Analyzing the Impact of the Digital Fold

[Originally published on the ClickTale blog]

In the traditional world, we talk about the importance of being “above the fold”: appearing in the top half of the front page of a newspaper. However, on the web the picture is a little murkier. Website visitors will use different screen resolutions, browsers, window sizes and toolbars, essentially leading to a different “fold” line for every user.

Add in the proliferation of devices (desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone) and the challenges are further compounded. So is there even the same impact of content being above or below the fold for online users as there is in the traditional world? Might this impact vary by user, by site, or by page?

Staying Above or Scrolling Below the Fold?

On pages such as a home page, the location of content above or below the fold may have a greater impact. After all, when a visitor arrives to a site, they need to figure out what content or products to dive deeper into. In this case, products or content areas highlighted in the top area of the page may receive higher engagement, simply due to the higher number of “eyeballs” on it during an evaluation phase.

However, the same may not hold true for deeper pages within the site, or for all-in-one landing pages. On a product detail page, where reviewing the content on the page may be crucial for making a decision to proceed to the next step, the click-through rate for a call to action at the bottom of the page could potentially be higher than a call to action at the top of the page.

Impact of Your Calls to Action

The impact of the fold may also depend on the call to action that you are measuring. For example, the ad click through rate may be affected differently by placement above or below the fold than lead submission or an Add To Cart call to action.

How To Analyze Actual Behavior

Design can play a huge role. In some cases, site design may make it clear to the user that there is content below the fold, and encourage content consumption lower on the page.

We can’t just assume the fold affects our site, or that it affects all pages in the same way. We’ll want to start by analyzing actual behavior.

1. Examine your site’s pages (or types of pages) separately. The behavior on your home page may not be the same as your landing pages or product pages. Start with your most important pages and go from there.

2. Use a traditional web analytics tool to give you an idea of the device and screen or browser size your visitors typically use, to start to understand where they see the fold on their machine. However, as you analyze, keep in mind there is no true fold – it is different for every user based on their settings.

To make the data feel more real, change your own computer settings to match your typical visitor, and encourage your creative or design team to do the same. Browse your site using these settings and you’ll get a better idea of what different visitors see and where on their screen it is located.

3. Ensure you are tracking individual calls to action on your pages in enough detail so you can understand (for example) above vs. below the fold performance. While many web analytics solutions will allow you to see if visitors moved on to the next step, if you have two calls to action on the page that link to the same next step, one above the fold and one below, you’ll want to be sure your analytics tool allows you track them separately.

4. Use an In-page analytics tool to understand interaction within your pages. While understanding click-through rate of your calls to action above and below the fold can help, that doesn’t necessarily tell you how many users actually saw the call to action.

5. Take time to segment this information. A good place to start would be the by the different screen and browser resolutions you have already examined. Try bucketing different settings, to analyze a group of visitors.

However, another consideration may be landing page. A visitor who has just landed on the page you are analyzing may be less apt to engage with content below the fold than one who has pathed to the page looking for specific content or products, and is looking to dive into detail about these.

Users looking at different products may also show different behavior. For example, a $5.99 purchase may require less engagement with product details and result in less below the fold engagement than a product that is $599.

6. Start testing. Once you have insights from these sources, you can begin to test the impact of changing them. What if you remove some of the content and make the product detail page shorter? Or move your call to action above or below the fold, or test having one above and one below? What about the left vs. right hand side of the page?

Conducting A/B or Multivariate tests of your layout, and tracking the behavior of these separately, can give you much more insight than pure analysis, because you can see the impact of actually changing things.

Overcoming the Complexity of the Digital Fold

There is definitely a complexity to be managed in analyzing the digital “fold”, but there are also great solutions out there to help us better understand user behavior within the page, and to optimize it for a better user experience and business results.


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