What does ‘above the fold’ mean for web pages?

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Any article you read about web performance will inevitably contain the term ‘above the fold’ to describe initial page content. In this article, we talk about what it means, where it came from, and why it’s the most important part of a given web page. (Spoiler: this is above the fold content)

What does ‘above the fold’ mean?

‘Above the fold’ refers to web page content that is initially visible to the user without the user having to scroll. You should consider elements above the fold if they are initially visible to a user on any device. Less content – or maybe different content – will be visible on mobile devices compared to desktop screens.

Where does the term ‘above the fold’ come from?

The term comes from newspapers and refers to the content on the first page above where the newspaper was physically folded. This content was generally responsible for newspaper sales since no other content was visible. Similarly, the content at the top of your home page may be your only chance to sell your site or product.

How is ‘above the fold’ content determined?

With all the different possible devices a user could be viewing the site on, how do we determine what will be visible? A standard screen resolution is chosen, then all content that could appear in that resolution is considered ‘above the fold’, regardless of media queries. Different tools use slightly different sizes, but a good rule of thumb is 1300×900.

Why is above the fold important?

This content may very well be your only chance to interact with a site visitor. Quite often, a user sees this content and then immediately chooses whether or not to continue reading. If this content is slow to load – meaning the user sees nothing – then they are likely to leave (i.e. bounce). There are numerous studies correlating page load time with bounce rate. The high likelihood of a user leaving the page means the site’s owner must ensure that ‘above the fold’ content is displayed as quickly as possible.

What do you do if you click on a search result and the page doesn’t load? We quickly give up and move on to the next one…

Conclusion

Understanding ‘above the fold’ content and optimizing its performance is important for any site owner. You should consider it your one and only chance to interact with a new site visitor. Whether it’s a landing page, your home page, or an informational blog, you have a brief chance to grab a user’s attention and keep them on your site – ‘above the fold’ content is how you do that.