Thursday, 8 October 2009

On page folds and users

There's an interesting article by CX Partners doing the rounds about the "myth of the page fold". Those of us who've been kicking around the industry for a while will have had this drummed into us: people don't like to scroll. But behaviours are changing as people become more familiar and comfortable with the web, and particularly as popular sites have more and more content below the fold, which has a snowball effect on behaviour and expectation.

It's a good article, but I think it simplifies things a little too much. From the article:
Over the last 6 years we’ve watched over 800 user testing sessions between us and on only 3 occasions have we seen the page fold as a barrier to users getting to the content they want.
Emphasis mine. Putting to one side our own personal views on the value of advertising to the user, the fact remains that many websites depend on advertising revenues for their business to succeed. Web sites should be designed primarily around the user requirements, but still need to be mindful of the business requirements - and adverts above the page fold perform much better than those below. So while the article is correct in pointing out that users are happy to scroll, businesses relying on advertising revenues can't afford to be cavalier with where they place their adverts.

And it's still incumbent on us web professionals to make sure that the user journeys are as straightforward as possible for the end user. This means making it easy to find the most popular content quickly, which implies less scrolling. In some circumstances, I agree with the sentiment expressed here...
Less content above the fold may encourage more exploration below the fold
...but it really does depend on several factors. There is a trade off between this notion and presenting a high percentage of users with the information or links they want without forcing them to scroll. As a gross generalisation, I suspect many users still look through most content on a page to see if what they need is there before they bother scrolling down.

And fortunately we have a way of proving whether this is true in each case; test, iterate and test again.