In web design, there really is no fold.
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The phrase, “above the fold” is still used quite a bit in website design and layout. Keeping important content above this imaginary “fold” is something many people have heard and continue to believe, even though the phrase is an old newspaper term for keeping the main story headline or important photograph at the top half of the paper, above where the paper is folded. To me, there never was and never will be a “fold” in a website. Semantics aside, this article explores why even the notion of a “fold” is misleading and a better way to approach the inherent issue when creating or redesigning a website.
Prepare to hit a moving target.
One of the most important things to remember on today’s web is that viewers will be looking at a website on any number of different devices. From desktop computers and laptops, to tablets and mobile phones of varying sizes. You must get the notion out of your head that everyone will be looking at your website from a fairly standard size computer monitor.
This variability is why responsive design is the wave of the future. Creating a website design that “responds” and resizes to a viewer’s particular device shatters the notion that there is an imaginary “fold” at all. Content can be differentiated by device. For instance, if you’re a restaurant, have your full website show on desktop devices, and have the key things someone would be looking for while viewing your site on their mobile phone (such as hours, directions, and menu) front and center on that device.
A better way to put it …
Instead of “above the fold”, simply say, “near the top of the page”. While far more accurate, this way of putting it doesn’t impose some height measurement. I’ve literally had clients say, “I want all my content to show within 500 px” (roughly seven inches, which was about the viewable screen when browser resolutions were around 800×600) mostly because they’ve bought into the whole cult of “the fold” – believing that no one is going to scroll past that point.
People do scroll.
I’ve come to think that when some people make the decision to invest in professional website design, they kind of develop a fear that if a visitor has to actually scroll to see something on their website, it will be a terrible thing. Analytics and research show that yes, clicks do decrease the further down the page, however, many sites do not have much clickable content past a certain point (which skews that statistic). They’ve put their important information near the top. Or they’ve got a very dated website that is packed with text that just goes on and on.
A fairly recent development in website design is to create sections with some sort of visual demarkation and additional calls to action that continue down the page. Since people do scroll, they can have other opportunities to take the action you are driving them to take. It also makes for a more usable website if there are multiple ways to continue to another area of the site without having to scroll back up the page to the main navigation.
Important content is important.
I absolutely believe that important things should be at or near the top of a page. It’s those things that you want someone to see first, to make an impact, and to urge your viewer to want to take action. However, these things need to be clearly defined and thought out. That is a part of web design that a lot people don’t realize. A great designer doesn’t just make something look pretty or arbitrarily place things in a layout. Also, what is important to one business, may not be important to another. So there isn’t a set of hard and fast rules to follow. Yes, it’s typical that your logo and your main website navigation are at the top of the page, along with at least one clear call to action. That’s pretty standard, but that’s only 3 items. What is the purpose of your website? What action do you want a visitor to take from your home page? These are the type of questions that determine what that important stuff is that will need to be near the top of the page.
The wrap up.
People interact a lot differently with a newspaper than they do a website, so why apply a phrase meant for one to the other? Important and key information should be near the top of the website page, however people do scroll, so consider incorporating additional calls to action down the page. And remember, mobile devices have inherently changed the way a website should be designed, so that must be taken into consideration at the start of the process.
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