Anyone who has built or designed a website has surely run into conversations around the mythical “fold”. This often comes in the form of a client requiring that certain calls to action or content being “above the fold” in a design. This phrase comes from the world of newspapers where it’s essential that the most eye-catching and important stories and images are on the top half of the front page. That way, when a newspaper is sitting on a newsstand shelf, that content would be “above the fold”. In the early days of web design, it’s easy to see why this might be a useful metaphor. It makes sense that the most important information should be framed front and center for all site visitors without the need to scroll or interact. Yet, the web has changed, and attitudes toward “the fold” should too.
First, let’s consider the basic fact that the area above the fold is going to be a different size and shape on different devices. Certainly, visitors on a smartphone will have a different initial view of a site than visitors on a tablet or a laptop, but consider the amount of minute variations that come with each distinct device visitors use. An iPhone 5 will show a lot less of a site than the upcoming iPhone X. Android users come on devices of all sorts of resolutions and aspect ratios. Similarly, with tablets. Further, the increasing prevalence of 4k (or higher) displays means a whole lot more of a site is visible at once than normal. Suffice to say, the basic idea of keeping a single set of content above the fold on all devices becomes nearly impossible.
More importantly, with all these variations in devices, users will find different content useful when they arrive on a site. A mobile user might appreciate a click-to-call link more than anything, and that should be quickly accessible to them. However, a desktop user is unlikely to need that, and could perhaps prefer a large splash video or some other content that makes use of the larger screen space available.
Research even dictates that the fold isn’t worth considering from a basic standpoint. Prioritizing content (especially calls to action) above the fold assumes that users will want to interact with a site before scrolling or reading further into a page. Huge Inc. created various above-the-fold layouts and measured how many users scrolled, and how many eventually reached the bottom of a page. Over 91% of users scrolled immediately in all four cases. Similarly, cxpartners found in their design work that an over-crowded above-the-fold area actually discourages overall engagement with a page. Less content above the fold means users will spend more time and attention to the entire page, not just what fits above the fold.
Ultimately, the area above the fold is no more important than any other portion of your site’s design. Every piece must be carefully designed with special consideration for the targeted user-base. Spending excessive time worrying about fitting everything above the fold will not benefit the end-users in any way that careful design of the entire page for each kind of device wouldn’t. The fold itself doesn’t matter.