Stop the Above The Fold Web Design Insanity - People Scroll Today!!!!!

Stop the Above The Fold Web Design Insanity - People Scroll Today!!!!!

The old mantra that things on web pages had to be above the fold is an antiquated idea from the very early days of the web. When people didn’t know what the internet was or how to use a browser. Back then, yes, the “above the fold” idea mattered. But that was back in 1999 - today people know what a browser is and how to use it.

This old newspaper term was adopted and refuses to die.

Above the fold originates from the newspaper industry where positioning a story or graphic “above the fold” on the paper could increase readership. Since newspapers are displayed and sold flat - if the headline or photo was compelling it could increase sales. And of course, readers are more likely to read and be interested in things placed on the top half of the front page. So “above the fold” was born.

When the web was young, and newcomers didn’t understand how a browser worked, monitors were small, and the world wide web was not ubiquitous - this idea was co-opted and applied to web design. Since screens were small, things seen within the boundary of the home page screen were “deemed” above the fold. So back in 1999, something visible within the 800 x 600 pixel dimensions of the home page was more likely to be seen, read, and clicked on. Similar to a “folded newspaper” if it appeared above the fold or in digital terms, within the visible area of the monitor, then it was golden. AOL also made this concept popular since its standard interface was constrained to 800x600 everything was “chopped up” to be contained and displayed within this area - to keep it visible. The result, articles spanned multiple pages, you clicked to the next page instead of scrolling to see more.  But that was then…

Repeat after me, above the fold doesn’t matter any more.

Now breath a little bit. Relax. It’s ok. You’re not going to die. Your head isn’t going to explode. And visitors to your website aren’t going run screaming from their computers because they have to scroll. In fact, with the explosion of the big monitors and the mobile web with its small screens on smart phones, scrolling is almost a requirement in some instances. The fold has vanished. It has ceased to be. It is a dead issue.

User testing, eye tracking, and click data dispels the fold myth

Many studies of been conducted to test the validity of the “above the fold” hypothesis and they’ve all shown that today’s users do indeed scroll. The above the fold myth has been debunked. CX Partners, a user-centric design firm from the United Kingdom, does a lot of eye tracking research for their clients. And they’ve consistently found that the “fold” is no longer relevant. You can read about their “above the fold user testing” on their blog. But to paraphrase their results - often less content above the fold will encourage exploration beneath. And if the design tantalizes that more exists below - scrolling is almost guaranteed. In essence, if something bridges the fold people with scroll down to see more. Further, people now recognize that scroll bars on a browser indicate more content lies below and know that the scroll bar can also visually indicate the page length.

Evaluation of click data also supports the notion that people do scroll. Milissa Tarquini writes for about her experiences as an interface designer at AOL since 1995. Her article, “Blasting the Myth of the Fold” is a very good read and provides lots of anecdotal and real-world evidence to support the concept “the fold doesn’t matter” - but one of the interesting things she mentions is the click data for TMZ. She notes that the links at the bottom of TMZ’s super long pages are often the most clicked on - this indicates a willingness of the user to scroll long pages - if the content is compelling.

Things above the fold should be important…

If you’ve scrolled down this far, you’ve just read the above headline where I acknowledge that content above the fold should be important. But it’s a no brainer to proclaim interesting and important things should be placed at the top of the page. Really “above the fold” was an argument against scrolling and against longer content on pages. The mantra of “above the fold” was used to constrain design to an arbitrary and mostly imaginary screen dimension. But as research has demonstrated compelling content and visual cues that more content exists below have obliterated the old notion of “above the fold” in web design. Unfortunately the out dated idea simply refuses to die.

But where is the fold?

Again, back in the 90’s when most computer monitors were typically 15 inches, screen real estate was at a premium. But more so, it was fairly standard. Most people viewed a web page full screen and with “browser clutter” designers knew they had less than the 800x600 pixel dimensions to work with and designed for 640 x 480. But today, high resolution monitors are fairly standard and their pixel dimensions and aspect ratios vary wildly. Desktop monitors can span 20” to 30” or larger; you can connect your computer to huge LCD or Plasma televisions; and laptops come in all sizes and shapes with lots of different screen resolutions too. And need I mention smart phones and tablets? So the answer to “where is the fold” isn’t easy to answer today. The “fold” was usually defined as the bottom of the browser window…but if you open your browser on a 24” monitor it’s likely most web pages will fully display within that height - so there really isn’t any fold. Or if you open the same page on a smart phone…it’ll either resize the content to fit or you’ll need to scroll.

