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Apr 19 '19

Yes, Virginia, There is a Fold

One of the things digital designers never like to hear from clients is “But how much is above the fold?”

(The “fold” is a term left over from newspaper days, denoting the portion of the front page that could be seen when the paper was on the newsstand. We use the term to mean the part of a web page that is immediately visible without scrolling down on whatever device you’re using.)

With the popularity of the long, scrolling page – sometimes with on-page navigation and sometimes without – lots of designers and marketers have declared the fold irrelevant or even non-existent.

It would be really nice if that were true – especially given the vast jungle of screen sizes we have to consider – but it’s just not. Users spend an average of 74% of their time in the top two screenfuls of content, and nearly 60% of their time on the top screen alone.1 The truth is, focusing on that top part of the page is critical to your user experience.

There are many who disagree with this2, but as a person who spends an awful lot of time with click maps and scroll maps, I can tell you that the exception is scrolling – not the rule. This is not the case with article or listing pages – but pages like a home page that don’t have a clear and specific purpose to the user just don’t see a lot of heat below that top couple of screenfuls.

heatmap illustration

This means it’s really important to do three things:

  1. Be laser-focused and strategic about what you put above the fold – what do you really, really want your users to see and do? The home page so often becomes a political battleground – mollify the business lines by sticking them on the home page – without any real regard for top tasks3 or business strategy.
  2. Indicate visually that there’s more below4 – a large hero image or video will often prevent users from scrolling down. Occupying the whole screen area serves as a cue that the user is seeing everything. Use visual indicators, on-page navigation, and hints that there is more on the page.
  3. Cross-pollinate throughout your site with important content components – when the solution to highlighting something that feels important is to throw it on the home page, that’s often not a solution at all. Depending on the nature of your site and your user’s objectives, they’re likely to never see it if it’s below the first two screenfuls of content. If you have important content, incorporate it into a complete content strategy to inform how you want users to engage with it.

Another point to consider is that the home page is often not your real (or only) home page. More and more often, we see search bringing people to sub-pages – such as product listings, product details, article pages, or physician profile pages as common client examples – rather than a branded home page. Consider those user journeys closely.

heatmap illustration

The best way for your brand to execute your home page will depend on:

  • User goals and needs
  • Business objectives
  • How users are getting to your site
  • Deep and true content strategy
  • Technology layers for personalization and customization

It can’t be a political decision, and it won’t work if you just throw everything up on the home page. Solid user research combining quantitative analytics and qualitative research, alongside expert UX and content strategy, is needed to develop a home page that will actually serve the needs of your company – and its customers.

1 https://www.nngroup.com/articles/scrolling-and-attention/
2 https://uxmyths.com/post/654047943/myth-people-dont-scroll
3 http://gerrymcgovern.com/books/top-tasks-a-how-to-guide/
4 https://www.nngroup.com/articles/illusion-of-completeness/

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