One of the first rules in the rulebook of Web design is think about “the fold“.
For any design newbies out there “the fold” is the visible part of the webpage that someone sees when they first load a webpage. It’s kind of like the webpage equivalent of an iceberg. “The fold” is everything above the water, even if there is lots of content hidden bellow.
In the past this was a vital element of your webpage design that you had to think long and hard about. If you put the wrong thing here then the chances are no one would look at the rest of your site so what has changed?
Why “The Fold” Was Important
The fold was certainly important. It was a blog’s prime real estate Advertisers would pay more for advertising slots here, Google’s algorithm considered content above the fold more than it considers bellow it and if you had too many ads here then you would get penalised.
But The fold also had two characteristics that really made it important.
There is only so much space above the fold. You can’t fit everything on your site all here so you have to consider what is on view here and what people will access. Knowing what to put here is important because…
First Impressions Count
The fold is your first impression. It’s what people see when they arrive at your site and if your first impression sucks then people are much less likely to stick around (yes I know that some people do stay around in spite of bad design but it’s always in spite of).
Basically, just as people judge a book by it’s cover, people judge a blog but what’s above the fold.
With limited real estate, the classic logic was you needed to make sure you grabbed your readers attention and gave them a reason to keep reading, sign up to your list, and generally move from discovering you to being a fan or supporter.
SEO and Ads
As I mentioned earlier it’s not just readers who judge your fold, Google also will distinguish between two sites with exactly the same content but one has the content bellow the fold and the other above.
Likewise, AdSense (and other advertisers) will pay much more money for ads above the fold and closer to the key content (because they are more likely to be viewed, clicked etc.
So What’s Changed?
To some degree these points are still true, you still have limited space above your fold, you first impression still counts and Google will judge your content and ads on their position in relation to the fold. So far the rules are still the same…aren’t they?
Laptops and Tablets and Mobiles (oh my)
In the past everyone consumed web content from either a Desktop or Laptop..but with the ever rising use of mobile browsing all the rules are changing.
Responsive themes mean that what content is above the fold will vary depending on how the device is viewed. Your first impression on one device might (and probably should) be different depending on how someone is viewing the content.
Mobile browsing doesn’t usually have sidebars, the cut off point varies depending on which device is reading.
Perhaps we need to start talking about “the folds” instead of “the fold“?
Readers are more used to scrolling
Linked in with the point above, people are more used to scrolling due to habits being developed on mobile devices. Because you usually get such little content at a time on a mobile screen, you have to scroll down to even read the intro. Users are more likely to flick quickly through content and move beyond the fold.
Optin rates vary
Although conventional wisdom dictates that the more prominent your optin box/signup list/subscription feeds etc the more likely people are to access them, it isn’t always true.
When faced with a larger commitment and decision it actually pays to place the optin form lower on the page. Want further proof? Check out this article on contentverve.com
Is This The End Of “The Fold”?
Although there are some trends that are moving us away from an obsession with the fold, first impressions are just as important as ever.
As I suggested above perhaps we need to start talking about multiple folds rather than “the fold” and start considering how to make the best first impression on every medium of content consumption.