There’s a good chance that—even after the torches and pitchforks have been put away and the dust settles—you won’t get a definitive answer. Honestly, there hasn’t been anything this divisive in agency circles since the whole “how do you pronounce GIF” thing,* and all you have to do is run a cursory Google search to see that there’s a clear line drawn in the sand on this topic.
So here's the answer:
There's no getting around it, space at the top of a website’s homepage is prime real estate. But, let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. The truth is, both above and below the fold are important - (those who think all the best content, CTAs, and information should go up top, and those who believe scrolling equals salvation) have perfectly valid points about why their perspective is right. It's the interaction between the two that makes a page magically impactful.
But, that is just tip of the iceberg -
1. Responsive design is the new current reality
Desktop, smartphone, or tablet—what’s your favorite way to get online? Did you know 80% of internet users use 3 methods to view online content? This gives designers, developers, and marketers a whole mess of strategies to think about, the effectiveness of which all depend on the harmonious collaboration of these three key roles. That’s because, while content is still a huge part of what makes a website successful, the priority in a multi-device reality is making sure that content looks good, makes sense, and is usable/accessible regardless of screen size. It means that what’s effective above the fold on a desktop may or may not be as effective as the screen size shrinks. In short, it depends on who your audience is, how they’re trying to connect with your brand, and what you want them to do when they get there. Which leads us to…
2. Your brand is like no other
Even in the niche-iest of niches, no two brands are truly alike. That’s the reason doing brand identity foundation work is so important—it helps you figure out exactly who you are, what makes you different, who your market is, and why people should care. Your website, its design, and the content included therein should reflect these things while also focusing on whatever conversions mean to your specific brand; it’s these factors that should dictate what works best above the fold. If, say, you have an eCommerce website aimed at millennials, whatever you put above the fold should be fast-loading, attention-grabbing, and easy to consume on your average smartphone. But, even once you’ve worked that out, you have to remember that all of it depends (are you sensing a theme?) on an ever-changing consumer environment. Which leads us to…
3. Times (and trends) are always a-changin’
Technology is changing at an impressive clip, which means that design trends, consumer behavior, and everything in between will also constantly be changing in an effort to keep pace. What works above the fold for your brand today, may not work for any brand in a couple of years. In fact, what does “above the fold” mean on a smartwatch? Or in virtual reality? These are things that brands will continually have to figure out as time goes on. Success in this endeavor will often follow trial and error; it depends on what proves to work best for your brand in the moment. And, remember…
4. Test, retest, and optimize
Will your customers take the time to read a lot about your brand before they take action? Are your customers motivated to scroll? Do you offer a product or service that’s so well-known you can call customers to action as soon as they drop on your homepage—all within the space above the fold? Sometimes you can’t get answers to these questions unless you test them out. Luckily, testing and optimization never go out of style, and deciding what goes best above the fold can often be easily settled by “which test won.”
There’s just no good, one-size-fits-all answer to what should live above the fold. It all depends on the specific needs, wants, and capabilities of each brand, as well as those of the current marketplace. And while “the fold” may continue to be a polarizing issue, there’s plenty of room for everybody in the middle—and we think that’s the best place to stand when you’re trying to figure out which direction is going to work best for you. See you there!
* You say JIF, I say Gif, you say po-| tate |- oh, I say po- | taht | -oh, let's just call the whole thing - graphics interchange format.