I’ve just read Scrolling and Attention, the results of usability research by Jakob Nielsen. It shows some interesting results that influence how web designers position content above or below the fold.
The fold and scrolling
The “fold” is the cutoff line of the bottom of your browser window, where you have to scroll down to see content “below the fold”, and any information/data/content that you do not have to scroll is “above the fold”.
He notes that although users much more willing to scroll than back in the 90′s, there is still a hierarchy of information that a user takes in above others.
He summarises that “most important for the users’ goals or your business goals should be above the fold. Users do look below the fold, but not nearly as much as they look above the fold. “. However, he also notes that the middle content tends to be viewed less than the bottom content, if there is something worth grabbing the user’s attention. This is probably due to the user looking for elements of importance.
It means that a website home page, or any key page should ensure that the most important information should be at the top, but that we shouldn’t be afraid of scrolling.
Also it means that there should be some ‘call to action’ towards the end of the page also, to keep the user’s interest.
One interesting thing is that he notes that paginating content can help reduce the lack of focus on the middle content, however it can also turn the user off continuing to the next page, whereas just scrolling reduces the effort the user has to do. The user should be given motivation to move onto the next page.
This information is relevant to mobile devices, where a user spends a lot more time scrolling than perhaps on a larger screen. The mobile site should still have the most important information at the very top, but give calls to action. The temptation with mobile devices is to paginate everything to reduce the size of the download, however that initiates another download, which requires the user to continue being interested. It seems there is a trade off between download size and keeping the user’s attention.