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Does ‘above the fold’ still matter?

June 12, 2015

A quick look at your Google Analytics data will quickly reveal a massive diversity in the devices, platforms and screen sizes used to access your website. Does the concept of ‘above the fold’ matter any more and, if it does, what does it mean now?

It used to be so simple…

Without wanting to show my age, it used to be so simple. Gradually we stopped designing for desktop screen sizes, working up from 640×480 to 800×600 and 1024 x 768 and beyond. Then, as responsive design and mobile screens became more and more significant, the idea of designing for a fixed screen size began to evaporate.

The target screen resolution gave us an area in which to focus all of the key content and messaging. When you start thinking what happens on a mobile or a tablet or when that device is in portrait mode, it all becomes very fluid. A responsive design might have 2, 3, 4 or more break points where the design changes – how does that change how we structure our content?

Does the fold even exist anymore?

The idea of ‘above the fold’ comes from newspapers – the headlines that appear on the top half of the front page. For digital media it’s a useful concept too and one that almost everyone is familiar with – clients, designers, developers, marketers and more.

When there is no fixed shape or size for the area above the fold, does it cease to be meaningful or useful? Well, yes, it does. What you can be sure of is that there is a certain amount of content that is visible on page-load for all users regardless of the device, platform or browser that they are using.

The fold is now your focus

Where the fold used to be (fairly) fixed measurement, it’s now about what the key information on a page. It’s what appears at the top of the page. Users will scroll but what they see ‘above the fold’ needs to hook them.

There might be some great content further down the page but if the user can’t see it, they’re unlikely to reach it. Even if it only requires the swipe of finger to get there.

Google undertook an eyetracking study on the effectiveness of display advertising across multiple devices and screen sizes. It found that being below the fold caused a 66% drop-off in effectiveness.

What the idea of the fold shows us is the importance of structuring your content. Choosing what comes first, expressing it in an engaging way and providing visual cues to help users understand that there is more content below the fold is crucial.