Above the Fold for Websites
As detailed by my colleague (and Brother) in a previous article, "the fold" is a term from the newspaper industry referring to the content visible on the top half of the front page of the newspaper. It's basically the material visible on an unsold copy of a newspaper that is supposed to hook the reader into buying a copy.
For websites, the fold is what is visible to a user before they scroll.
Nick's article details his opinion that "The Fold is Dead." I'd like to explore the flip-side of this coin.
Today's analytics software allows us to not only monitor how many people visit your website, but also where they came from and how long they stayed. That last stat relates directly to the placement of your content, especially your call-to-action items.
I've seen websites with time-on-site times as low as 45 seconds. Their front page content, however, took 2 minutes + to read and was three times as long as the fold. That can directly tell you that a user did not read the full content of the site, and likely did not absorb any of the content towards the bottom of that page.
The truth is that many designers and businessmen forget that a website should have a very specific goal or set of goals. Oftentimes web designers forget to clearly define these goals. If this is the case, then it's very difficult to discern what should and should not be above the fold.
But if a website has clear goals, and uses clear call-to-action elements to reach them, then an above-the-fold approach is relevant and can help reach the goals.
Think of it this way: the above-the-fold material is the material that will be seen by the absolute highest percentage of your visitors. There's virtually no way that more people will see even an inch below the fold than the actual above-the-fold material.
Now, below-the-fold content is not worthless by any stretch of the imagination. People who contend that the entire website HAS to be above the fold are missing the boat. Take the original idea of the fold. That would be like saying the entire newspaper had to be above the fold, cutting out all of the in-depth content that was teased above the fold.
When in doubt regarding decisions on web content, I always recommend turning to the ultra-large websites for guidance. After all, amazon.com, apple.com, etc. are spending many millions of dollars on focus groups and usability tests to make sure their decisions are the right ones.
Virtually every major website has a fold, and you'd better believe that they took a good hard look at what they kept above it. Apple currently has the Iphone above the fold. Amazon has the Kindle. These decisions were all goal-driven, and yours' should be, too.
So, does the fold matter? The answer, I believe, is still "yes." But is below-the-fold the wasteland where content goes to die? Not at all. You simply have to prioritize your goals and what content drives those goals. Then put the higher priorities up top.