Mobility has rendered the long scrolling web page the design standard for modern websites. But does it work? By work I mean does it provide a good user experience for your visitors and do people actually scroll down to that 3rd, 4th, 5th panel and beyond? Even as someone that is creating scrolling sites, I've had a gut feeling that few visitors venture "beneath the fold," just as few Google visitors venture past page one of Search results. So I did a little research to either support my instincts or cause me to reflect on my dinosaur delusions.
I found plenty of useful research providing real data around people's scrolling habits. Not surprisingly my research began with conflicting reports, Chartbeat found that “66% of attention on a normal media page is spent below the fold.” In contrast, the Nielsen Norman Group showed that “users spend 80% of their time looking above the fold.” Usability expert Jakob Nielsen says that while people today are comfortable with scrolling, "you shouldn't ignore the fold and create endless pages for two reasons:
- Long pages continue to be problematic because of users' limited attention span. People prefer sites that get to the point and let them get things done quickly. Besides the basic reluctance to read more words, scrolling is extra work.
- The real estate above the fold is more valuable than stuff below the fold for attracting and keeping users' attention."
What I surmise from these reports and Jakob Nielsen's observations is that scrolling is now an accepted way of providing information but the general impatience of users has put the onus on we designers to make all content — especially that below the fold — visually compelling enough to entice the user to continue their journey.
This dovetails nicely with another article that suggests that the most effective way to design for scrolling is by employing “cut-off” design so the reader knows that the content continues because you can see it is getting cut-off, which is in essence a prompt to scroll down. Our recent sites for AirStrip and Connance are examples of this approach.
That web users spend 80% of their time looking at information above the page fold is supported by the analytics for our own website and that of several clients. Our practice is to make much, if not all of the content below the fold also findable via top navigation. The advantages of also providing that content below the fold on a scrolling homepage are:
- If done right with images, graphics and short, digestible copy, a scrolling layout can encourage scanning, which is how people consume information today.
- We can use the additional real estate to visually tell a more continuous brand or business story and increase the chances that content will be seen and will resonate. It's a valid and valuable design approach to take, while never losing site that the top "panel" of your homepage is top dog.
- It will keep the area above the fold less cluttered as many last generation websites were.
Finally, while placing the most important content on top, don't forget to put a nice morsel or call-to-action at the very bottom.