01.20.16

It’s the End of the Fold as We Know It (and We Feel Fine)

Somewhere along the line, the concept of “the fold,” originally stemming from newspaper design, became a rule of web design. Web developers, designers, and marketers were taught that all important content had to exist “above the fold” to make sure users would see it as soon as a web page loaded without having to scroll or click.

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Here at Brand Networks, we help our customers do more than just deliver great social content and native advertising into the feed. A great digital campaign is a stage with many actors playing important roles. Thinking holistically means helping our customers determine what happens after their wonderful social campaigns get clicked.

What we’re not doing these days is advising customers to think about “the fold” in their landing pages.

“The fold rule” was a well-meaning but poorly-executed best practice that often led to cramming content into the top 500 pixels of a web page, overwhelming users with so much information that they struggled to pick out what was important, or where to go next. The idea of placing important content “above the fold” is no longer a best practice, simply because the web has changed in two very important ways:

First, today’s internet users are accustomed to scrolling. We don’t read, we scan. If the content visible to us is interesting enough, we naturally scroll to continue reading and to get more information.

Second, the fold is ambiguous at best; how many pixels are available in the area above the fold? It depends on your device’s screen size, window size, and display resolution. There is no way to design for every possible device individually to ensure content stays above the fold, and frankly, there shouldn’t be. It is imprudent to assume a page can fit all crucial information above the fold on all devices (or to attempt to do so).

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There is still some truth to the notion that important content should greet the user quickly, but now the focus should be more on capturing user attention. Since the top of the screenno matter what sizeis the first thing the user will see, it should engage her, and act as scroll-enabling content. It’s less crucial to fit every piece of important content “above the fold” than it is to grab the user’s attention with whatever content you’re choosing to show first to encourage a deeper dive into the page.

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What really dictates user engagement and conversion is content.

If the art and copy on a page is interesting enough, users will scroll, they will click on calls to action, and they will continue to interact with a page. If marketers lay out key content in such a way as to promote scrolling, and incorporate visual cues (such as scroll bars, partially cut-off images and text, etc.), users will remain engaged past the first portion of the page that’s visible to them and will know to scroll for more. Content can be introduced gradually, interspersed with proper white space and imagery to remain highly usable.

If your content tells a story, users will be more likely to continue scrolling until the very end.

As we marketers bid goodbye to the fold as we know it, we welcome a new way of thinking about user engagement. Placing important content first on a web page is still a valid and useful tool. The difference now is that this tool is used to engage users initially, not a means to bombard users with all relevant information the moment they land on a site.

Furthermore, we can take advantage of the rise of social media to drive user engagement—to grab attention and drive interest before the click even happens. Increasingly important are the shares, Likes, Tweets, and Pins that promote content to a target audience. This is where we can pull users in. Well-crafted ad campaigns and content shared across social media will be an additional driver to increase on-page conversions. In this way, the new home of our most important messages is the social feed itself.

The fold as we know it may be dead, but it can still guide our placement of well-crafted content, encouraging users to scroll for more—or even to click first.

(Digital Artwork by Lauren Bowman)