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Scrolling habits downplay "the fold"

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There's an ongoing debate among web designers about content placement on webpages and the so-called "fold."

The fold takes its name from the newspaper world, which should already tell you it's an outdated concept: Content printed above the point on the newspaper where it gets folded in half gets more attention, because the content "below the fold" goes unseen as the newspaper sits there on your tabletop, nightstand, sofa or lawn-chair.

Quaint concept.

Web people have pulled the concept into the modern age by declaring webpage content that's immediately visible in your browser without scrolling is "above the fold," with many going as far as saying anything worth presenting on the web needs to live "above the fold."

If you can't already tell, I've never put much faith in the fold. I've always thought a good analogy was a book. People understand they need to open the cover and turn a few pages to get to the content when they read a book. That's how books work.

I've always maintained people understand they'll need to scroll — and are willing to scroll — to get to the content when they visit a website. That's how websites work.

Now there's research that says I'm right. Here are just a couple tidbits:

  • Data analytics firm Chartbeat analyzed 2 billion visits and found "66% of attention on a normal media page is spent below the fold."
  • ClickTale used heatmap analysis to examine 100,000 pages and found people used the scrollbar 76% of the time. And 22% of the time, they scrolled all the way to the bottom of the page.

Don't get me wrong: Your most important content should always come first. Why wouldn't it? And, yes, content needs to be valuable and relevant in order to compel users to scroll down for more.

But can we stop pretending that if users don't see something on their screen the moment they hit a webpage, they just aren't going to see that content at all?

Hey, are you still reading this? So ... I guess you scrolled, huh?