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The myth of “above the fold”

What is the fold?

A long time ago, “above the fold” was a term coined to describe the content that appeared above the newspaper fold, in the prime spot. This concept was adapted for web design, and the “above the fold” definition expanded to mean everything a web user sees before scrolling.

In the early days of the web, scrolling was unfamiliar and unnatural, so this meant that designers and usability professionals often concentrated all important content into this small area above the fold. But today we know a lot more about user behavior and experience, and just as users are now comfortable scrolling, we should now be comfortable designing for them. Here we look at the data behind this story, and how we can use it to create better digital customer experience and improve CTRs.

What do we know about users and the fold?

At Clicktale, we decided to compile and analyze user data to glean valuable insights about user behavior and scrolling. These insights are based on a subset of 120,000 page views over a one month period. The analysis is of vertical scrolling behavior and Clicktale technology recorded the height of web pages, plus the height of the user’s window and the lowest point to which they scrolled.

Overall, we saw that 91% of page views were on pages that had a scroll bar. Of those, 76% included some scrolling action, and 22% were scrolled to the bottom of the page.

We know that designers are largely designing with scroll in mind, and that most users are indeed scrolling to some extent. When dealing with page views, it is important to remember that many of these can be attributed to the same user, which in turn means that if 22% of page views included a scroll to the bottom, significantly more than this proportion of visitors did at some point scroll to the bottom of the page.

Where is the fold?

Now that we’re getting into the data, we decided to try and locate the fold. And unsurprisingly, we couldn’t:

Distribution of fold location

What is above the fold in desktop is not necessarily above the fold in mobile.

While the fold location has a very wide range, we see that it is centered around three points, corresponding to the three most popular screen resolutions: 800x600, 1024x768 and 1280x1024. The dispersion around these peaks is due to variations in screen size, window size, browser design and browser add-ons.

So, where is the fold...?

Well, it’s all over the place!

Using Google Analytics, you will be able to see what the most popular screen dimensions of your users are, which can help you when designing and improving your website.

Do people scroll?

There is no one fold location, but to what extent do web visitors explore pages beyond their own personal fold?

We analyzed the data to find out.

Rather than looking at how far they scrolled in absolute terms, we found out what proportion of entire web pages were reached by scrolling, for each page view (we call this the Relative Scroll Reach):

Distribution of relative scroll reach

We can see on the right that 22% of visitors reached the bottom of the webpage. Most other points on the page were likely to be reached roughly the same amount as each other - in fact with a slight bias towards points lower down on the page. This is good news: people really do scroll!

Our analysis revealed that this pattern held just as true for longer pages as it did for shorter ones, which means that there isn’t an absolute drop-off point after which visitors get tired of scrolling. (Of course this doesn’t mean users are actually reading everything on the page).

Percent scrolled

A responsive fold

All of this reinforces one important point that we are already aware of: that websites need to be responsive to the devices they are being browsed on. And this in turn means that the fold is no longer an absolute point below which content is hidden and above which it is visible. This requires a shift in the approach to and understanding of the fold: rather than thinking about how to get your key CTA in the top spot, you might want to think about how to encourage those actions and consumption of content: how to convince your users to scroll until they complete those activities.

Google and the fold

While placing ads above the fold maximizes their viewability, it’s important not to go overboard with this. Google actually penalizes websites that place so many ads above the fold that the actual website content slips below. Not only does this practice result in a poor user experience, but it’s counter-productive for SEO purposes. Striking the balance of optimal ad and content placement will require trial and error. Experiment, analyze and test!

Moving on from the “above the fold” myth

It isn’t necessary, nor is it really possible, to design your website according to the binary above/below the fold distinction.

What you should focus on instead is the actual content on these pages, and how to best design sites to showcase products and make a compelling case to a user. It is this that drives a user to click on a CTA, giving you the desired CTR. With the right motivation, a user will scroll far beyond the fold - and that’s what you need to bear in mind.

We’re not pretending that the fold doesn’t matter. What we’re saying is that to get the results you want - improved CTRs and conversion rates - you need to use the fold better. As found by the Nielsen Norman Group: users do scroll, but only when what’s above the fold is promising. The visible content that doesn’t ask for an action is what motivates a user to scroll.

Where do we go from here?

Now that we know improving the customer experience and conversion rates is not about above the fold design, how should we approach design at all?

Our number one recommendation is not to squeeze your webpage and make it more compact just for maximal exposure of content. There is no proven benefit in doing this, and you certainly won’t be winning any design awards.

You know that visitors do in fact scroll. So, you can make their lives easier by creating dynamic sections so they can locate the content or action they’re after quickly. Scanning web pages is pretty much how most visitors browse - and so, attractive images are your best friends in web design. Choose your words carefully, and make your CTAs pop.


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