- All demographics studied now scroll reliably, even the very elderly.
- The vast majority of people attempt scrolling even when all visual indicators that it is possible or necessary to scroll have been removed (such as removing the scrollbar from a browser.)
- In many “conversion” tests (where a visitor is converted into a lead or a paying customer by completing some task on a sales website,) conversions actually increased the further down the page the call to action was placed. Why? Often it had to do with more thorough explanations of the product or benefits being possible before the call to action, if the call to action didn’t need to be the first thing on the page.
- In some studies, the part of the page that was just below the fold got more views than what was at the top of the page — How is this possible? Shouldn’t the top of the page be seen by 100% of people? It turns out that these days, it’s so rote for people to scroll (especially on smart phones,) that many people unconsciously start scrolling before a web page has even finished loading! This means that a certain percentage of viewers would actually jump to the content below the fold without even waiting to see what was “above the fold”.
Scrolling is a natural behavior for everyone in our current digital age.
Why do People Still Care About the Fold?
If you can’t even know where the fold is, and you can be reasonably certain almost everyone who visits your website will understand to scroll down to see what’s beyond their particular fold, why are we still having this debate?
There’s one major data point that seems to conflict with all these others: Nielsen has shown that only 20% of users read below the fold.
Don’t panic! This data point might seem to prove that anything that is “below the fold” is defunct, pointless, passe — but as we just discussed, in many studies, calls to action located below the fold got higher responses than those that were placed above it. How can both these things be true?
Think about it this way: if someone is shopping for shoes and they walk into a store that only sells hats, of course they will turn around and walk out. But a shoe store never worries that people won’t understand that they sell more than just the shoes that are visible in the front window. They also aren’t shocked when only a percentage of the people walking by their shop come in to buy shoes after seeing their window displays; not everyone is in the market for new shoes every day.
For more on this concept, I’m going to quote directly from conversion rate optimization consultant Bnonn Tennet, who spends his days doing exactly this kind of testing:
“Bnonn,” I hear you wail, “[…] How can a [call to action] that only gets 20% of attention instead of 80% possibly convert better?!”
Well of course only 20% of people read below the fold, silly goose. We didn’t need Nielsen to tell us that. David Ogilvy’s research into the readership of advertisements all the way back in the sixties showed that only 20% of people read past the headline. And that was long before the internet came along! As he put it, “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.”
He also noted, “Research shows that readership falls off very rapidly up to 50 words of copy, but drops very little between 50 and 500 words.”
That’s a rather important insight because 500 words of copy [at standard sizes] will […] put the call to action well below the fold even at full-HD resolutions […].
Which is not a problem, since Jakob Nielsen showed, all the way back in 1997, that users will scroll if what they see above the fold interests them enough to keep them reading.
The fold is a red herring. It’s not about what’s above the fold at all: It’s about whether the user is interested in what your website has to say, period.
So, What Should We Be Trying to Put Above the Fold?
A reason to stay. If they stay, they’ll scroll.
At the top of every page, make sure you have a compelling headline. Maybe on the homepage, it’s a one-line explanation of who you are and what you do (or even better, who you’re for — placing the emphasis on the viewer’s needs rather than yours never hurts.)
You might want to include a compelling image. Or, more realistically, part of a compelling image — because you never really know where the fold will strike, and it may well strike midway through your first image!