Above the Fold: Even On the Internet, First Impressions Are Everything
In a landscape where content is king, the first thing that a site user sees can make or break their interest.
Open your favorite website. What can you see without scrolling? Can you see a navigation bar? Are there ads at the top of the page that limit how much content you can see? Now open the website for the Washington Post. Look at the ‘Sections drop-down’, and the shortcuts to parts of the site at the top of the page. Now look at the stories. Maybe there’s a story or an image that’s cut off. Do you need to scroll to complete that image or story? Everything that you can see before you need to scroll down is considered to be ‘above the fold’.
"Above the fold" is a term used in copywriting that relates to “the portion of a Web page that is visible in a browser window when the page first loads”. Copywriting is critical to what’s above the fold. A website’s copy can make or break whether or not someone stays on a web page, or leaves the web page without interacting.
The term was originally associated with newspapers.
It had to do with the top half of the front page,
which was typically where that day’s top story appeared.
This was a principle that was consistent from
paper to paper and varied in arrangement of headline
and image. With so many different newspapers to
choose from, reporters and editors wanted to ensure
their particular publication caught the eye of a passer-by.
This still holds true for web pages, and how
information is arranged on a given page.
A key component of determining what goes above the
fold on a site is understanding your audience. If
someone opens a web page for a news site, they’ll
expect a certain tone to be used. If what they see above
the fold is much more similar to satire in tone, they may be more likely to leave the web page. It’s for this reason that the web page’s headline copy, descriptions, and navigation need to be strong enough to hold a user’s attention and pertinent to the inquiry that led them to the web page.
Copywriters have other things to take into account beyond a website’s tone when considering the text above the fold. Different websites will have different actions that they want a user to take while on the site. They’ll signal to these with a call to action. If a site is looking to increase subscriptions to a newsletter, they’ll want to include a call to action that will entice users to sign up. How the copywriter does this will vary depending on what type of site they have. If the site is retail-based, for example, they may say, ‘Subscribe to Our Newsletter and Get 10% Off’. This offer wouldn’t work for a recipe site; a recipe site would be better served with something like, ‘Get the Latest Recipes in Your Inbox’.
Copywriters have multiple variables to take into account when considering the copy that sits above the fold on a web page. If the tone is at odds with the content, it can lead to a user leaving the site without interacting with any content. If a call to action is unclear, or the ads above the fold are intrusive, it can result in fewer site actions and fewer return visitors. Regardless of the individual goals of a site, the overall goal of a copywriter is the same: to increase site traffic and drive users deeper into the website. Whether or not the user does so is a matter of making sure you put your best copy forward.