Marketing, to some extent, is about observing and reacting to human behavior. Unfortunately, in a world where technology is beginning to inform behavior more than behavior informs technology, the design element of marketing is often left behind. Such is the case with the tried and true(ish) “Above the Fold” principle of web design.
In the golden era of newspapers, editors and publishers were forced to consider the importance of printing significant content “above the fold” - as in the literal fold of the newspapers that were being sold at newsstands and corner shops. Headlines needed to be bold and snappy. Images needed to engage passersby to entice them into purchasing those little bundles of knowledge. Fast forward to the 90s, and web designers began adopting this principle on a grand scale. The physical fold of a newspaper became the moment web users need to begin scrolling. It worked for a little while, when websites were coming into their prime and development was still relatively rudimentary. Then, something terrible happened. Web design stopped evolving - at least in some fundamental ways.
Today - designers, developers, and clients alike continue to duke it out in the great Above the Fold debate.
Some designers want to play it safe and stick to the familiarity of the hovering fold. Others are ready to move on to more innovative layouts.
Clients want to cram their mission statement, their products, their differentiators, and a complete oral history of their company above the fold.Developers just want to get the dang thing done, and done properly.
Is Content Below the Fold Less Valuable?
Short answer: Yes.
Long answer: It doesn’t have to be.
Marketers and designers have gotten to a point where they have successfully fulfilled the Above the Fold prophecy. The masses subscribed to conventional wisdom and packed the top of the fold with calls-to-action and significant information, leaving the little details down below. The standards could have changed, could have been challenged...but marketers sealed the fate of the fold. Content that exists beyond that pixelated line is less valuable because, well, the collective “we” let it be.
In the digital world, accessing content below the fold means actively engaging the scrollbar. This necessitates action, which many clients believe drastically reduces content engagement. This line of thinking makes sense - but it’s also a little antiquated. Think about your own behaviors on social media. What do you do on there more than anything else? You scroll. You scroll until your thumb aches, then you switch hands and scroll some more. Dislike something? Scroll. Love something? Double tap then scroll again.
“Scrolling is a natural behavior. Throwing a bunch of content at the top of a viewport is abrasive, confusing, and motivates many users to either leave or scroll faster. Emphasis on good, relevant content and thoughtful design is what captures or converts users,” says Eugene.
Remember, technology has reached a point where it influences behavior, not the other way around. You don’t have to stuff the top of the page with every important detail. You can spread it out. Focus on creating high-quality content, and using an engaging design that encourages scrolling - which allows users to not only positively interact with your website, but will present them with information that they can digest and use to influence clicks, conversions, sales, and any other white whales you might be chasing.
Basically, the above the fold philosophy just doesn’t have the weight it used to - but that doesn’t mean it’s obsolete.
Where Do You Draw the Line?
In the past decade or so, technology has introduced a plethora of devices that users can choose to browse the internet, consume content, and make purchases on. There’s desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and smart TVs - each with different sizes and viewports. This leaves designers and developers with the challenge of figuring out where their client wants the infamous fold. Proper fold placement can be determined by considering statistics on user behavior - most common screen and device sizes - but it’s still a gamble.
“I used to design for newspapers and eventually transitioned to digital. I don’t like the term being applied to digital. How do you define a fold when you don’t know what device the user is viewing content on?,” says Eugene Newcomb, Creative Director at Roger West.
Everything in Moderation
Clients love keeping things above the fold. Classic web design calls for it. This is all okay. Above the fold tactics don’t have to be abolished completely - but they don’t have to dominate every page either.
Whether you like it or not - above the fold still matters (but it comes with some limitations).
A recent report by NNG suggests that some sites have begun implementing anywhere from 2-4 folds per page to break up content and allow variability to accommodate mobile devices. This is an excellent way to modernize an old-school idea.
WordStream’s deep dive on homepage design found that 40 out of 50 homepages had at least one CTA above the fold. This is manageable, in fact - encouraged. Keeping a CTA at the top of a page subtly reminds users why they’re on your website. Pairing a CTA with a digestible amount of high-quality and valuable information is infinitely more compelling than a CTA, a massive headline, an obnoxious hero image, and a paragraph on how great your product/service is. If they’re interested - they’ll scroll. It’s what humans in the 21st century do.
If you or your clients are completely convinced on subverting the Above the Fold style guide, you can always implement some A/B testing to determine which page style is most effective for the market you’re selling to. Split traffic into one above the fold, information heavy landing page and a scroller-friendly design. Once you collect your results on traffic, conversions, etc., you’ll have a data-supported blueprint for the optimal landing page.
This is complex stuff. Don’t worry if you’re not quite sure what you want out of your website or landing pages. Give Roger West a call, and we can talk about the best option for your brand or business.