If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: when designing your website, you should put as much content as you can at the top of the homepage, because it’s the only space that your users will actually pay attention to! But no matter how many so-called “marketing experts” perpetuate the myth of “the fold” in web design, it’s actual relevance is not nearly as strong as you might imagine. So why are we still talking about the concept?
First Things First: What’s The Fold?
If you’re involved in digital marketing, you probably know about the concept of “The Fold,” a former newspaper term that was transferred to websites in the early digital age. The idea is simple: potential readers/visitors will pay most attention to the content they see first. In newspapers, that’s the top half of the title page, while on websites it’s the content on the front page that’s visible without scrolling. It made perfect sense in a world of static, 800×600 pixel websites where the term was clearly defined.
Changing Perspectives in the Mobile Age
Of course, we’re no longer living in a world of static websites. While plenty of credible, often-cited studies suggest the importance of the fold in web design, these studies are decreasing in relevance as we’re moving into a more mobile-focused digital environment.
Last year, mobile internet usage surpassed its desktop counterpart for the first time, and the gap is only expected to widen in the near future. The result has been a dramatic rise in mobile marketing, including to no small part the rapid spread of web design that responds and adjusts itself dynamically based on screen size. In fact, a survey by Google earlier this year showed 82% of respondents are now using responsive design.
You probably know where we’re going with this by now: if a site adjusts itself based on screen size, and if the majority of users are now looking at your site via mobile devices, just where do you think the fold is? The answer is easy: it no longer exists.
But don’t just take our word for it. Plenty of data points to the fact that scrolling beyond the top end of a page is, in fact, more common than “above the fold” supporters believe. As it turns out, 76% of users use the scroll bar on a website to dive beyond what they initially see. An A/B test by ContentVerve showed that a landing page with the call to action at the bottom of the page outperformed its top-of-page CTA variation by no less than 300%.
To top it off, research now shows that users spend the majority of their time on a website just below the traditional fold.
Designing Websites in a Post-Fold Environment
In other words, the concept of a “fold” in modern web design is hopelessly outdated. Cramming your content into the top part of your homepage, or even designing an entire page without scrolling, is no longer effective. Of course, the top of your homepage still matters for web visitors as their first impression of your site. But everything that comes after matters just as much.
Here are some tips on how you can design your website in a responsive, post-fold world:
- Grab Attention at the Top. Your most compelling visuals and headlines should still live at the top of the page. Done just right, they will draw your visitors toward the additional content at the bottom, where you can spend your time and content convincing them to take action. You may even want to think about specifically encouraging your users to scroll for more information.
- Scatter Your CTAs. Not every visitor behaves similar. Some will come to your website with the specific purpose of filling out a form to get their content, while others need some convincing first. So instead of merely placing your CTAs at the top or the bottom, scatter them around your site to grab visitors at any point within their discovery phase. Dropbox, long a leader and innovator when it comes to landing pages, does a great job of this on its homepage.
- Avoid the “False Fold.” If your visitors think they can glean everything without scrolling, they won’t do so – even if they see a scroll bar. Too many companies seek to present a complete picture of their site, creating clear delineation between the top “attention grabbing” content and its bottom, “convince me” counterpart. But that delineation actually discourages people from ever discovering that content, as they don’t feel the need to scroll. Instead of creating an arbitrary distinction between your top and bottom content, think about using the Gestalt Effect to your advantage by presenting a design that’s clearly incomplete without scrolling.
As we move further into the mobile age, dynamic websites have made the “above the fold” concept become hopelessly outdated. It’s time to start thinking beyond the concept and toward the countless opportunities companies now have to build amazing websites without fear that visitors will only ever see the top part.