Slaying the Dread Fold

June 11, 2014

In the days of old sailors were warned ‘there be dragons’ on their maps to signify dangerous areas. Just about every culture has had it’s own form of dragons.

Dragons are not depicted as serpent-like by accident, as humans we have an innate and instinctual fear of snakes. Dragons are intentionally there to scare us.. to prevent us from going further. Popular culture pushes this terror through shows like Game of Thrones, Smaug the golden, or Deathwing.

Things are no different now. Instead of warning ‘there be dragons’ they proclaim.. it must be ‘above the fold’. The Dread Fold, where your content supposedly goes off to die, never to be heard from again. For years now primarily advertisers have convinced us to stay on shore, to never venture beyond the “Dread Fold”. They have done such a great job doing so, that many wouldn’t dare challenge the beast. They have shown us charts, graphs, numbers all confirming that nothing comes back from the fold, and as long as there is never anything beyond the fold to go to they will be correct.

Like a siren ‘All that you desire is right here … there is no reason to challenge the fold.” So we don’t. We stay with our feet safely on Terra Firma. 

This self-fulfilling prophecy doesn’t really hold up to any real evaluation. The biggest proof that the Dread Fold is no more than a figment of our imaginations who’s time has long since passed? The rise of mobile devices, and responsive design. Regardless of tablet or smartphone, browsing on either device not only requires scrolling below the fold, it is a given and yet users are adopting and browsing mobile devices faster than any prior technology.

People were not used to scrolling in the mid-nineties. A few things have changed since then. This is what a cell phone looked like when people started saying ‘above the fold’ on monitors.

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In March of 2014, ChartBeat a data analytics provider, released data from over 2 billion visits. Their findings?  66% of user attention on a normal media page is spent below the fold.

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(Image source: Tony Haile - ChartBeat)

Following basic design principles and providing quality content can keep your visitors interested enough to scroll endlessly as long as they are engaged. Though, this sort of analysis forces us to ask ourselves a question we may not want the answer to...

“Are our users not scrolling because we just aren’t giving them a reason to?” It’s easier to shout “There be dragons!” and turn away.

At the end of the day, that is really the essence of the “Dread Fold”. Content, good content is hard to create. It doesn’t just materialize. We see the numbers, the articles ... ‘users don’t scroll’ ... and that gives us the opening.. it was going to be a long arduous journey, and we really didn’t want to fight with a dragon, so lets just stay right here on the shore. Safe and sound ‘above the fold’

There are plenty of options for slaying the dread fold. Some more common options that have repeatedly shown to be successful include placing a poll, or photos toward the bottom of a page. While these may not fit your particular business needs the key part to focus on, they both encourage user engagement. Including engaging content below the “Dread Fold” helps guide your users safely through the page while keeping them interested. The goal of any site, regardless of business objectives is to engage the user, without overwhelming them.

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