In the online world, it’s all about the web browser. It’s the window you peer through to read words, watch videos and everything else you’re doing at a website. When you arrive at your destination site, you are most likely presented with information displayed the way Western readers are familiar: content is shown based upon reading from left to right and top to bottom.
The most important stuff is show at the top left of the page and as your eyes move down and to the right, what you see is considered of lesser importance to the site owner.
While there is no hard and fast specification for how big a web browser should be, the area at the bottom of the application’s border (the bottom most part of the window the browser application opens) is considered by most to be the “fold”.
Harking back to a term used by newspaper publishers, all above this bottom edge of their publication was the most viewed section of the paper. Or at least it was usually the very first section to be seen by subscribers. As such, the top headline of the day tended to be situated above the fold. Stories of lesser importance would tend to get moved down the page, or “hidden” inside the pages of the publication.
With regards to your website design, the same mindset has proven to be dominant. Think of what the visitor sees when your page first loads up in their browser window. The more they have to move down the page, the less likely they are to ever discover the messages you’re trying to send them.
If the audience you are targeting reads in the traditional left to right, top to bottom fashion, it will be important to deliver your most powerful messages where they expect them to be. If you think a website visitor will seek out what you are trying to tell them and they are required to scroll far down a page, give up. An overwhelming majority of online readers only scan pages to begin with. They are looking at pictures, headlines, perhaps bullet points. You message needs to be front and center, so to say (or top and left!).
Call to Action
Another consideration in effective web design is not trying to shove actionable content into every available pixel of space above the fold. White space in design and reduced numbers of options will tend to be more effective in helping you express your messages.
7 is the Magic Number
It’s considered that the short term memory of most folks (i.e., those likely to be reading your pages) can only manage 7 pieces of information at any given time. When you overload the space above the fold with numerous choices in categories, links, advertisements, story headlines, video windows, etc. you’re simply overwhelming the vast majority of visitors.
And overwhelm, like it or not, tends to lead to fatigue, frustration and the user bouncing away from your site. Chances of you getting them to buy what you’re selling if they’ve clicked on to their next destination is a resounding ZERO!
These are but a few considerations in website design. Much has been written and postulated on what constitutes success in presenting information in the online space. It has been, however, relatively universally accepted that clean, sparse displays above the fold in the browser is one way of making sure you deliver the messages most important to your business.
What other tips can you lend to readers about above and below the fold in web design?
Image Credit: Find My Fold