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Is above the fold still relevant in web design?

My parents’ mate, Bill, has had an incredible life. He’d done loads, been happily married with kids for decades, active in the community and youth groups, travelled all over, adventurous, you get the picture. He mentioned that he quite fancied writing his autobiography, but he hadn’t got a typewriter. So, my folks and a group of mutual friends, decided to club together to get him a PC with Microsoft Word instead for his 60th birthday. Much better than a typewriter. They duly did and Bill was delighted. He got his new PC all set up and began writing.

Some weeks later he was asked, “How’s the autobiography coming along, Bill?”

“Oh, the computer’s full,” said Bill.

“Full?! What do you mean, full? How much have you bloody written?!”

“Just the one page,” replied Bill.

Cue puzzled exchanged glances.

“Yeah, the screen filled up and there was no more room, so I had to stop,” he concluded.

It was at this point that Bill learned that if he scrolled down with his mouse he would be able to carry on typing. This is a true story but it happened over twenty years ago and illustrates perfectly the concept of ‘above the fold’.

What is ‘above the fold’ and is it a myth?

The term originated from newspaper publication whereby important information was put above the fold in the paper so it could be seen from a distance on newsstands. That’s why newspaper headlines are in massive print and images are large. This term was adopted in the early days of web design because in the beginning people who were new to the internet wouldn’t be accustomed to, or even know about, scrolling down a page, like poor old Bill, so as much website content as possible was placed at the top of the page where it wouldn’t be missed. I repeat, this was over twenty years ago so anyone still going on about ‘above the fold’ in this context in web design is talking cobblers. Here’s why.

In 2018, over 44 million people used the internet every day (Source) and half of this web browsing was done on mobile devices (Source). That’s an awful lot of people doing an awful lot of browsing. But what’s happened since the mid-1990s is that we have all learned new motor skills and we’re now conditioned to use websites on a range of devices. We all instinctively know that there’s more content off the bottom of the screen, we know where the scroll bar is on the right-hand side of the browser, our fingers are constantly flicking between the scroll wheel and the left-click button on our mouses (Mice? Mices??) and we automatically swipe down the screen on smartphones.

Still a surprising number of some of our prospective clients still say, “Oh, we need to put everything above the fold because people don’t scroll.” This, is utter nonsense. Is above the fold still relevant in web design? The ‘fold’ still exists, but its use has changed.

What goes above the fold?

Now that we all know how a mouse works the section above the fold still has uses, just not cramming as much content in as possible as was done previously.

Website content these days should be about the customer, not necessarily about the company. Customers will want to know what you do and, more importantly, what they will benefit. Space above the fold shouldn’t be: We are a digital agency of 10 years standing with a combined experience in the industry of over 40 years. That sort of stuff doesn’t impress anyone and doesn’t actually say what you do or how you can help. We create websites and digital strategies that can help increase your company’s bottom line, is better. This leads visitors to find out how you do this.

Many say that the space above the fold should be used for a call-to-action. It’s a good place sometimes but making sure the right CTA is used is important. Contact Us! is no good – why would someone go straight to contact without finding out more about what you do? Find out how we can increase your turnover, invites users to discover more about your services and more effective as a CTA. There is even an argument that a CTA above the fold actually discourages scrolling. Ideally, you want people to scroll, get an overview of your offering from the home page and then take an action. Depending on the site, a more effective place for a CTA is at the bottom of the home page after the visitor has digested its content.

There is also a trend at the moment to have very little above the fold. Just a simple strapline, not much info, or a statement of services. This sparse approach is intended to encourage scrolling – if people aren’t getting enough info, their natural instinct is to look elsewhere on the page to get it. With good design this technique works really well to increase engagement on the website.

Is above the fold still relevant in web design?

These are just a few examples of how the top of a web page can be used but generally speaking, the section above the fold should be used to create a good first impression, engage visitors, whet their appetites or deliver a direct and clear message. To answer the question, is above the fold still relevant in web design? – of course, yes. But just having an effective ‘above the fold’ section is not enough because, ultimately, it’s the beginning of the conversion process, and your sales funnels start here. Not only this, the entire user-journey should be mapped out and properly supported by excellent content and properly placed CTAs.

Website visitors absolutely do scroll. The trick is to make them scroll the way you want them to.

Photo by Vitória Santos from Pexels

 

Posted in Liverpool Website Design, New Ideas, User Experience, Website Copywriting

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