The term “fold”, originating from print journalism, refers to the placement of the most interesting information at the top of the page “above the fold” to attract attention. This method has since been successfully incorporated into web design. While it is more challenging to create a design incorporating a “fold”, it still has an all-important impact on online behavior.
Lab studies arrived at the conclusion that website visitors have adapted to a fold-less environment and their first move is to scroll downwards in order to take in the full content of the page. However, in the unnatural context of a lab environment, it is possible that the participants were affected by a ‘Demand Characteristics’ response bias - the subconscious tendency to try and satisfy the experimenter. What is more, scrolling behavior in these studies was measured as an isolated behavior, rather than being in relation to visitor goals and needs – again potentially impacting the results of the study.
How the fold impacts engagement
Investigating website visitors in their natural context (browsing a website in the real world) has a major impact on the validity of results. To better understand this fact, Clicktale conducted a study using its in-page analytics tool to analyse over 100,000 anonymous page views. This study looked at comparisons between different pages (some viewed in varying screen resolutions) in order to determine how the location of the fold impacted engagement from visitors.
The first of these studies investigated the impact of information located above vs below the fold on engagement metrics. One of the most prevalent screen resolutions used by visitors, 1366x768, did not have the main article title visible above the fold, resulting in visitors being 3% less likely to click on the main article and 4% more likely to exit the site via top navigation.
Another example investigated the impact of a cookie notification, pushing content below the fold. For the visitors browsing at 1920x180, the 'Show Now' call-to-action was always visible above the fold, but 29% of visitors browsing at 1366x768 could not see the CTA above the fold when the cookie notification appeared. This resulted directly in a 3% higher bounce rate and a 4% lower click through rate.
When the major page elements or main CTAs were below the fold, the KPI's of the page dropped - when the most valuable content is not visible upon arrival, visitors are less likely to act or engage with the page to find it.
Surfacing the right content above the fold
Optimizing content above the fold for all possible resolutions and devices can indeed be an expensive and time-consuming task. However, optimising for 1366x768 and 1920x1080, the most common screen resolutions, could result in dramatic conversion and revenue uplift, with visitors reaching the right information at the right time.
Our conclusion? That even in the age of digital content and online news, the ideas that came to define the ‘fold’ almost 100 years ago are still alive, still relevant, and are still impacting the way that users consume information to this very day.