It’s Time to Stop Designing for “The Fold”

August 7, 2021 - By Bradley Emmons

Here’s why that’s a good thing

Back when newspapers reigned supreme, there was a layout concept that publishers adhered to called “the fold.” The idea was to put the most important headlines and stories at the top of the front page, quite literally above where the paper folded, in order to attract buyers. By and large, it worked.

As the internet became a thing, and people made career moves from print layout to web design, “the fold” concept followed along, albeit in a slightly different way. Instead of representing a physical line, “the fold” became known as the initial viewable real estate of a webpage, prior to any scrolling. Everything of importance had to go above it because there was no way visitors were going to bother scrolling. They probably didn’t even know how to operate a mouse.

It’s not hard to see why this approach was flawed.

If “above the fold” is reserved for only the most important information, what qualifies as important? The usual answer was “EVERYTHING.” And you can imagine how visitors reacted to that. Oh thank you thank you thank you for bombarding me with multiple messages, six different calls-to-action and I can’t even.

Information overload is real. So too is the paradox of choice. When a visitor is immediately pummeled with too much stuff, they don’t know what to do and they check out.

It’s time to stop designing for “the fold”

Here’s why…

People Scroll

There are plenty of studies that evidence that people do, in fact scroll. And if you think about it, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Apple News and countless other products have trained us to do it even more. These apps have been designed to encourage scrolling because scrolling equals engagement which equals revenue. We, as a species, are anything but tired of scrolling.

The top of a web page doesn’t need to house everything of importance. All it needs to do is set the hook and encourage the visitor to progress a little further, and a little further, and a little further. That’s engagement. And an engaged visitor is more likely to do the thing you want them to do, whether that’s click on an ad or fill out a form or something else entirely.

People are on their phones

Global mobile traffic is up 222 percent over the last seven years. TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY-TWO PERCENT! That number shows no signs of slowing down either. That means the space “above the fold” is a lot smaller for millions of people. Trying to cram all of that “important stuff” up high isn’t going to work. And with hundreds of different devices, various screen sizes and a range of mobile web browsers, you really aren’t even in control of “the fold” anymore.

So now what?

Take a fresh look at your site and be honest with yourself. Does it feel top heavy? Are you throwing too much content at a visitor as soon as they arrive? Can you pinpoint a single message and call-to-action?

Then take a look at your analytics. How do bounce rates look? What about pageview times? Datapoints like these can help you understand how visitors are behaving on your site.

Finally, don’t panic. A site designed for “the fold” isn’t a lost cause. Start by evaluating your brand’s story. Revisit your messaging, positioning and buyer journey. Then ask yourself: does your site tell that story?