was and still is so much going on and coming at us that two things have happened:
- We had to learn the technology quickly, all of which had different user experiences. Because of this we quickly became accustomed to new ways of consuming information online.
- We stopped and listened. We were taught change was imminent and often for the better.
With the massive shift over the last 5-6 years, I would tell anyone the fold matters, but only to some degree. Above the scroll or fold, whatever you want to call it is a canvas that without a question needs to be designed around a user’s navigation process. However, that navigation process has drastically changed due to touchscreen interfaces popularized by Apple and adopted by everyone. And if you think of scrolling in the traditional sense with the scroll bar on the right, well Apple threw that concept out two operating systems ago. In Lion they stopped using the visible scroll bars making users rely more on the trackpad and scroll ball in the mouse. And in its latest OSx, it has integrated its popularized finger control technology such as pinch to zoom to view content on its computers. And Microsoft has introduced Windows 8 which now intertwines touch screen technology right into the PC.
All this means that the fold is increasingly abstract. Users unquestionably are used to scrolling content because it’s gotten to be in so many different positions due to the never ending supply of screen sizes (think smartphones, tablets, mini tablets, desktops with large LCD screens, desktops with standard LCD screens, etc.). As designers we have to leverage the first 500 pixels deemed the most important by Google to get the value proposition out and engage the user and alert them to what else we have that is relevant to their specific need. The content for that specific need often lives beyond the fold which today isn’t just below the next line of text. It’s now moved to the right of the screen (smartphone users, tablet users, and Windows 8 users will know what I mean).
So rather than focus on bringing your content up, focus on user interface and designing around making sure your users get to the content they need. Even if it’s below the fold.
Share Your 2 Cents
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