There’s an old rule says all website content should be placed above a mysterious, invisible line. Never to be crossed, this line marks the zone below which nobody scrolls. If you’ve done web design, you’re familiar with this dreaded territory and clients’ requests to keep it all “above the fold.”

Designers sometimes fear that calls-to-action and content located below the fold will go unseen on small screens. And clients ask for calls-to-action placed high up on the page, pushed right to the top. As if users won’t respond to anything they have to scroll to see. There’s too much time spent fighting the fold and asking where calls-to-action should go. I think “where?” is the wrong question.

It’s not where, constable, but when that matters.

The term “fold” comes to us from newspaper advertising, where the physical limitation of folded papers made the top-half of the page much more valuable than the hidden bottom half. On the Internet, where computer screens don’t bend (yet), the fold is the point onscreen where a particular user must begin to scroll down to keep reading. When computer screens were small, cramped things and scrolling was cumbersome, the analogy fit. Users spent most of their time at the top of pages. Anything below 600 pixels was wasted space.

Mega-marketers like AOL actually designed their whole online product around the fold. If you remember the old AOL software, there were no scrollbars. Every article was carefully written and broken out into short pages to avoid falling below the fold and out of the spotlight of most users’ attention.

Today, things have changed. Screen sizes have fragmented, creating a hundred-thousand different “folds.” And studies show people scroll. Ding dong, the fold is dead. But we’re still talking about it.

One reason is that information hierarchy and information prioritization will always matter. Our limited and daily shrinking attention spans ensure that users spend 80% of their time looking at information above the fold. This means all essential navigation items and brand identification need to happen up top and your most important information should be given priority in the top-most portion of the page.

Long story short: Even though users are comfortable scrolling, you must organize information into a hierarchy.

To create a logical hierarchy of important information, you need to know your customer’s “when.” Every customer is at a particular “when” in their relationship with you. Their place in your sales process determines what’s most important for them to see in order to take the next step towards you.

Customers still early in their relationship with you may require more information before a CTA would do any good. In this case, an action button ahead of foundational sales information could be pushy and cause visitors to turn you off. Instead of a prominent CTA button, try an inviting headline and some persuasive copy. Then put your call to action in its logical place: at the end.

On the other hand, your products and services may be well known and your audience just needs to be called on to take action. If your customer is in this “when,” you’ve got a well established relationship and long copy would just get in the way. Prioritize your CTA and place it near the top. Show them what they need to easily complete the sales process.

Stop asking where the fold is and organize your website content instead. A clear and logical information hierarchy is the foundation of a solid web design, even when that means crossing below the fold.

photo credit: he-sk via photopin cc