The origin of the term “above the fold” lies in the world of newspaper layout.  Anything that was visible on the front page of the newspaper when it was folded in half on news stands or racks was considered “above the fold” and it’s a term that has not only crept in, but remained valid, even as we transitioned to digital publishing.

In terms of websites, the fold refers to the portion of the site that is visible to the user without having to scroll.

The proliferation of mobile devices and different screen sizes has made the fold a fairly fluid concept these days, and effective web design includes taking into account the different screen sizes that the site may be viewed on.  Responsive design arose specifically in order to allow site to dynamically adapt to different devices, but the concept of the fold itself has remained, even if it’s in a different place every time.

Why The Fold Matters

Content that appears above the fold has a low interaction cost, according to a report by the Nielsen – Norman Group.  No action is required on behalf of the user to see that information.

It’s only once you require a user to take action (whether it’s to scroll, or to click) that the interaction cost starts to rise, and users are forced to decide whether the interaction cost, (the effort to scroll or click, and even the effort to guess that more content is available but hidden (below the fold, or on another page) is worth it.

The content that is already visible above the fold is what convinces your user to take the next step, which in this case, would be to scroll down to see the rest of the home page content.

Convince Users To Scroll

Users will scroll when there’s a reason to do so.  As soon as they think they’ve seen all the information, of if what they see makes them think they don’t need to see any more, they won’t scroll.  And that means that whatever you have above the fold, no matter where that fold appears, has to make users aware that there is more content, and that scrolling will be worth their while.

Scrolling is an additional action that the website visitor needs to perform.  Visitors will only perform that action if there’s a compelling reason for them to do so.

Above The Fold Comes First

Countless studies conducted by the NN Group have identified the impact that the fold has on user behaviour.  If your website isn’t prioritising above the fold content, users will stop scrolling before they find the information you want them to have.

In more than 57,000 eye tracking tests, elements above the fold were viewed 102% more than elements below the fold in the NN Group studies.  Google, in a similar study, reported the difference at 66%, but they were tracking whether users were likely to see an ad depending on where it displayed, rather than tracking actual eye movement.

To take both studies into account, the NN Group has suggested the mid-point of the range between their two results, and called it 84%.

Content above the fold is 84% more likely to be viewed by visitors to the site than content below the fold.  And if that above the fold content or elements aren’t designed in such a way as to make your users continue their journey of discovery through the site, it has an almost 0% chance of ever being seen.