The year was 2006. I was sitting with my colleagues behind one-way glass in a usability lab. We were watching users interact with our prototypes. One of the most critical questions we were trying to answer was whether users would scroll “below the fold” for content and (of specific interest to our client) see ads along the way. The answer would have major implications for our UX recommendations.
Some of us predicted — or knew from prior experience — what the outcome would be: of course some users would scroll below the fold. What we didn't expect was that, almost without exception, everyone did just that.
People would regard the screen for a moment before nudging the scroll wheel on the mouse (it was 2006, after all), revealing more of the page below the fold. Some took longer than others to scroll, but most scrolled almost instantly, as if they just had to get a sense of all that was on the page.
Some moved gently downward, others would hurriedly scroll all the way to the bottom and then back up again. (We called these people Line Jumpers.)
We didn’t have arrows or animations pointing users toward the bottom of the screen. We didn’t have any text saying, “Hey, look down!” They just scrolled.
Why? I mean, renowned usability experts have been telling us to keep everything important above the fold since people started surfing the web using computers made of wood and stone. “If you’re okay with no one seeing it, put it below the fold,” we were warned.
I think the reason people scroll below the fold is quite simple: we're curious creatures. We see that a page is longer than the view port, either because there’s a scrollbar or other UI elements extending southward, and we feel compelled to take a quick look-see. Nothing magic here; just plain old-fashioned curiosity.
Back to 2006 and our usability session. It's true that the designs that provided a stronger scent of action below the fold fared better than those that didn't. Moreover, people typically spent less time on content below the fold. However, these issues were ameliorated in the designs where content below the fold was more interesting and engaging. For example, when there were graphics, videos, or other rich elements below the fold, users spent more time and attention there.
In fact, the designs that pushed stuff up above the fold actually fared worse, with users expressing frustration and exhaustion at all the clutter. Those "above the fold only" screens were often abandoned the quickest.
And yet, I still hear people talking about the dreaded fold — in 2014! It's time to stop beating this poor dead horse already.
Need more proof? Check out Life Below 600px, a clever page whose very design proves the point (you'll be scrolling whether you like it or not).
Better yet, read HUGE's research study, Everybody Scrolls, published just the other day. Chock full of goodness, that one is.
PS: Thanks for scrolling to read the entire post!