Anyone who has been around marketing and advertising knows the term "above the fold." Traditionally, this was the upper half of the front page of a newspaper. Since newspapers are traditionally displayed to customers folded up so only half the top page is visible-newspaper editors deemed this the place to put the most important news story. It's also the most important and preferred spot by advertisers, since it's the most prominent.
In the web, "above the fold" represented any content a reader wouldn't have to scroll to reach. A 2006 study by Jakob Neilsen confirmed this theory brought over by the printed media world. His study found that 77% of visitors won't scroll-they'll just view the content above the fold before making a decision and moving elsewhere.
Then Pinterest showed up and just blew that "web users never scroll" theory to pieces.
Just kidding, however, times have changed and so have user's behavior. While this has always been the proper theory up to this point, it's time to start spending more attention "below the fold."
Recent studies and contradicting studies to the Neilsen study indicate that content below the fold may already be more important than you and I think. For example, a Heatmap (which is a type of software that follows the mouse movements on web pages) service provider, ClickTale, found in 100,000 page views, people used the scroll bar 76% of the time.
Note: For those interested in further readings and reports, I'll have some links below this article.
Does this mean the content above the fold isn't important? Not necessarily, but the fact that users don't scroll for content is simply a false statement. In fact, it means that your focus above the fold, as in the traditional days, should be about grabbing the reader's attention-and trying to get them to scroll more below the fold.
I'll use an example to explain what I mean.
Take the website for the CDC. This page: http://www.cdc.gov/injury/index.html has a lot going on above the fold. There are a lot of things grabbing my attention, and there are a lot of different areas I could be drawn too. Remember, a confused mind always says no and the number one rule of user interface is keeping everything as simple as possible.
Now, take a look at their home page: http://www.cdc.gov/
Whoa! Look at that difference. The home page has clear, easy to read navigation above the fold, and easy directions for me to go in. Further, I can scroll down if I want to and learn more. I'm not instantly bombarded by a bunch of different items.
The purpose of this is to change the question of "what content should we have above the fold," into the question of, "what content should go above the fold that ensures our readers find what they're looking for?"
Here are some more studies on the "above the fold" concept:
This is a particularly interesting study on web content and user interaction. It talks about the fact that people share articles without reading them, how often users scroll (especially when advertisement comes into play) and more. This is a really new study, and is already blowing the lid off of a lot of old "theories" of user interaction.
This is the full study for the ClickTale study I referenced in the article.
Those two articles provide excellent insight into user's behavior on websites. Always remember, it doesn't matter how pretty your website is-it matters how your website impacts your customers. The moral of this article is simple: turn the "above the fold" content into clear, action oriented headlines and links. Then, focus on supporting facts and other resources "below the fold," giving scrolling users the answers they are looking for.
Image: Credit Daniel Oines