Why “The Fold” Is A Myth – And Where To Actually Put Your Calls To Action

If you’ve spent any time at all learning about web design, online marketing, or conversion-rate optimization, you’ll have heard to never put calls to action below the fold.

Indeed, in industries where web designers know enough about marketing to use calls to action in the first place, you see an awful lot of “templati­fication”—websites all starting to look suspiciously alike. Here’s an obvious example: tech startup websites. Don’t they all look a little like this?

Your typical tech startup website

Your typical tech startup website: a headline, a sentence or two of copy, a pretty image or video, and a call to action button—all inside the first 600 vertical pixels.

Or this?

Another tech startup site

There’s another one! Different colors and text, but almost exactly the same layout.

Okay, so maybe they’re not always identical—sometimes they flip the content!

A third tech startup site, with the content excitingly mirrored!

This one went a bit crazy and mixed up which sides the copy and image go on, just to keep things interesting.

Now, I’m not claiming that this layout is never appropriate, or that it’s wrong for these particular sites. But it is setting a worrying trend all based around the fundamental premise of “keep the call to action above the fold”.

This basic design is only as good as that premise.

But what if that premise is wrong? What if calls to action below the fold work better?

What if, for example, MarketingExperiments discovered that this page with the CTA tucked away down at the bottom…

A treatment page from MarketingExperiments, with the call to action below the fold

…out-converted this page with the CTA right at the top, by 20%?

A control page from MarketingExperiments

And what if Michael Lykke Aagaard of Content Verve found that moving the CTA on this page far below the fold contributed to a 304% lift?

A split test run by Content Verve, in which moving the call to action to the bottom of the page (right) contributed to a 304% lift in conversions

A split test run by Content Verve, in which moving the call to action to the bottom of the page (right) contributed to a 304% lift.

And what if Certified Knowledge found the same thing: conversion rates went up with a call to action below the fold?

How can this be?

“Bnonn,” I hear you wail, “Jakob Nielsen has shown definitively that only 20% of people read below the fold. 80% of user attention is focused above it! How can a CTA that only gets 20% of attention instead of 80% possibly convert better?!”

Well of course only 20% of people read below the fold, silly goose. We didn’t need Nielsen to tell us that. David Ogilvy’s research into the readership of advertisements all the way back in the sixties showed that only 20% of people read past the headline. And that was long before the internet came along! As he put it, “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.”

He also noted, “Research shows that readership falls off very rapidly up to 50 words of copy, but drops very little between 50 and 500 words.”

That’s a rather important insight because 500 words of copy, set at 16px or above at the optimal 75 character measure and 150% line-height, will take up at least 1,000 pixels of vertical space—putting the call to action well below the fold even at full-HD resolutions (anything further down the page than about 700px can reasonably be considered below the fold at the moment, since 1366×768 is the most popular screen resolution, and browser chrome takes up at least 68 pixels).

Which is not a problem, since Jakob Nielsen showed, all the way back in 1997, that users will scroll if what they see above the fold interests them enough to keep them reading.

Maybe you can see where I’m going with this.

The fold has nothing to do with it

The fold is actually a red herring. It has no bearing whatsoever on conversion rates as far as calls to action are concerned.

Hang on, what? Didn’t I just show definitively that calls to action below the fold convert better? Nope, actually I didn’t—I showed something else entirely, which I’ll explain in just a moment. But first, to prove my point, here’s a classic example: of these two Boston Globe signup pages, which do you think converted better?

The control signup page for the Boston Globe

A treatment signup page for the Boston Globe, with the call to action below the fold

Which converted better? This page, with the call to action at the bottom; or the control, with the call to action above the fold?

Oh, it’s a trick question all right. The answer is that there was no significant difference between the treatments. Waaah, that wasn’t what you expected at all, was it?

But it does give us a pretty decent clue as to why the fold is irrelevant—and what the deciding factors for conversion actually are with respect to CTAs.

Hint hint.

No? Okay, here you go:

It’s all about motivation

How motivated is your prospect to click that button? How desirable does he find your offering at the point you ask him to click?

In other words, what I showed in the examples where the below-the-fold CTAs converted better was not that calls to action convert better below the fold—it was that, in these cases, prospects were more motivated to take action after they had read more copy.

Well that makes sense, dunnit?

