Debunking the “above the fold” myth

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Marketers, we’ve got some good news: You don’t need to fear the “fold” any longer. (Tell your designers, too.)

Many, if not most, of our recent Landing Page Optimization Workshop attendees were convinced that their call-to-action, email capture, or sign-up form must appear “above the fold” on a page.

Above-the-fold-image.jpgThe concept is easy to understand. As a carryover from long-established newspaper and direct-mail design principles, this has been considered a best practice online for years. Who would argue with the underlying logic that we’re too busy to read, we hate to scroll, and we have a three-second attention span when we’re online?

That’s all true. And many of our landing page tests have done well with important elements near the top.

However, there’s a limit to how far you can go in trying to accommodate visitors within an 800×600 pixel space. At a certain point, trying too hard to keep everything above the fold actually negates the effectiveness of the layout.

When you start cramming images, headlines, body copy, fields, buttons, navigation and other elements into a page, the impact of the message you’re trying to communicate can easily be overshadowed. We’ve seen an adverse effect in several tests of this scenario.

It’s much more effective to disregard the fold and focus on clearly stating the value of the product or service. Make it abundantly clear to visitors why they should take the action you want them to take (fill out a form; give an email address).

We’ve seen countless landing pages that throw an email capture form at visitors without offering anything in return or describing what the site or offer was even about. These are classic examples of site flow disruption — and you can tell that concern about scrolling below the fold influenced the layout.

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So here’s your chance to break the mold and create landing pages that run counter to the conventional wisdom (while your competitors stick with the myth). Consider testing a landing page design that presents the offer and puts the call-to-action right where it should be … even if that happens to be 700 or 1,200 pixels down the page.

Research analyst Adam Lapp contributed to this post.

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3 Comments

  1. Karl Gilis says

    The page fold is not a myth. It’s reality.

    Whether users want to scroll or not, depends on the type of page and the type of website.

    A nice article illustrating when users want to scroll (and when not) can be found at http://webusability-blog.com/page-fold-fact-or-fiction/. It also gives some good examples of good use of the area above the page fold.

    1. Adam Lapp says

      Hi Karl. You are right, the page fold is not a myth and it’s imperative to place key content and objectives early in the visitor’s sequence of thoughts, i.e. so near the top. The specific myth we are referring to is that EVERY web page, no matter the product or industry, must abide by the rule that says if you don’t cram everything above the fold, then your page will fail.

      This is certainly incorrect, corroborated by many online experiments we have conducted.

      Sure, if you have a FREE product or a EASY account sign-up or a SIMPLE email capture, then a short page with the main content and objective above the fold is probably best. But, if you are selling an expensive product or if you are requiring a lot of personal information (address, phone) you may very well need more that just the area above the fold to sell your self.

      Your copy length should be proportional to the risk involved. Low Risk = Short Copy. High Risk = Long Copy. Although this is also a generality since copy length depends on a variety of factors, it’s definitely a good rule of thumb.

      Adam

  2. Solona Armstrong says

    Why not do both? “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. Absolutely. And can a clear call-to-action live above the fold alongside the value?

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