Page fold: myth or reality?
In cxpartners’ article ‘The myth of the page fold: evidence from user testing’ it’s suggested you don’t need to take the page fold into account when designing a page. Users have no problem scrolling.
We don’t think things are as black and white as all that. Yes, contrary to what you’re used from us: a bit of nuance!
Update Friday 23 October 2009: Some guy called Jakob Nielsen commented on this article.
What is the page fold?
The term page fold is used for the imaginary line between the part of the page you can see without scrolling and the part of the page you can see when you scroll down.
Traditionally, the fold is considered to be on 570 or so pixels from the top edge of the page. That’s more or less what people see on their screens in a resolution of 1024×768. Now, recent figures on screen resolutions in Belgium show that 70% of the people use a higher resolution. So really, you need to take into account multiple folds on 1 page.
Do or don’t people scroll?
What does it depend on? The type of page and the type of website.
1. Homepages and overview pages
A. News websites
On news websites, page length doesn’t matter much. Most people visit a news website to get updated on the latest news. They prefer a long page, with not just headlines but also summaries of the main stories, to a shorter page with just the headlines. Scrolling down the long page is a lot faster than having to scan and click on individual headlines for more information.
When it comes to the homepage and overview pages of news websites, we’d even be inclined to say: the longer, the better.
B. Big, well-known online stores
Big online stores that sell thousands of products ánd that are known to the general public, like Amazon and Neckermann, can afford to have long homepages and overview pages.
Most people who visit these sites know what to expect.
Their surfing behaviour roughly falls into 2 categories:
People who know what they’re looking for (e.g.: Alice Munro’s ‘The beggar maid’) will very likely use the search feature or click on the category of their choice. They don’t care about the rest of the homepage.
Browsers can be both bargain hunters or people who are looking for something but they don’t know exactly what just yet (e.g. some light reading for the beach). They will have a look around on the homepage and overview pages that interest them (like the overview page on ‘thrillers’).
Note: we’re saying big webshops can afford to have long homepages and overview pages. They don’t have to have them.
C. Regular company or organisation
On the homepage of a regular company or government organisation people prefer not to scroll. That’s what they spontaneously say during user tests. It also shows in their surfing behaviour and it’s backed up by logfile analysis. (Use the ’site overlay’ feature in your Google Analytics account.)
People expect on the homepage of a ‘regular’ company that important information is visible without scrolling.
It makes sense for them to expect that. They’re on those websites to do something. And they’d like to do that as quickly as possible. The top tasks people use the site for should be immediately visible.
Can’t you put anything below the page fold?
Sure you can. Most people surf in higher screen resolutions than 1024 x 768 anyway. And of course some people will scroll. Just don’t assume all of them will. Put the really important stuff, your visitors’ top tasks, above the page fold. Lower down on the page you can put less important items like news, events, etc.
How can you encourage people to scroll?
Avoid page-wide ads or empty areas near the page fold. Make clear the page doesn’t end there. Show a little of the content that’s below the page fold. That encourages people to scroll.
2. Detail pages
On detail pages length doesn’t really matter. People will scroll just as long as you keep them interested.
But just because people scroll doesn’t mean you can do whatever you like on a detail page. Again, make clear what the page has to offer above the page fold. There are different ways to do that, depending on the type of page.
A. Product pages
- Executive summary
A short summary of the most important information at the top of the page. Amazon’s product pages are a good example. You can immediately see the product’s name, picture, price and whether or not it’s in stock.
Tabs, or more precisely in-page tabs, are interesting if you have a lot of information about a product (i.e.: product description, technical specifiactions, references). Tabs are best used in combination with an executive summary. Like on KeepYourCooler.com.
B. Content pages
- Jump links or anchor links
A clickable table of contents at the top of the page. The long detail pages of the province of Flemish Brabant are a good example. Read our article on anchor links for a more detailed explanation.
Just a reminder: also on detail pages you should always make clear the page doesn’t end at the page fold. Give a hint of the content below the page fold.
User testing is important, but it can’t tell you everything
The conclusions of cxpartners’ article about the page fold seem to be entirely based on user testing. Now, as you may or may not know, we are big advocates of user testing. But it is not the be-all and end-all of usability.
User testing is qualitative research. It takes more than data from user testing to make a bold statement like ‘the page fold is a myth’. You also need data from quantitative research, like logfile analysis. When you look at these figures, you’ll often see that links above the page fold are clicked 3 times as often as links below the page fold.
It’s important to know whether or not people scroll. But it’s not the only thing that matters. How many people simply leave a page with little or no content above the page fold? What’s the conversion rate of pages like that?
Moral of the story
Is the page fold a myth? No, it isn’t. The page fold exists and affects people’s surfing behaviour.
Put important information at the top of the page and make sure people know the page doesn’t stop at the page fold.
Read more articles about design, homepage, overview page, page fold, Usability.
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