Why “Above the Fold” Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Years ago, the rule of thumb for designing emails was to have the main content — especially the CTA —  “above the fold”. It’s worth noting that the origin of “above the fold” came from newspapers, as newspaper editors placed the most important news above the horizontal-fold in the publication. This guideline works well for newspapers because the size of the printed piece is already predetermined and doesn’t ever change.

In the web world, “above the fold” always meant making sure that the “meat” of the content was visible to the reader without them having to scroll down to see it.  In the early days of email marketing, the fold was determined using a desktop email client, like Microsoft Outlook. Designers created emails with only desktop clients in mind.

However, with advances in technology we have shifted from designing just for a desktop to designing for a plethora of screen sizes. In fact, the majority of today’s emails are now read on a mobile device. From the smaller screen sizes of the iPhone (2.3″ wide) to the enormous screens on  some computer monitors, email designers and developers must account for a multitude of devices and computers. Not only do mobile devices have smaller available real estate to design for, but content can also be viewed both vertically and horizontally, which further complicates where the “fold” actually appears.

So, what’s an email marketer to do?

While it is important to be aware of the fold, it should no longer be used as a design guideline. This guideline still works well for print, like a newspaper, but just doesn’t cut it for email any longer. But the good news is that just as web users don’t think twice about clicking (or “tapping”), they also are used to scrolling (or swiping). Because of this, today’s email marketers should focus less on the “fold”, and more on important design guidelines and best practices, such as:

  • Keeping the email brief and including links to get more information on landing pages
  • Using responsive design to make sure the message is optimized for every device, regardless of screen real estate
  • Writing copy that encourages users to scroll. Users will scroll through an email if the content is relevant to them. I’m sure that by now, you are “below the fold” in this blog post, and you likely scrolled or swiped to get here. It wasn’t that hard, was it? You probably didn’t even realize you were doing it.
  • Not breaking the design just to get the CTA at the very top. While the main communication points (or message) should still be near the top of the email, there’s no need to make it the very first pixel. The CTA can wait. Try telling your audience why they need to click the CTA first!

As technology transforms and improves, we need to adapt accordingly. Often times, what was once a best practice becomes outdated fairly quickly. As users interact with email differently, email marketers need to respond and adapt to these changes too.

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