First impressions are key to any relationship. They are perhaps even more crucial in cyberspace than they are in real life. Think about how many times you’ve gone to a website, only to click on to the next one in a mere few seconds. The harsh truth is that people are doing that to your website if they feel that it doesn’t offer what they need. So how does your website stack up?
To help improve visitor perception of websites, online marketers transferred the concept of “the fold” from newspapers to websites. In newspaper terminology, the fold is what appears on the front page above the literal page fold and what appears when newspapers are stacked at newsstands. What’s “above the fold” should be enticing to passers-by to encourage a purchase.
The fold, as it applies to websites, is what appears on a website visitor’s screen when he or she lands on the page and doesn’t scroll. The idea is to make sure that what is at the top of the page communicates a clear, strong message and inspires visitors to stay and take the action you wish for them to take…all without having to scroll.
Sounds like a great idea, right? But there’s a problem: Where is the fold on a website?
Visit a technology store, and get grounded.
Before you panic about needing to keep the compelling message above the fold and not knowing where the darned thing is, visit your local technology store. Take a look at the desktop monitors for sale. You’ll see a range of sizes, up to television screen! Then take a look at laptops and netbooks. Some can fit right into a purse. Then, don’t forget to stop by cell phones. Look at the handheld devices: iPhones, Blackberries, and more every day. You’ve now seen a range of screen sizes—a very, very large range. So where is the fold?
Now, add to the mix the variety of web browsers someone could have on a computer, and don’t forget that some users expand their browsers to fill the screen, and others keep their windows smaller. Now, you’re ready to pull your hair out.
Don’t forget the big picture.
You’re now aware of the possibility of your website appearing on jumbotron screens to the itty-bitty two-inch screen. You couldn’t possibly fall into the trap of focusing on the details and ignoring the big picture, right? Unfortunately, some people become obsessed with cramming all their important content above a certain line that’s so many pixels below the top. It happens all too often. Suddenly, they end up prisoners to an imaginary line, and everything is packed in above it; their sites look dreadful, not to mention difficult to use. Their intention to keep more visitors on their websites has just worked against them.
Electronic media is just like print media…except when it’s not.
My high school French teacher used to say, “We’re not translating word for word; we’re translating idea for idea.” Of course I didn’t really get what that meant until I was older. That principle applies to the fold. Many best practices of print media do apply to electronic media, but remember to transfer the idea or concept—not the specific detail. The concept of the fold works well when it forces a website owner to ensure that enticing content is at the top of the page, whether it’s simply stating the website’s purpose, using a colorful graphic (accessible, of course!) to encourage a call-to-action, or providing useful links to other content.
Today’s consumers of electronic media are used to having to scroll (particularly if they use handheld devices), so everything doesn’t have to be above the fold. They are used to having to click through to find information they need. However, these consumers are also used to clicking on to the next website in seconds if they feel that their needs aren’t being met.
Remember that, in the end, the overall goal is to entice visitors to stay on your website. Make sure what’s at the top of a web page is compelling, useful, and enticing, and you will have people staying on your site a little bit longer.