Does Above the Fold Matter Anymore?

Does Above the Fold Matter Anymore?

Some claim that the requirement for content on web pages to appear "above the fold" is an antiquated idea that's left over from the days when the internet was in its infancy. Others believe that the idea is still relevant and should be followed for websites today. So who's right?

When the internet was first made available to the public over 25 years ago, no one really knew what it was or even how to use a browser. Back then, people thought of their computer screens as they did a television -- whatever was on the screen was all that there was to look at. So the top 800 pixels by 600 pixels of a web page was deemed above the fold, similar to a “folded newspaper”. If your content appeared above the fold or in digital terms, within the initially visible area of the monitor, then it was golden.

Fast forward to today and we experience the internet in completely different ways. Technology has come a long way and with it, we've seen the rise of screens of all shapes and sizes. While some view the internet almost exclusively on the small screen of their mobile devices, others sit back and surf the web on their 90-inch, high definition, smart TVs. So depending on the size and resolution of the device the initially visible area, or "above the fold" section of a web page is a constant variable.

Many studies of been conducted to test the validity of the “above the fold” theory and they’ve all shown that today’s users do indeed scroll. Interestingly it's been found that often less content above the fold will encourage exploration beneath, but only if the design indicates that more valuable content exists below -- and then scrolling is almost guaranteed.

It’s a no-brainer to state that interesting and important things should be placed at the top of the page. Really “above the fold” was a case against scrolling and against longer content on pages. But this idea comes from a time when the vast majority of the population were still accessing the internet via dial-up connections. Page load times was a real concern, and the longer your page was the longer it would take to load. So naturally designers came to the conclusion that if they distributed content across multiple pages they would create a better user experience. While some will state that "above the fold" was used to constrain design to an arbitrary and mostly imaginary screen dimension, the truth is that there was a real reason behind the practice. Now that most now have access to high-speed internet connections above the fold is much less relevant than it used to be.

By trying to adhere to the “above the fold” mentality your content is squeezed to the top of the browser. A web page layout and design should focus on telling a story. It needs to draw the site visitor in and engage them. When monitors are huge or very tiny 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 somewhat 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.