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The Myth of the Fold

The Myth of the Fold

The What Now?

The Fold, a term taken from newspaper or print design referring to the upper half of the newspaper. Due to how they are displayed on newsstands, the stories considered most important would be placed on the top half of the page so as to remain visible and entice people into reading them.

And what exactly does this have to do with the web?

Well, for a long time, people believed that the same method could be used for webpages. All important links, information and advertisements were placed as high up on the page as possible in order to increase the visibility and hopefully the click rate on bookings, buyings, and other things ending in ‘ings’.

Well that sounds like a fairly sensible thing to do…

Yes, in theory. Placing your information so a visitor can easily access it is common sense, but unlike the print industry which is fairly static in terms of innovation, the web is a constantly evolving creature. The concept of where exactly the fold is has in the past few years starting to become incredibly blurred; the size and type of screens used to view the web are massively varied.


The Myth of the Fold

Let’s for example take a look at the most ‘popular’ screen size used for the web in the past 5 years. Since 2009, 1024x768px (think your parents old CRT computer) was strongly the favorite with well over 40%. But with the advent of the tablet computer and the dominant rise in popularity of smartphones, the numbers have become more fractured than ever.

The most common resolution at the tail end of 2015 was 1366 x 768 and that only held just 16.67% of the share with 360 x 640px (iPhone 3 and below) in second place with 9.40%. To further illustrate just how fragmented things have become, this graphic shows the wide range of available screen resolutions for just Android based products:

So with this in mind, where is The Fold in 2016?

I assume you’re about to te…

It’s dead. Over. Gone.

The principle, as mentioned above is a good one – get the information your user is looking for to them in the most efficient way possible. But it has a downside too – what about the first time user who wants to browse before deciding if they want to book a table? They’re overwhelmed with call to actions, offers and sign ups before they’ve even decided that they want for their starter.

But I want the CTA to be in the most prominent place possible.

Of course you do. You want people to take notice of your offers and to engage with them, but you may be confusing visibility with actual viewing habits of the web.

Hugeinc.com tested 48 participants with 4 different web layouts in order to see how they interact with the page. They found under all circumstances that an overwhelming percentage (between 91% and 100%) of their participants scrolled. So more important than having your CTA in a prominent position would be having it in the correct position and ensure that your content pulls the user towards it.

The Myth of the Fold

The example diagram demonstrates a ‘negative’ (left) layout versus a ‘positive’ one (right). The negative one shows no sign of content below the image, so a user may be put off going any further as visually, it looks like the site has come to an end.

The positive one shows content exists below this image, encouraging scrolling behavior as the user is drawn down the page. We used this principle in our most recent design for Young’s pubs, The Lamb London to help push newsletter sign ups.

So what you’re saying is users will scroll?

Exactly. And with this in mind we can start think about placement of key call to actions. Let’s take a favourite of the hospitality sector, the Sign Up form, a key component in driving customer engagement. A few years ago, the most popular placement for a form or button would have been right at the top of the page. However, research shows that people will be more willing to engage with your site after they’ve browsed around. In fact, most people will begin to scroll down a page before the content has fully loaded (meaning optimising your website so it loads fast is even more important…but that’s a different conversation). The best place for engagement is roughly 700-1200px down the page, where users will, according to Josh Schwartz, spend almost three times as long on as the top of the page.

So, in short – yes, the fold as a concept in web design is dead, but its principles live on. Your content should be structured in a way that gets the user where they want to be in the shortest time, taking into account the behaviours of the modern web user. Smartphones and tablets have given us an intrinsic desire to scroll, we do it without even thinking about it now. Allowing your user to engage with your content instead of bombarding them with call to actions right away could see a reported engagement increase of over 30%. Of course, returning users will want that quick and easy to access booking form – or simply your address – so it’s in this case that placing key content in easy to access places, but now knowing how users interact with the web, we can stop overloading the top sections of our sites and let the content and more importantly, your visitors eyes, breathe a little.