In journalism there is a design concept known as ‘the fold,’ and it refers to a point about halfway down the page where a newspaper would be folded for packaging and sale. This means that designers had to engage prospective readers with only half a page of content to get them to purchase the entire paper. The use of pictures, catchy headlines, canvasing questions, as well as a moderate amount of sensationalism at some publications, quickly became defacto design tropes in the industry because of this.
Today ‘the fold’ still exists, only in the form of a screen. The bottom of your screen, whether you are on a monitor, phone, tablet, or car dashboard, has become the new fold. It is the point where people have to make a concerted effort to keep reading any piece of content. As a writer myself I like to believe that most people read all the way to the end of every article they share on Facebook and Twitter. But sadly, this isn’t always the case.
In fact, according to an article by Slate, roughly one tenth of readers will never scroll on an article they click on. Additionally, about one third of the total engagement time for an article will exist above the fold. This means that a huge amount of time will be spent on an article’s title, navigation bar, and picture than almost anywhere else on that page.
In their study, Slate found that people will most likely see maybe one or two sentences of content before sharing the article and moving on. People are apparently busy, and there are plenty of cat pictures to see on the internet.
When you think about what exists on the fold of an everyday website, the numbers become pretty shocking. Let’s take world news leader CNN as an example:
So we get around 700 pixels down the page using my monitor at work. But there is hardly any information displayed. We get the site header, navigation bar, two advertisements, a title for the article, a picture gallery, and social media share buttons.
That isn’t a lot of information at all really. Yet this is what one tenth of readers are likely to see and what one third of the time spent on this article will focus on. Taking just this article as an example, we don’t know why the director left, who is going to replace them, or if the movie is still on its production schedule. The page hasn’t given me any reason to care read further down the article, but has given me the ability to share the article with all of my friends. I’d say that is a major design flaw to the way CNN delivers content to its customers.
Now this is just entertainment news that is largely ephemeral, but what does this mean for “real” content? Is there hope for any articles or posts of better quality content?
The same Slate article above does suggest that better quality of content will usually result in more engagement and a higher percentage of users who read articles to completion. In fact, when compared to ten other sites Slate performed exceedingly well with the majority of their traffic existing “bellow the fold.” But is there anything that creators can do to improve numbers on literally any content? Maybe…
This site largely rejects the idea of designing for the fold and suggests that we simply organize the content we already have to be user-friendly. Instead of trying to fit mountains of information directly at the top of an article, space information out and create a narrative for the reader. This approach definitely relies on a creators ability to build interest throughout a story rather than in the first two sentences.
Whether you believe in the fold or not, it is something to keep in mind when considering the overall appearance of your website and especially your content. Striking the balance between creating an uncluttered design, presenting enough valuable information for the reader, and creating mystery and interest is like mining for gold. Luckily, The Primm Company is perfect at striking gold for all of our clients.
If you finished this post, reward yourself with a cat picture.