I read an interesting blog post from web usability guru Jakob Nielsen the other day in which he revealed that web users spend 80% of their time ‘above the fold’ (the section of a webpage that can be viewed immediately on a standard resolution screen without the visitor having to scroll down the page). And when they do make the effort to venture south, they allocate only 20% of their attention to what they are looking at.
Nielsen conducted an eyetracking study of user behaviour across a variety of sites to investigate whether the “fold” continues to be relevant, looking at a total of 57,453 fixations (instances when users look at something on a page, typically for less than half a second).
A web visit is an endurance race
Nielsen defines what he found to be common ‘gaze plots’ and scrolling behaviours:
“…gaze plots show more common scrolling behaviors: intense viewing of the top of the page, moderate viewing of the middle, and fairly superficial viewing of the bottom. (I picked examples where users scrolled more or less all the way down — often there’s no viewing of the bottom because users don’t scroll that far.)”
He also describes the journey of a user through a page and how attention levels diminish the longer the visitor spends on the site:
“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. The amount of gas in the tank will vary, depending on each user’s inherent motivation and interest in each page’s specific topic. Also, the “gasoline” might evaporate or be topped up if content down the page is less or more relevant than the user expected.”
Conclusion: don’t bury important information
For me, there are two key learnings here. Firstly, it is important that any critical information is kept above the fold. Of course, this isn’t always possible, especially with pages where the call to action or ‘important information’ might vary for different people.
So, secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it is vital to give visitors a reason to move down the page if you’ve got information you want them to see below the fold. If you really want your visitors to find content lower down then you will have to work harder to get it seen. There are a number of effective ways to do this, including:
- Using subheads and bullets to break up long strands of text
- Including images
- Making sure calls to actions are clear and easy to identify
This advice applies to web designers and developers, but also to email marketers. Knowing how your visitors are likely to use your site is a crucial way to ensure that your website content is effective in converting them to customers.