Once upon a time, there was an almost unbreakable rule in graphic design: if something was important, it had to be located at the very top of a page. For decades most valuable images and pieces of content were – and mostly still are – located “above the fold.”
For those of you who don’t know, that’s an old term from the newspaper industry. It refers to the section of the paper that would be visible to a passerby (read: potential buyer) without having them buy the paper and unfold it. If you couldn’t grab their attention in those precious few square inches, then you weren’t going to get a second chance.
But, while that kind of thinking made a certain amount of sense in the print era, it has largely gone unchallenged in the digital age. In fact, we regularly hear clients and other designers tell us that content needs to be “above the fold” because searchers and first-time website visitors won’t bother to scroll down to look at more content if we haven’t thrown anything and everything at them right away.
Web analytics and common sense both tell us this is a false assumption. As it turns out, website visitors will, and do scroll to find what they’re looking for. That’s because they are familiar with the way the Internet works, and realize that the information or resources they need might not be located directly in their immediate field of vision.
In fact, we would go a little bit farther and say the idea that your potential customers are somehow unable or unwilling to scroll down the page seems a little bit silly. In case you’re still skeptical, here are a couple of things you should keep in mind…
On the Web, the “Fold” Can be Almost Anywhere
Assuming you wanted to make sure all of your content fell in a viewer’s immediate field of vision as a page loaded, where exactly would that be? The answer would depend quite a bit on the device they were using, the size of the fonts they had chosen, and even whether they had maximized or minimized a particular window.
In other words, the “fold” on a web page could be almost anywhere below a page title or article headline, and you don’t have any control over where it’s going to end up being in most situations.
Good Web Content is Organized for Scanning
The Internet has changed the way people interact with content. Studies have shown again and again that most of us don’t typically read articles from beginning to end anymore. Instead, we scan them for big ideas and main points, and then go back and read the entire draft if we are interested.
For that reason, it’s much more important that you organize your content with bullet points and subheadings than it is to cram important ideas into the top paragraph.
People Will Keep Reading if They’re Interested
All of this thinking about what does and doesn’t go “above the fold” misses an important point: namely that people will read anything, whether it’s a couple hundred words or a few thousand pages, so long as they are interested or informed by the content. Once they decide your ideas are worthy of their time, they can go on for as long as needed. Even in the newspaper age, headlines and introductions went at the top, but then readers would have to flip through several pages to get the details.
It certainly makes sense to do what you can to attract interest from your readers and give them a preview of your content so they can decide whether it’s what they’re looking for or not. You shouldn’t find yourself worrying about what you have “above the fold,” however, because it’s just not that much of a relevant concern in the digital age.