So why cling to the old 800 x 600 dimension? By adhering to the “above the fold” dimensions your content is squeezed to the top of the browser. You’re doing a disservice to your web design and web visitor. To fit, your content was most likely edited and unnecessarily truncated to squeeze it into an arbitrary area. And your larger monitor using visitors are left looking at a lot of unused screen real estate and a forced user experience. All because you (or likely the client) believed users don’t scroll.

But when monitors are huge or very tiny (such as in the mobile world) it’s impossible to ascribe a fixed dimension to the “fold” on a web page. The idea works for newspapers because they are a consistent size and perhaps in the early years of the internet it was some what true - but today - there is no fold on a web page. Users do scroll. And in fact, most would likely prefer to scroll and continue reading or viewing your content over being forced to view shortened content spread across multiple pages. So forget the fold - it doesn’t exist. Design a compelling page layout and if it runs long…it’s OK…people will scroll - provided what you put lower on the page is worth scrolling for.

Reference and Related Reading: 

Jul 26, 2011
By: William Levins

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There are 21 comments for this entry. Leave a comment below »

More comments

@Mihai that is a terrible analogy. Just wrong on many levels. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but wow.

William Levins
Mar 23, 2014

If above the fold doesn't meter, a women face doesn't meter either.
When I see a women first I look at her face and if I like what I see then she got my attention, if not I probably might "scroll" down but without interest.
I don't care if a visitor still scrolls if I lose his attention - it's useless - just another lost client,
so the news from the front page are on the front page for a very important reason !

Mihai Badoi
Mar 21, 2014

Here here. I obviously agree 100%.

William Levins
Jul 12, 2013

I have dealt with several "old-school" people that believe that website users are not wise enough to scroll down. While I agree that the "upper portion" (since the fold is not easily defined these days) is still hot property, it doesn't mean that just because you have a website that exceeds the height of the browser screen that the user will not know how to scroll down.

It is just the most ridiculous notion I've ever heard. It doesn't require too many marbles to use your mouse arrow down/up keys.

It irritates me when people would rather sacrifice design for the sake of being "above the fold".

If you don't know how to scroll at this point, I have to say...maybe you shouldn't be using a computer...

Jul 12, 2013

All i can say is as a designer, i am so glad to hear about this. I've already emailed some of the marketing teams of companies I work for and hopefully this convinces them to stop being so crazy with the above the fold... above the fold.. ABOVE THE FOLD!!! ha now they can shush!

May 31, 2013

@Tobis - you are correct, the important stuff should be up top. We're not arguing against that. We're simply questioning the old idea that a "fold" exists and that people "refuse" to scroll. In this era of multiple sized screens and devices. The very real question is, where does the top end?

Moreover, what we're mostly trying to point out is that people do scroll today. You do not have to squeeze everything into the top of the page. As long as your design clearly indicates there's more below - people will scroll.

Willam Levins
Mar 24, 2013

Call it what you want, but it does matter if content is placed at the top of a page or not.

Tobis Beer
Mar 24, 2013

People may scroll, but they don't read. Attention spans are short. And so is my comment. smile

Mar 14, 2013

I fully believe that when a user has visited a site to read a certain article they will scroll to see the rest of the article.

I don't think the same is true with general browsing though. Bounce rates remain high because many people still just very quickly scan a page then leave if they don't see exactly what they want - right there in front of them - above the fold.

Also, how would you suggest people take your advice against the advice of Google regarding their "above the fold" part of the Google algo?

Google is master and commander of web design rules and their "above the fold" explanation is vague at best. It leaves the average designer feeling like they MUST cram as much content above the fold as possible.

Jan 08, 2013

The fold still matters.

If the content on the page is similar (i,.e. items for sale or related content) people may scroll down, since it is part of the sequence. If you page is a hodge-podge of unrelated items, people tend to look at what the see, and make their decision (to either figure out your navigation, use your search, return to google and try again, or just leave.). If they came to your site knowing what was contained in the site, the would have a greater chance of looking further on the homepage. On Facebook people rarely scroll down more the once. Mobile users are even more finicky. There are so many other places users want to go -

Jan 02, 2013

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