Website trends come and go, but some old-school best practices endure well past their expiration dates, and age just about as well as your middle school mullet. At Vision we encounter tons of incorrect, out-of-date and flat-out wrong-headed “best practices” as we consult with customers across North America. It’s time to put these website myths, and the bad user experiences they foster, to bed.
Our Busting Website Myths series of blog posts is designed to help enlightened agencies find a better path to website usability, and relegate outmoded myths to the rubbish heap of history. Our Certified User Experience expert, Uriz Goldman, kicks off the busting by examining issues around Scrolling.
Myth #1: No One Scrolls
“It’s too much work to scroll.” That’s what the common wisdom used to say. “No one will ever see something if it falls below the fold,” was the companion myth. The fold, as a concept, did make some sense when all web users were on desktop computers and monitors didn’t vary much in size. Designers could guesstimate where the website content would slip below the horizon and become invisible. So what was the solution? To pack everything that might be of interest into the top of the website. Have an important event? Put it up top. Have a key piece of functionality? Up top. Even detailed directory information all needed to be above the fold.
So what’s the state of the fold today? It has disappeared, or at least it is impossible to predict with any assurance. Desktop monitors have become giant, and smart phone screens petite. So how do you design for the fold? You don’t, and you don’t have to. The truth is that everyone is now used to scrolling, because so much of web surfing is done on mobile devices. Users expect websites to be responsive and work seamlessly on any device they use.
Looking at the Research
Hoa Loranger, Usability Expert Director at the Nielsen Norman Group explains, “Users do scroll when the content is relevant, organized properly, and formatted for ease of scanning. In fact, people prefer scrolling the page for content over pagination when the topics within that page answer the right questions. The standard scroll wheel on a mouse, arrow keys, and track pads have made scrolling much easier than acquiring click targets.”
Looking at the Evidence
Our own experience at Vision supports Hoa Loranger’s thesis. As we begin the redesign process we use a variety of user experience (UX) tools to gauge visual and interaction patterns of users, including heat mapping and eye tracking exercises. The results demonstrate that the top of a website does get the most traffic, but that users scroll and interact with content much lower on the page as well. Again, they will take the journey if it is easy to make and the content holds their attention.
Looking at the Alternatives
Rather than packing in every important detail at the top of the website, prioritize information according to what’s most vital to users. You can find this out by pulling analytical data on your most visited pages. For things that can’t fit up top, create simple pathways to guide people lower. If you have a longer piece of content on a page, make it interesting to read and users will follow it to the end. You can also consider anchor linking to lower content to provide a shortcut.
Has anyone at your agency ever told you that something has to be above the fold? We hope this myth busting article can help you reframe the request next time it happens. While it is important to prioritize important information, it doesn’t mean you have to cram everything above an imaginary line. Understand that your content will be accessed on devices of all shapes and sizes, so your best solution is to provide easy pathways to information, and don’t be afraid of the scroll.