Venturing below the fold

To boldly go where no man has gone before…

… except the bottom half of your web page is not an unvisited wasteland. It is not the final frontier, nor a strange new world. It is more like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumb path through the woods: the content will keep people travelling down a page for as long as it seems valuable.

The idea that website visitors will not scroll below the fold is no longer true. It used to be, when websites were a novelty, hyperlinks were exciting, monitors were smaller and online was an unknown.

But things have changed, and current trends definitely show that there is life below 600 px. If the content above the fold holds someone’s interest, they will keep on travelling down the page.

A brief history of online fold philosophy (or, ‘but I’m pretty sure the fold is a thing’)

1994, Jacob Nielsen

Only 10% of web users would scroll a navigation page to see any links that were not visible in the initial display. The vast majority of users would make their selection from those links they could see without scrolling.

2010, Jacob Nielsen

In 2010, Jacob revised his view as he had found web users spent 80% of their time looking at information above the page fold and allocated only 20% of their attention below the fold.

2014, UX Myths

Nowadays it’s absolutely natural to scroll. For continuous and lengthy content, like an article or a tutorial, scrolling provides even better usability than slicing up the text to several separate screens or pages.

Chartbeat, a data analytics provider, analysed data from 2 billion visits and found that 66% of attention on a normal media page is spent below the fold.

Where is the fold?

In all seriousness, where is the fold? Is it at the bottom of the traditional 800 x 600 screen? Or is it on your mobile phone screen in portrait? Your iPad mini in landscape? Your galaxy tablet? Your large screen? Your laptop screen?

The variety in display devices means that the fold no longer exists as it once did, making it well nigh impossible to judge when you have gone below it.

Finally, how do you know how far people will scroll on your site?

The short answer is, test it. User testing gives you empirical evidence on how your users will behave on your site. General usability guidelines are great, analytics data is invaluable and focus groups and interviews give people that chance to tell you how they think they will behave. These tools will give you insights, questions, food for thought. But the act of usability testing your own site, and asking people to respond to realistic, task-based scenarios, will give you evidence. You will see how visitors approach your site and whether your page content inspires them to scroll – and there you have your answers.