Gotta love Jakob Nielsen, the king of website usability and owner of the world-famous Nielsen Norman Group. He recently posted a highly informative and useful article about web content, scrolling pages, visitor attention, and the importance of having critical content “above the fold” (the first screen people see when landing on a web page).
Before I link you to his fascinating article, let me summarize his findings and add my own recommendations.
After conducting an extensive study of website users, Jakob reports that people DO scroll long web pages if the content is worth viewing, but the most important content had better be above the fold.
In fact, his “eye-tracking” findings indicate that web visitors spend 80% of their time reading the content above the fold. He said,
“It’s as if users arrive at a page with a certain amount of fuel in their tanks. As they ‘drive’ down the page, they use up gas, and sooner or later they run dry.” Clear enough.
But for those of us who rely on sales letters, long landing pages, or long catalog pages to drive business, there’s hope.
Jakob also said, “People will look very far down a page if (a) the layout encourages scanning, and (b) the initially viewable information makes them believe that it will be worth their time to scroll. Finally, while placing the most important stuff on top, don’t forget to put a nice morsel at the very bottom.”
To me, his new findings serve as a wake-up call for any website owner who’s not following these guidelines. And they compel me to provide a few guidelines of my own regarding exactly WHAT content to include above the fold whenever possible… a little formula to make sure your most important content is there for search engines and visitors:
1. A masthead with logo, tagline, and even standard horizontal navigation.
It’s important for people to know where they are, who you are, and what you offer them. Make sure the masthead isn’t too big! So many companies take up too much valuable real estate with a masthead that has a huge photo in it.
2. A powerful promise headline that’s ethically optimized with keywords.
Consider that people scan business websites for solutions. What’s the most important and unique value statement you can make to them, right up front? Let’s say my big-money keyword phrase is “waterproof shoes for dogs.” The headline may be, “Finally – waterproof shoes for dogs that are easy to slip on and off on a rainy night” OK, this may be a silly example. But you get the idea. (I’d actually like a pair of those hypothetical dog shoes.)
3. A subhead that pays off the promise with a unique benefit or detail statement.
Continuing with our lovely waterproof shoes theme, here’s a subhead you might include: “You’ve just found your only resource offering waterproof shoes for dogs of all sizes.”
4. Bullets that outline a few more benefits of your product or service.
This may be a list of various products, services or categories you offer throughout your site. Use each bullet to link to other, more detailed pages, so you’re not trying to cram all the information into one above-the-fold window of opportunity.
5. A compelling offer that drives people to engage with you.
Do you have a free report, an enewsletter, or a free trial offer? Make sure you include that offer above the fold; preferably in the upper right-hand column of your page. And be sure to include a strong call-to-action for your visitor to sign up, learn more, or get the discount now.
Since the above-the-fold area is so darn critical for web-content success, I need to repeat a point I’ve made many times before:
Graphic elements, including videos, photos, charts, illustrations or anything else visual, must not dominate the messages. Make sure your graphics are appropriately sized to complement your messages, with videos in the “pause” mode until your visitors choose to play them.
This may sound a bit too rigid as a “must-do” formula, but it’s an easy starting point to make sure your message bases are covered on each and every page of your site. You can certainly find ways to embrace these rules your way and reap the rewards. If you’re stumped, I invite you to email me so we can look at your web pages together and make improvements that will drive more sales.
Oh, and as I promised, here’s that link to Jakob Nielsen’s “Scrolling and Attention” article.
Until next time,
Here’s to a clear and prosperous site!