Is Above the Scroll Still Relevant?

Until fairly recently, conventional web design often favored keeping homepage content ?above the fold?, applying the old newspaper term which referred to placing top headlines and advertising above the physical crease on the folded paper. During the early to mid-90?s, websites oftentimes did not feature scrolling; however, by the latter part of the decade, as people had grown accustomed to scrolling, most websites began to expand vertically.

A common trope of the Web 2.0 revolution was a rejection of this pattern. Of course, that?s not to say that scrolling was abolished wholesale, but rather that vertical scroll bars began to shorten and rapid advances in web design made hipper, more concise pages more desirable and attractive. Depending on the type of site (commercial, news, blog, social media, video), this still largely holds true today. Homepages need to grab the eye while holding the attention, and the endless scroll bar is a quick way to lose that attention. This holds especially true of landing pages, which need to make a quick, effective impression that translates to conversions.

While some claim that the scroll wheel killed the ?above the scroll? gospel, this is a bit too simplistic. Sure, it makes scrolling much easier, but it doesn't necessarily hold a viewers attention or make the site any more pleasing to the eye. Recent data supports this argument. Veteran usability consultant and researcher, Jacob Nielsen's eye-tracking study from last year shows a dramatic drop in viewing time for ?below the fold? content. According to the study, viewing time is 80.3% to 19.7% for content above and below the scroll, respectively. Eye-catching numbers, pun-intended.

What are the implications of this old/new data? Accordingly to Nielsen:

"the material that's the most important for the users' goals or your business goals should be above the fold. Users do look below the fold, but not nearly as much as they look above the fold. People will look very far down a page if (a) the layout encourages scanning, and (b) the initially viewable information makes them believe that it will be worth their time to scroll. Finally, while placing the most important stuff on top, don't forget to put a nice morsel at the very bottom."

In other words, don't be a slave to the "above the scroll" design mythos, but respect it nonetheless. The explosion of social media and smartphones in recent years has added a new dimension to this debate, since people have grown accustomed again to scrolling in these specific instances. However, for desktop and laptop browsing on most websites, good design above the scroll on truncated pages means better visitor response.

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