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Mythbusters 004

Posted on 22nd July 2009 in Insight
Written by: Andy Wickes

All content on your pages should be ‘above the fold’

Disregard. Ignore. Rubbish.

Let’s be clear what we mean here. The ‘fold’ is the bottom of your browser window, when your browser is maximized to fit your screen. In web terms, it is the point at which you would begin to scroll vertically if content extended beyond it. Hence why it earned such (mythical) importance, as it was thought that any content that sat below the fold, would simply be ignored.

Again, this one is what we might call a ‘legacy’ item. It owes more to ignorance in terms of usability testing and the limited bandwidth than anything else.

Usability testing now informs us that our offline experiences better inform our online experiences than we thought. We don’t just read a newspaper headline and then ignore the rest of the front page. We don’t sit passively and accept the first selection of products an e-commerce store displays us. We know to interact and choose a view which suits us. Users prefer an e-commerce store to display all products that meet our criteria on one page only, creating a very long page. Newspaper websites and directory sites such as Wikipedia also produce long pages of content over and above needless ‘clicking around’ to avoid users losing interest. So it became clear that instead of users wanting a passive experience, quite the reverse was true. We wanted more interaction and less page refreshes.

Couple this with the vast difference in screen sizes and mobile enabled devices and you can see that the fold is going to appear in a different place for almost every user. On a 30” monitor set to 1660 x 1200 pixels, you would struggle to have a fold at all. On a laptop with 1024 x 768 pixels, it will cause most sites to scroll. With iPhones becoming more popular, all sites will scroll. So you can see that it is almost impossible to enact anyway.

Bandwidth, or more specifically, low bandwidth dial-up connections gave a more practical, ‘nuts and bolts’ reason for keeping content above the fold. Long pages, meant slower page load times, and therefore we were keen to only show content that could be seen right away and acted upon, rather than over delivering on content and losing audiences due to slow performance. With broadband now in most homes this simple isn’t a concern anymore.

One thing to take away from all of this hot air, is the importance of putting your critical content, your calls to action, above the fold. While we know that users are happy to scroll, and in most cases have to, it is clearly madness to put vital navigation or buttons way down the page. Explain your content and make your buttons and form elements the focus of your visible area, and let the content populate down the page.

Another one bites the dust.

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