Fold & Scrolling Internet Marketing MythBusters

Internet marketing  industry is full of shysters. This is not really a discussion starter –  it’s a fact. Due to a lack of any entry barriers, like education or licencing, literally anybody with internet access and a basic knowledge can announce himself as an independent internet marketing consultant and quite lucratively sell utterly ludicrous nonsense or ‘common guidance’ copy-pasted from mashable. The amount of unemployed “social media experts” who can’t even tag links is the perfect example of this situation.

This issue logically annoys any professional evidential marketer like me, not least because it undervalues our services by a mile (but that’s the topic for the different blog post). During this series I want to talk about the quite popular myths that, in my own very personal opinion (that’s how I make sure Tim is not going to complain about the company’s image) are all created by those “experts” I mentioned earlier. This problem became enormous in my favourite CRO area because proving online marketing idiots wrong is quite a complicated task when the rules of the game are so vague.

Scrolling

Scrolling, scroll attention and the mysterious fold is something I want to start this series with because the amount of vague advice popping up in my Twitter feed is growing proportionally day after day. The majority of the statements below are based on the most reliable scrolling research available online made by guys from Clicktale. The interesting point that the research was done in 2006/2007 but even now hasn’t found its deserved popularity.

Myth 1 – The fold

The fold, like many internet marketing terms, was nicked from graphic design/newspaper publishing. It logically means the place where the newspaper is usually folded, dividing the entire page content into 2 main categories: above- and below-the-fold. Transferring the same principle into online marketing, every single element users can observe without scrolling is considered above-the-fold, and everything else below-the-fold. So what’s the myth I’m planning to bust? Here you go:

THE FOLD DOES NOT EXIST!

Unlike a newspaper we can’t fix the location of the fold because the screen resolution, screen size, browser size and even window size can vary so much that estimating any average would be a default mistake. And, luckily for me, Clicktale have some numbers to back me up:

For those who have difficulties with reading graphs, this one represents the variety of the fold location in ‘pixels from the top of the screen’. Where is the fold? It’s everywhere – from just over 200 px to over 1000 px. But there is more to this graph. Spot the three clear spikes at 430, 600 and 860. Do you recognise these sizes? Neither did I but, again, luckily for us the analysts doing this research noticed that it’s actually our most popular resolution used today: 800×600, 1024×768 and 1280×1024 minus 170 pixels (the most common browser size). So whenever some genius recommends you stick all your important elements above the fold, just show him this graph and politely ask him to leave the room.

Myth 2 – Users don’t scroll

This one I hear almost on a daily basis and surprisingly enough even from well-respected marketers. I agree that some time in 90s this issue could be close to true but currently this statement is just another unevidential conclusion. Below is another amazing graph clearly shattering this myth into billions of little pieces:

The 100% mark is clearly dominating the graph, giving us quite a solid insight that almost a quarter of your visitors will scroll the entire page. Also, we can tell (cumulatively) that the majority of visitors will view at least 75% of your page. Given that 75% of your page usually includes all of your actual content, as footers / white space usually take space at the bottom, this is an important finding.

 

Myth 3 – Content on long pages is less likely to be seen than on short ones

This is more of a decades-long discussion than a myth, but I still occasionally spot “recommendations” advising to avoid long pages because they are less likely get scrolled. BULLS**T!

The proportion of users viewing most of the page (90%) does not change no matter what size the page! This would be verified by millions of affiliates making their living with long, sales-letter-style landing pages.

 

And to finish…

So what now? Don’t bother with content prioritisation at all? Of course not. The purpose of this post, and the subsequent series, is to try to explain that not everything in CRO is so simple and straight forward. And following any generic advice will definitely only take you to the far, far away land called ‘wasted marketing budget’.

When the page length, fold and the scrolling reach is not directly affecting your user experience, then the actual visitor attention (amount of time spent on the each section/element) is the quantifiable metric you can use for content prioritisation. Another massive thank you to the Clicktale team for this data.

As you can see on this graph, visitor attention is spiking at around the 500 pixel mark (normally below company logos, spacing etc), and then decreases exponentially as visitors scroll down the page. So it is important to try to capture this attention at this stage and motivate your user to scroll below (please note that capture attention never means put every single element and CTA above the 500 pixel line. In many cases even one good headline will do the job).

It’s interesting to see that we can observe quite a solid peak at the bottom of the page as well, clearly highlighting that users will normally fixate their attention before making the decision to proceed or exit.  So think about the CTAs at the bottom of your page and (surprise surprise) footer links. And finally, note that the page length doesn’t affect attention, strengthening our myth bust earlier in this post.

This type of deeper investigation is exactly what differentiates professionals from shysters. Good marketers track and measure this visitor attention for your website, shysters recommend to avoid placing any element below some arbitrary line using a nonsense tool to measure the fold.

Stay in tune for another part of the series.

Happy testing!

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6 thoughts on “Fold & Scrolling Internet Marketing MythBusters”

  1. Attacat says:

    Interesting post. I would be inclined to say that data from 5 years ago is likely to be somewhat outdated – netbooks, tablets and phones have very different screen sizes to standard desktops and laptops, and I suspect that scrolling behaviour is very different on those devices as well.nnHowever, I understand the premise that everyone’s screensize is different, so you can’t have something simply ‘above the fold’. Despite that, I think that having something ‘above the fold’ for x% of users is probably a worthwhile measure should you want almost everyone to see a particular piece of content.

    • Fergus says:

      Woops, editing my email changed my name… I’m Fergus, not Attacat!

      • Fergus says:

        Nope, it just seems to call me Attacat no matter what I write in the ‘Name’ box.

    • Kiril Bunin says:

      Wasn’t sure which comment to reply. I’m sure you would be glad to hear that we are actually changing the comment system for the much more user friendly solution.nnRegarding the post:nnI agree that 5 years old data is not the most optimal back up but unfortunately nobody else even tried to do something similar. We have the agency contact with Clicktale so I will ask if they are planning to redo the research any time in the future.nnRegarding the fold:nnAgree that above the fold for X% might be a good milestone to start drawing some basic wireframes but the problem is that the distribution of folds is so wide that even the most popular fold distribution will be used only by 10% of your users and optimising for 10% without sure knowledge that it’s not going to damage other 90% is a wrong strategy.

  2. I think it’s funny that after all the explaining and graphs you end up more or less with the same graph as Jakob Nielsen’s research showed last year:u00a0http://www.useit.com/alertbox/scrolling-attention.htmlnThe peak is a little further down on the page in your graph which is in line with click data from my clients.You’re doing an excellent job explaining how user scrolling and the fold issue are not as “binary” as many people think. If only more people had your insights!

  3. Dave says:

    Great article Kiril. It’s an incredibly persistent myth and it’ll be nice to have some solid figures to back up the truth.

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