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BizReport : Blogs & Content archives : March 24, 2010

Eyetracking shows above-the-fold content gets most attention

Dr. Jakob Nielsen, a web usability expert, has recently concluded from new eyetracking analysis that the page fold remains an important consideration in webpage design, but isn't the be-all and end-all.

by Helen Leggatt

First, a definition. The "fold" is most commonly used when referencing broadsheet newspaper layout - due to the size of the sheets the papers were generally folded in half. Therefore, any news stories that were under the central fold line were often lost to view when on display and so the "big" stories were placed "above the fold" to ensure prime placement. The same practice was carried through to direct mail creative development.

Hence, for years, creative attention has focused on that space above-the-fold or, when talking about webpages, that part of the display visible to users without the need for scrolling.

Nielsen's eyetracking data showed that the material presented above the fold remains the most-viewed - 80% of users' time on webpages was spent in this area. While users do scroll, they allocate only 20% of their attention below the fold.

In fact, Nielsen concludes that users prefer scrolling to being forced to click through to another page. However, he warns that users will only continue to scroll if they latch on to the content's "information scent".

"Information foraging theory says that people decide whether to continue along a path (including scrolling path down a page) based on the current content's information scent," writes Nielsen. "In other words, users will scroll below the fold only if the information above it makes them believe the rest of the page will be valuable."

In September, 2009, cxpartners released eyetracking data showing consumers are willing, and able, to scroll down a webpage to discover more information. Out of 800 user-testing sessions over the last six years, only on three occasions did page fold stop users find what they were seeking.

In fact, in the eye-tracking hotspot study chronicled in their blog, cxpartners found that most users look at the scroll bar to estimate the webpage size and that having less above the fold encouraged users to scroll down for more.

Tags: above the fold, webpage format, website design, website usability

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