For those who have been working in the field of web design for some time now, you have probably encountered the phrase “above the fold” more times than you care to remember. If you’re writing content for websites and blogs, you have likely received instructions to put specific keywords above the fold many times as well.

It’s easy to think that “above the fold” is a new thing considering that it seems to be an integral part of what web designers and content writers do. Some even use the concept to improve your SEO through web design. The funny thing is, the concept of “above the fold” has been around for decades.

“Above the fold” came from print

If you take a closer look at any of the newsstands you pass by on your way to work, you will notice that the newspapers on display are folded a certain way, with only the upper half bearing the headline and a big photograph visible. That upper half is what is known as “above the fold,” and the headline and the photo there are meant to attract the attention of people, then pique their interest to make them buy the newspaper.

Eventually, the concept made the jump to websites, and putting the most important and attention-grabbing things above the fold has been a common practice among web designers since.

The “fold“ on a web page

Unlike newspapers, a web page doesn’t have a physical “fold.” The closest thing a web page has to a fold is the scroll bar. The part of the page that visitors immediately see as soon as they get there is what’s considered above the fold. The moment they scroll down, they’ll be going below the fold.

Prime piece of web real estate

The area above the fold is considered prime real estate on a web page, for the simple reason that everything on it will be the first thing people checking out your website will see. More often than not, what they see there will determine whether they’ll be interested enough to scroll down to find out what else it has to offer. If they think that what’s above the fold is dull, they are likely to leave and contribute to your bounce rate.

The fold’s importance today

Many people say the practice of keeping the important details above the fold is already obsolete. There’s also the observation that Internet users these days will scroll down anyway no matter what they see above the fold, so why bother with the fold in the first place?

However, web designers continue to observe this essentially unwritten rule. To this very day, putting essential stuff above the fold is still regarded as a best practice in web design. Content writers are still directed to put money keywords in the first or second paragraph of their articles, which are almost always above the fold.

Web design clients are also likely to go for the idea of putting their key information above the fold once they’re told about it. They would also want the best possible exposure for their content, so catching the readers’ fancy while they’re still above the fold and getting them to read the content in its entirety would be in their best interest.

The downside of the “above the fold” mentality

Sometimes, web designers who have been observing the “fold” for most of their designing life tend to stuff the most interesting material above the fold and end up leaving nothing for the space below it.

Far too many visitors have been intrigued by what they saw or read above the fold, only to be disappointed when they scroll down because they’ve already seen the good stuff up top. The result, of course, is them bouncing off to another website.

A web page will also look very cluttered if a web designer becomes too enthusiastic about putting the good stuff above the fold, leaving it with very little white space.

In any case, it would still be great if you can catch the attention of people the first time they set their eyes on your page. Just don’t overwhelm them with too much information that would render everything else less than interesting.

Things to put above the fold

So what should be there above the fold?

Despite all the debate surrounding the idea of the “fold” these days, many web designers still continue to attract the attention of visitors with the things they put above that imaginary fold. In all likelihood, this practice will continue, especially when web designers are already trying their best to strike a balance between the “fold” and usability.

So use the space above the fold as a chance to get people excited about what’s waiting for them once they scroll down. Just don’t disappoint them by cramming all the good stuff at the top of the page. Make the content below just as—or even more—exciting. Do what you can to make everything there worth the effort of scrolling down.