April 7, 2015 | Sarah Danks
…or is it?
Designers, SEOs, content marketers, any myriad of marketing experts are still concerned with getting important website information Above the Fold. But, what does that even mean?
Above the Fold: Newspapers.
Everyone knows the original term “above the fold” harkens back to ye olde days of newspapers. They were pretty much the only source of news, so if you wanted to find out what was going on in the world, you had to buy a paper. So?
Well, see, newspapers were — and still are, for those of you who still read them — always folded in half. (If you just learned something, then you’re too young to be a marketer and don’t need to be reading this. Go finish your homework.)
So of course the main goal of all newspapers was to get all the best headlines of the day “above the fold” to catch peoples’ eye and make them want to purchase YOUR newspaper.
Great news headlines above the fold = more sales (with the help of the hawkers’ cries, of course).
Above the Fold: Computer Screens.
And then computers were invented, the Internet became accessible to everyone, and all of a sudden newspapers weren’t the only source of information. But people still wanted to see pertinent information on their computer screen — whether it was on a search engine, directory, or website — right away.
Hence, The Fold became a digital term: everything a user could see of a website before having to scroll down to see more was Above the Fold. Anything visible on their computer screen after the user scrolled became known as Below the Fold.
At this point you’re shaking your head thinking, “…and?” Well, my friend, many of us online marketers are at odds with the concept — and each other — about:
- whether The Fold still exists, and/or
- WHERE The Fold is.
Because these days there are so many different sizes of “computer screens” in use across various devices, how can anyone determine what or where The Fold is anymore?
Is “The Fold” Dead, After All?
Of course I don’t think the fold dead, but I ran across this rather intriguing blog post the other day that gives 3 opinions why “the fold” is dead.
The experienced designer who wrote the post gives quite valid points why one might think The Fold is a thing of the past, including
- multiple — and varying — screen sizes,
- the idea that scrolling is promoted web-wide nowadays, and
- responsive web design.
Let’s take a look at these — and why they actually do NOT signal the end of The Fold.
#1: Multiple Screen Sizes
It’s 2015 (anyone else shocked it’s April ALREADY???) and more people are accessing the Internet via mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) than with desktops and laptops. This pie chart of mobile marketing statistics (2015) from Smart Insights breaks down the usage of devices used to access the Internet:
It stands to reason that with web users accessing the Internet so often with various devices, they’re seeing information across a variety of screen sizes. With that in mind, I find it interesting that in the blog post mentioned above the author contradicts himself during his argument against The Fold.
He states the fold is dead because of all the different screen/device sizes in this day and age; there is no set “fold” anymore.
But then he continues,
“…the content that is most valuable or the newest is always towards the top.“
Soooooo…we still want the most valuable content, well, ABOVE THE FOLD. Regardless of which device visitors are using to access online information, there will always be a Fold. We want to grab their attention right away, let them know they’ve landed in the right place, answer their questions…
…in essence, we want to put pertinent information right where they can see it upon landing on the website. I.e., Above The Fold.
#2: Scrolling is Promoted in Today’s Web…Because of:
#3: Responsive Web Design
Our blog post writer also states that the “new dogma” of responsive web design has created a more “stacked” content layout. And, because of this, users “frequently have to scroll through content when on mobile devices, tablets and phablets.”
So, the argument is that users are used to scrolling because of responsive websites. Which of course I disagree with — I’d probably blame social media venues for the shift in scroll-happiness (think how long you can scroll on Twitter. Instagram. Facebook. Tumblr. Etc. etc. etc.).
But I digress. Just because we access the Internet via multiple devices per day and are used to scrolling (because of small screen sizes or social media or what have you), doesn’t mean people don’t want to see important information right away.
Let’s say you’re surfing the web on your iPhone and you see a result in the SERP that interests you; you click on it and land on the website…
…but then can’t find the information you were looking for. Ahem, you know: above the fold.
Case in point:
(PS: the <title> tag of this website in the search results was — and I kid you not — “Successful UX And UI in Mobile.” I wasn’t looking for app-related information; I was looking for UX information. So I’d call this particular user experience a fail. Oh, and I didn’t scroll — I clicked that good ol’ Back button.)
Are you going to scroll and scroll until you find the info you were expecting to find, or are you going to click back to the SERP and find another option? As a marketer I can tell you I’m going to do the latter, especially with the aforementioned search!
So, is The Fold dead? No. But don’t take it from me.
Take it from Nielsen Norman Group:
“The fold still exists and still applies. Even though the exact location of the fold will differ between devices, it exists for every single user on every single screen.”
While I respect the opinions of the designer who thinks the fold is dead, and can see where he’s coming from, I don’t believe The Fold is gone. Yes, that’s right, The Fold still exists — but it’s just not as cut-and-dried as in days of yore.
Okay, The Fold Isn’t Dead — But Where IS It?
As online marketers we want our website’s users to see what they expect/need/want to see right when they land on a web page –regardless of the device they’re using to access it — to “buy in” to our content and stay on the site.
Visitors shouldn’t have to wonder if they’re on the correct web page; there should be adequate data Above the Fold to entice them not to click the Back button (at the very least).
But where is The Fold in this day and age? And, how do we know where to put information so all of our users benefit?
That’s the question, alright. Turns out there’s not a specific answer — of course, there’s my favorite: “It depends.” In this case, where The Fold resides depends entirely on the device being used. Maybe we should start calling it The Folds, instead!
This article on mobile-friendly landing pages mentions the need to get important info in the right place for mobile users (this advice is valid for ANY landing page):
“…always feature a task completion call to action “above-the-fold” for smartphones.”
Notice how she puts Above the Fold in quotes — obviously as a conversion rate optimization expert she knows The Fold exists; where it is depends entirely on the device on which the website is viewed. It’s vastly different for someone using a 27″ iMac than it is for a person using a Droid smartphone.
To that point, The Fold can even differ between different types of phones!
Not only is there a different fold “location” for desktops vs. laptops vs. tablets vs. smartphones; within each device a myriad of folds can exist. Which is why the need for an adaptive/responsive website is greater than ever…
…because you don’t know where the fold will be for any of your potential visitors/customers, you need to cater to wherever their fold COULD be.
There’s definitely a way to structure site content, layout and functionality so as to show visitors the information they need and expect to find right when they land on any page — regardless of the device they use to access your website.
How to Cater to The Fold of Today:
With all the different screen sizes across devices (and even within them), how do we ensure we’re getting the information we want above the fold, all the time?
It’s called responsive web design (RWD). It’s our term for websites that adapt their functionality and layout based on device/screen size. When designed and developed properly, a website built with RWD adapts to any device screen size so as to provide the best possible UX.
Using responsive web design — and using it correctly — means your website will function properly no matter what device is used to access your site. It also means you can show pertinent information to visitors right when they land on any web page.
Part of the argument against The Fold is that visitors are used to scrolling, so there’s no need to worry about putting pertinent information above the fold. Does a responsive site eliminate the need to scroll?
No, of course not. Ideally we want our visitors to stay on our site, find what they want, and ultimately convert, so if they scroll and stay? Fantastic.
But, by showing visitors information they need to see before they scroll, we’re ensuring they don’t have to scroll below the fold in order to find relevant content (or, worse: hit the Back button and find one of our competitors).
As Eric Mobley, a web designer here in Minneapolis, so succinctly put it:
“(The Fold) is not dead at all. We just need to change the way we think about it.”
I agree — let’s stop worrying about whether or not The Fold still exists (which of course it does) and focus on the most important thing of all: Give website visitors the best user experience possible across all devices.