Does “The Fold” Still Matter

Old-school media types remember the importance of putting the most valuable hook in an article “above the fold.”  Page real estate on the top of the newspaper was the most valuable because, frequently, it was the only trigger for readers to open a newspaper and keep investing.

On the web, however, this isn’t quite as important because scrolling is easy and the barrier for readers to continue reading is much lower than with printed media.  Or is it?

Valuable Real Estate

Many web media types claim “the fold is dead.”  At the same time, anyone with experience selling advertising on their site knows that “above the fold” ads carry a premium over ads placed elsewhere.  I’ve seen quite a few sites that routinely sell out their top-of-page banners and top-of-sidebar block ads only to place “buy this space” placeholders deeper in the footer because no one wants to buy them.

So if the space at the top of the page is more valuable to advertisers, is the fold really dead?

If the fold is unimportant, why do so many shy away from buying (much cheaper) ads lower on the page?

Attention Deficit

If you’re anything like me, you’re a multi-tasker.  I run anywhere from 8 to 30 tabs in my browser at any given moment; not because I have so much to do, but because I’ll see an interesting link in an article and ctrl+click to open it in a new tab so I can read it later.

Later might mean five minutes.

Later might mean five hours.

On some sites I read, the link I click often has only a parting relation to its actual content, and I’m left scratching my head later wondering where I found the link and why I clicked it in the first place.  Other times, I am faced with the site in the screenshot below:

Screenshot of an article I clicked through based on a friend's post to Twitter.

Screenshot of an article I clicked through based on a friend’s post to Twitter.

Site navigation is evident.  Advertising is evident.  If I hadn’t clicked the link just a few minutes ago, I might guess (correctly) the article is about emails, WordPress, and localhost.  But honestly, that’s not a catchy title.

If I come to this tab 5-minutes after clicking a contextual link in another article, I’d read it.

If I come to this tab at the end of the day, having clicked a link before I started work and wanting to catch up before I shut down, I’d probably click the little X at the top of the page instead.

There is nothing in this title to make a visitor scroll down without added context.

The Fold Still Matters

Whether you’re selling advertising on your site, or catering to readers spreading their limited attention across a wide range of sites, the fold still matters.

As easy as it might be to scroll on an otherwise long document, it’s also just as easy to close the page and not continue reading.  Make sure the content you have above the fold is compelling enough to keep the reader scrolling – because they likely have other demands on their attention and, if those demands are more compelling, will just close the article rather than keep reading.

Make your above-the-fold content easy to consume and compelling.  Then, you will get the reader to move beyond the fold.

Comments

  1. says

    I totally disagree with “the fold is dead” camp, for the reasons you mention, and more. However, with responsive sites, being viewed on any number of screen sizes, etc., it’s hard to know where the fold is anymore. The best rule of thumb I can think of is to make sure one has a killer headline and an enticing opening.

    • says

      It is difficult if a page can be anywhere from 300px wide to 2000px wide. That said, the idea of putting some sort of compelling editorial content at the top of the page is a simple one. Take the screenshot in the above article for example. It fails miserably on desktop, and the site isn’t responsive, either.

  2. says

    Eric,

    Great post buddy. I couldn’t agree more.I think this debate is one that will carry on more and more as technology evolves. Regardless, material that is immediately in the users view (above the fold) will be more guaranteed to catch their attention than something that is below the fold.

    In terms of social share buttons, I would be interested in your thoughts about where to place social sharing buttons for posts, pages, and articles. Should these be at the top, bottom, or both? In my opinion, they “should” be at the top for the most view, but then again I don’t like seeing sharing buttons before you even get the chance to read the content. Then, if you like the content, you have the option to share or not. It’s a double edge sword in my opinion. What do you think?

    Jordan

    • says

      I’m torn about social sharing buttons. On the one hand, they definitely make it easier to share a post and gather up an audience. On the other hand, copy-pasting a link to a social network is really easy and shouldn’t need a dedicated button. So whether or not we even need them is an interesting debate.

      Where they should be placed, though, is a bit easier. I see “sharing” as the call-to-action that should follow a post. As much as I’d like people to share my work quickly, I’m hesitant to embrace the support of someone who hasn’t even read the article.

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