A typical web user will spend 80 percent of their time staring at information that is located above the page fold. Although users often do not read immediately, but scroll instead, they spend only 20 percent of their time on the content below the fold.
There is much confusion among web designers about the page fold concept and the importance of keeping the most important information above the fold so it can be seen without the need for any additional user´s action.
In the first years of the Internet, users didn’t need to scroll as they just looked at the information and used it to decide if they are going to stay or leave. Usability studies that were conducted between 1994 and 1996 have shown that websites often failed if important information was below the fold. This unwillingness to scroll was logical at the time, because people were used to having PC´s show all their options.
Today, users will scroll and scroll. However, this does not mean that you should create an endless scrolling page. Long scrolling pages are problematic because of the limited attention span that the user has. People prefer websites that get to the point immediately and let them get to do the key information quickly.
If you have a very long article, it will be better to show it as one scrolling page than to split it across multiple pages. Scrolling is better than dividing into pages because it is easier for users to scroll down the page than it is to decide whether or not to click through for the next page of an article divided into multiple pages, although publishers would advocate the use of multiple pages to improve their digital revenues.
Eyetracking research results
A number of eyetracking research studies were conducted on the subject to see how users behave across a wide variety of websites. To find out if the fold is still as important, these research studies analyzed a total of 57,453 fixations which are instances when users look at something on a page, typically for less than half a second.
Because the main research goal of these studies was to generate new insight for the industry, they targeted large parts of the study to test:
– webpages with new navigation features for the IA courses
– corporate blogs
– apps for the Application Design seminars.
For each of the above topics, it is perfectly correct to target a research and test webpages that have features that we would like to investigate. To do this, we would simply need to ask our test subjects to use a site that has the features we would like to investigate, but we would not want to draw their attention to that specific feature.
If we would deliberately ask some users to test webpages that have a particular design feature that is of interest to us, we would not be able to draw a conclusion that their behavior is representative. Users might scroll less often than they usually do if our content above the fold successfully keeps their attention highly focused.
These research studies also had a component that let website users to go to any site they chose, for the sake of the data that they were analyzing in the study. They tested the regular webpages that people often use rather than the webpages that they picked for testing their design features.
Even with the fact that 5% of subjects´ total time was spent past the 2,000-pixel mark, they tend to scan information that far from the top fairly quickly and without reading at all.
According to research studies, viewing time amongst web users was distributed as follows:
– Above the fold: 80.3%
– Below the fold: 19.7%
Eyetracker with a resolution of 1,024 × 768 pixels was used to conduct these studies. Today, most users have bigger displays, and although using a bigger screen would not change the research findings, it would increase the percentage of user attention spent above the fold simply because more content could be viewed.
Design Implications and Effects
The implications and effect are more than clear. The things that are the most important for the users’ goals or your business goals should still be located above the fold. Users indeed look below the fold, but not even close to as much as they look above the fold.
Visitors will look very far down the page if the page layout encourages scanning, and if the initially viewable information gives them belief that it will be worth their time to scroll down and read more.
To conclude, while placing the most important information on top, you should not forget to add additional useful content further down the page, but with the anticipation that the engagement levels and click through rates are likely to be reduced.