Does the fold matter?

Milissa Tarquini's article 'Blasting the myth of the fold' in the November issue of Boxes and Arrows makes interesting reading.

In it, Tarquini notes that web designers are still - a decade after Jakob Nielsen announced that web readers have learned to scroll - being plagued by clients wanting them to squeeze everything "important" in above the fold.

The fold (inherited from newspaper terminology) or scroll-line is the point in a web page's layout where a reader has to scroll down to see more content. Tarquini points to a December 2006 report by ClickTale and her own experience as Director, User Interface Design and Information Architecture at AOL, to argue that

where a given item falls in relation to the fold is becoming less important. Users are scrolling to see what they want, and finding it. The key is the content – if it is compelling, users will follow where it leads.

For me, the fold notion is really interesting as we start to assess the performance of the homepage of our site, 7 months after relaunching the site. Soon after relaunch, we decided that we weren't happy with the amount of content we could profile on the homepage, so we added a list of 'Popular' links in the bottom right-hand corner of the page - well below the fold.

Screenshot showing the popular links sidebar, with links like 'Ask a librarian for research help'.

Since then, the pages listed in those links have consistently performed well in our web statistics - and usually receive more visits than the pages linked to from the 'shutterbox', the four moving panels above the fold, on the left-hand side of the page.

This might suggest that the fold should be irrelevant when we're thinking about the homepage, but I can think of a few complicating factors. For example: one of the Popular links is to the Family History advice page, and 'family history' is one of the more common search terms bringing people to the site. Another factor: the shutterbox links change monthly and the Popular links are static, meaning people may use this as a regular point of access. Or even just calling the list 'Popular' could have an influence.

All of which leads me to conclude that I'll need to pick carefully through click paths and entry points before making any assumptions about how the homepage works. But really - isn't the research most of the fun?

By Courtney Johnston

Courtney did almost every job in the web team, and is now out in the world and in charge of everything.

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