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While web users do scroll below the fold on websites, the portion of space 'above the fold' still remains the most valuable, with 80% of users' time on sites spent in this area. 

This is the verdict of Jakob Nielsen's latest blog post, which recommends that any truly important elements are left above the fold on the page. 

Nielsen doesn't necessarily say that users won't scroll at all, rather that, the further a user gets down the page, the less attention is paid to the content: 

It's as if users arrive at a page with a certain amount of fuel in their tanks. As they "drive" down the page, they use up gas, and sooner or later they run dry. The amount of gas in the tank will vary, depending on each user's inherent motivation and interest in each page's specific topic.

In the study carried out by Nielsen, users spent 80.3% of their time on webpages above the fold, and 19.7% below. This was carried out with a fairly average screen resolution of 1,024 × 768 pixels.

The article has some interesting eye-tracking shots too, which should show online retailers that cramming too many products onto one page is not such a good idea.

In the eyetracking shot of this JC Penney page which displays its sofa range, we can see how the users' attention diminishes the further down the page they get

So, the first few rows of sofas get plenty of 'fixations'; between five and ten per sofa for the top two rows, and between two and four on the next four rows: 

By the time we get towards the bottom of the page these users, to borrow Nielsen's analogy, have run out of gas. The bottom two rows don't even get any attention: 

Perhaps in this case, JC Penney would be better advised to slice and dice its sofa range so that it is presented to users in more manageable chunks. Although it does have some filtering and sorting options further up the page, perhaps it should make them clearer for users. 

There are certain elements that should be placed above the fold on an e-commerce site, such as key navigational links, site search boxes, calls to action, and more. 

Also, if you do have information below the fold that you want to draw user's attention to, visual prompts such as this used on the Wiitshire Farm Foods site can help entice the user to scroll further: 

Graham Charlton

Published 23 March, 2010 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

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rapella

This is an unfair generalisation at best, and wrong use of metrics at worst. As @harrybr pointed out, Nielsen tested 21 users on unspecified sites - yet applies results to ALL web users, EVERYWHERE.

over 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi - it is a generalisation, and how much people venture below the fold will vary from site to site. However, the point about having key elements above the fold makes a lot of sense for retailers. 

over 6 years ago

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rapella

Hello, Not so. There are lots of variables (not accounted for in the study) that will determine 'how much people venture below the fold' Design, composition, UX, all seem conspicuous by their absence.

over 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

I agree, there are lots of variables bur still, for an online retailer, there are key elements which should be above the fold. 

Perhaps the percentage of time spent above the fold is nit as high as this survey suggests, but it is still the area of the site that users will see first, and spend most time looking at. 

over 6 years ago

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rapella

We'll have to agree to disagree.

With only 10 years of e-commerce experience, i support the following statement:

http://twitter.com/ifraz/statuses/10879730642

over 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

I'm not sure what it is we're disagreeing about, as I'm not saying that everything should be crammed above the fold, but I agree with Nielsen that the most important elements should be above the fold. 

Of course, how far users dip below the fold will vary according to the type of site and the userbase. 

over 6 years ago

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Rob G

@rapella - would be great if you have an alternative study to refute the 80% figure - but almost by definition content above the fold must get more visual time - as it is the default that is shown when the page loads - whereas the stuff below the fold needs a user to actively scroll down to see it... 80% may not be the right number - but the general finding should hold true. 

PS i have 11 yrs  ;)

over 6 years ago

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Element Investing

Does the same hold true for advertising? I wonder if there has been a similar study for response rates on above-the-fold vs. below-the-fold ads. Perhaps the opposite would be true if users consciously avoid ads, when perhaps placing them in a location where their attention is diminished would lead to greater responses.

over 6 years ago

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NJ

Graham well done on this piece.

Its always easy to challenge once something is done.

It isn't always easy to do something.

Credit should be given to those who initiate and do.

If people wish to challenge then they should bring an alternative solution (as Rob G mentioned) 

Well done again. 

over 6 years ago

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Mark Bolitho, New Business Director - Ecommerce at more2

While I also agree that key content, nav, etc, is best (indeed, bound to be) above the fold I think it largely depends on how a long page is structured as to how far people will venture down below the fold.

Particularly where a call to action is concerned, it's prudent to make sure the impulsives can get to it quickly, and without necessarily reading all the content.

Also, I think it's important to take the 20% in to account too - still a very significant %, so designers shouldn't get sloppy down there below the fold.

When one really thinks about it, it's a pretty obvious conclusion to come to - imagine having to scroll down for the primary nav and headline!

over 6 years ago

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Jeremy Spiller, Managing Director at White Hat Media

I find this article very interesting by its content but also by the heated debate you managed to spark Graham! Here are some things that it made me think of:

  • if we get back to the origin of the "above the fold" expression, it was invented by newspaper editors to describe the area of a newspaper that would be visible to passers-by, when folded on a newstand. Important news shoud be put above the fold to maximise sales potential.
  • I think the priniciple still works and as Rob said, indeed when a visitor lands on page, it's a similar situation to me or you walking by the newstand. If you don't like what you see above the fold, or if it's irrelevant, it's very likely you will leave the site quickly or not pay very much attention to what's below the fold as you scroll down, unless maybe if you're a "fan" customer.
  • As far as ecommerce sites are concerned, a mix of "common sense" marketing practice, good UX, design and personalisation can do wonders. See the Zappos site for example, which interestingly makes use of a massive footer to keep visitors on site, and help with optimisation.

over 6 years ago

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