Creative Quandary: Above or Below the Fold?

Marketing ‌• April 30, 2013

[Have a creative quandary of your own? Submit your questions in the comment field below!]

Q: How do you know what to put above the digital ‘fold’?

Where to put your best content?

Where to put your best content?

A: As long as the internet has existed, there has been discussion about how to best utilize the limited visual real estate of website. ‘Above the fold’ comes, of course, from the newspaper terminology about prioritizing top stories to appear above where the paper is physically folded in half. In digital terminology, above the fold is very similar–it’s the first 600-700 pixels of a screen (depending on the computer/device), generally speaking, what someone sees when he lands on your website using a standard computer monitor.

While some designers believe you should use this space to engage visitors with snazzy graphics and ‘big idea’ headlines, others believe that you need to immediately offer up content and messaging to connect with the visitor. Those who err on the side of keeping it graphics-driven and thus visually stimulating will argue that a visitor will scroll when he is appropriately engaged (here’s a good argument on this side of the fence). Those erring on the other side of the argument will say that sure someone might scroll, but they’ll tune out the further down a page they travel and miss all your best content if you’re keeping it lower on the page (here’s an overview of scrolling and attentiveness).

Most websites today use banners to get their big ideas across and these tend to fall more in the category of using graphics and punchy headlines to get a visitor’s attention. Some pros and cons to this approach:

Pros 

  • Studies have shown that you have 2-3 seconds (seconds!) to capture a visitor’s attention and engage her to keep reading. Displaying eye-catching graphics and headlines above the fold helps lower your abandon rates and keep a visitor reading (and scrolling)
  • By only having a fixed space to work with, you’re forced to simplify content and think about the real net-net of your messaging for your visitor as well as tie it into a graphic that gives them the immediate “Oh, I get it” moment that will keep them engaged

Cons

  • The first 600-700 pixels is not a lot of room to work with, especially when you consider that this prime real estate also includes your logo, navigation bar, header images, etc., so you actually have even less space than you think. If you use graphics just because you think you should (rather than because you have a great visual grabber), you might run the risk of losing visitors.
  • If you’re selling complex B2B solutions, relying on more design and fewer words may lead you to oversimplify to the point of being vague and cliched

How do you decide which way to go? It’s actually pretty easy: design for your audience.

How does your target market read the web? At OppSource, we’ve seen it all. There are audiences who prefer longer, more in-depth content, both in emails and online. We’ve also seen just the opposite where prospects gobble up infographics and visual analogies. The best thing you can do is TEST, TEST, TEST! Put out two different versions of your homepage and watch the analytics. Also, take a look at your competitors’ sites and test it out for yourself. How are their sites set up? Are you engaged instantly? Are you compelled to scroll for further information?

Ultimately, it comes down to how effective your site is speaking to the people that really matter – your potential prospects.

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