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Know where to hold ‘em, know where to fold ‘em

There is a constant fear of having to cram every single bit of content above the page fold on a web page. Bob in HR wants the careers section to have a prime time slot, Product Manager Juanita wants to showcase the latest gadget that’s been launched, and Muriel from Marketing wants to plaster contact forms everywhere. The only thing left is for the CEO to say he wants a spinning globe added in so the masses can see that the company base is worldwide , before another Designer keels over and dies from page fold suicide.

Yes, key content should be visible, but is the idea that the page fold is a barrier to conversion a myth?

What is the page fold?

Commonly used to describe the upper half of the front page of a newspaper, in web terms the page fold is the area you see on a web page before having to scroll. Unlike newspapers, we cannot predict where the page fold is. It doesn’t just depend on screen resolution but how the visitor has sized the browser window and what toolbars they have customised it with.

What we also need to remember is that newspapers are a different medium. We know they are about current news and affairs. We know if we want to read a tacky tabloid, we’ll head straight to The Sun. We know for more sophisticated reporting we’d pick up a copy of The Times.

What do potential customers know about your website? If they haven’t heard of you, the chances are they won’t want to know about Juanita’s latest product just yet or sign up on one of Muriel’s contact forms right now. There are two things they need to know first before they become a click happy customer:

  1. What do you do?
  2. Why should I get it from you?

Answering these two questions above the fold will not only grab the users attention, but will get them interested.

Scroll with me

Jakob Nielson , usability guru extraordinaire, stated in his Scrolling and Attention Alertbox that there’s a 80/20 split in users that will scroll.

80/20 split in scrolling

Image courtesy of UseIt.com 22/03/2010

Remember our blog about scent trails? The same theory applies here, you need to show users information at the right time they are looking for it. To get users to scroll, you need to make sure your page has a good scent. Think about the user’s goals and break these down. Prioritise what questions they’ll have, answering the most important ones first. What questions will they need answered next? Is the home page the best place for this, or can you take them elsewhere? Make sure the page has a good scent so users know there’s more sweet smelling content if they do decide to scroll.

The image below is also from Nielson’s Scrolling and Attention Alertbox, showing that users will scroll. Blue dots indicate one fixation, with bigger dots representing longer viewing time.

Scrolling and attention

Image courtesy of UseIt.com 22/03/2010

As well as the information on the page, visual cues can also be used to guide users into scrolling. Here’s a few tips to bear in mind:

  1. Less is more
    Good use of whitespace encourages exploration
  2. Avoid harsh horizontal lines
    Whilst these are good for breaking up content, if horizontal lines go full width there will need be a small amount of content visible below to encourage the user to scroll
  3. Steer clear of in-page scroll bars
    Not only are iFrames a major no-no, but having in-page scroll bars don’t give the user an indication of how much content is on the page

In an even older Alertbox from way back in 1997, Nielsen stated that “scrolling is now allowed”. So why is it that 15 years later we are still fearing it?

Sheetal
Posted by Sheetal
January 27th, 2012 » Read a little more about Sheetal
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