Above the fold is a term that is not confined to the mysterious corners of the SEO world. In fact if you have dealt with any marketer the likelihood is that you will have heard them utter ‘above the fold’. What does it mean? Traditionally it was used to describe the real estate in the top half of a newspaper. Not only is the top half the section that you are most likely to read first, but newspapers also often get folded in order to be displayed to the public so newspapers needed to use their best stories and most engaging content above the fold to make sure they sold more. This real estate was therefore more valuable for both newspapers in regards to putting their best stories above the fold but also for advertisers, hence the term ‘above the fold’.
How is ‘above the fold’ still relevant in a digital world?
Let’s get one thing straight, printed newspapers are still in circulation. As a result the origins of the saying are still alive and kicking. However, it is a legitimate query. In our digital world it has naturally come to represent the area of a webpage that is viewed immediately upon load. i.e when you load a webpage, what can you see on your screen without having to scroll down any further? Again, the traditional school of thought was to put all of your best content above the fold but this is rapidly being proved as not only a sure way to ruin a website’s design but also not the best way to deliver content to your users. At this point we could digress into a whole swathe of design related reasons as to why cramming all of your best content above the fold on your homepage is not the best course of action, but let’s leave that to a separate blog post. Suffice to say that smartphones and our natural tendency to scroll has changed the game somewhat. Anyway let’s focus on the SEO specific factors in regards to above the fold content.
How does above the fold content affect SEO?
In 2012 Google brought out their Page Layout algorithm (also known as the Top Heavy update after a subsequent additional filter) which looked to tackle the issue of websites with too many adverts above the fold. It also looked at how available your content was and whether the content above the fold could be considered thin. Bear in mind though that this does not mean that you cannot have any ads above the fold and that all of your best content should be displayed immediately to the user. However, what it does mean is that you need to make sure that the user can find the content they desire quickly and that if you have a whole swathe of adverts and pop ups above the fold that detract from the user experience that your search rankings may suffer as a result. It stands to reason in that Google do not want people clicking on a search result only to have a poor initial user experience. Remember, Google make billions of dollars because their search engine is considered by many to be the most useful way of finding content on the web!
Want to know more? You can read a more detailed overview of the page layout update here and its ramifications in regards to SEO.