Higher conversion rates have nothing to do with whether the button is above the fold, and everything to do with whether the button is below the right amount of good copy

So then the question becomes, How much copy do you need? And that isn’t so hard to answer, because there are only really 3 combinations of prospects + offerings worth mentioning:

  1. Presold prospects who already want what you’re offering when they arrive. The specifics of your offering are irrelevant here—give prospects a call to action immediately so they can keep their momentum going!
  2. Uncertain prospects + an offering that is very easy to understand and immediately see the value of. These prospects will only need a small amount of strong, very clear copy to convince them to hit that CTA. Since not much copy is required, your button will be higher on the page—coincidentally above the fold.
  3. Uncertain prospects + an offering that requires some explanation to see the value of. These prospects will need a reasonable amount of copy that is not only clear, but also very well-written to keep their interest from the headline all the way through to the CTA. Just how much copy you need will depend on how much your prospect already knows, how complicated your offering is, how much it costs, and so on—but it could easily be 500 words, or it could be 5,000 (there’s a reason you don’t see calls to action above the first third of long sales pages).

Asking for a commitment before you’ve made the value of it clear to your prospect is really self-defeating. The only answer you’re likely to get is no. Plus it can seem very “in your face”—it rubs people the wrong way, and actually increases anxiety because it seems pushy or salesy.

So not only is a CTA high on the page often asking for a commitment too early in your prospect’s thought sequence, it might also be stimulating a negative reaction that makes him much less likely to convert at all.

And that is why the fold is a myth.

The issue isn’t whether the call to action is visible when your prospect first arrives. The issue is whether your call to action is visible at the point where your prospect has become convinced to take action.

How about you?

Are you ready to start moving your calls to action into the logical place on your pages (the end), adding more copy to explain your value clearly, and seeing the lucrative results? Let me know in the comments.

About the Author: As well as knowing a lot about copywriting, web design and calls to action, Bnonn is the author of a free email micro-course called 5 Sales-Spiking Website Tweaks Web Designers & IM “Gurus” Don’t Know—none of which have anything to with the dreaded fold. Known in the boroughs as the Information Highwayman, he’s usually knee-deep in the guts of someone’s homepage, or teaching his kids about steampunk, Nathan Fillion, and how to grapple a zombie without getting bit.

  1. Great post! There are ways however to provide additional information to unsure visitors without creating a long-copy, splash-like page. Things like Accordions, Intra-site tabs, Content rotators can help you spoon feed more information, to build trust, while still keeping the page conversion focused and everything above the fold. Of course you should always test everything!

    • For sure. Although I’d be pretty careful with content rotators. Users almost always experience banner-blindness toward them, and even if they don’t, it’s a pretty bad idea to remove content without warning and replace it with something else if you actually want people to absorb it.

  2. Good evening, Bnonn.
    Thank you for a most helpful and informative post.

    My call to action is always at the bottom of the body of the text – not for any thought out reason on my part. It was what I was told to do by mentor who introduced me to blogging. Though I dare say he had a clear view on this!

    But I suppose it’s also because it wouldn’t look right anywhere else, given what I write about – which isn’t specifically what my call to action is about. Although sales is a part of it, it’s by no means the whole.

    Kind regards,
    L

  3. Great post. I find that offering the same call to action multiple times works well too. One above the fold for users who are ready to commit and then another below the additional copy for those who prefer getting more information before making a decision.

    Of course, there are a lot of ways to do that. I’ve seen some sites put a call to action box in the right column and it just follows the user down the page as he/she reads.

  4. I love when people challenge the status quo. Nice post Bnonn. Test often, test quick, and keep on testing.

  5. Good thoughts on this, challenging old assumptions. I think one of the takeaways is that you have to consider your site visitor, your product and your content, not just take generic advice. Thanks for poking a hole in an old assumption.

    • I would go so far as to say you should ONLY consider your site visitor, your product, and your content Karen! Generic advice hasn’t got much place in that triad I reckon :)

  6. And next you will try to convince me the world is round! :) Excellent argument contrary to popular design opinion. I’ll be sharing this with my followers on social media today!

  7. Hmph. Our testing has shown that the less copy, the better the clickthrough. And our best performing CTAs are in real estate at the top left of the email (or landing page). “The Fold” may not the the Fabled Automatic, but it’s hardly a myth!

    • Janet, the fact that you mention CTAs in emails suggests you’re comparing apples to oranges. As I said in the article, there are certainly times when less copy performs better, for various reasons. But I’m not talking about getting clickthrough in this article. I’m talking about getting conversions of some kind (I would define those two things quite differently).

  8. Thanks very much for getting to crux of why you need to think about where to put the CTA, rather than slavishly following the received wisdom.

    I find a sign-up box staring at me, as I enter a site a bit off putting, so I’ll be thinking about the impact of mine on my visitors! Sarah

  9. Maybe try both spots — get both type of people and get an even better lift!

    Test that one!

  10. Shanika Journey Sep 13, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    I think the Call-To-Action should be in more than one place when it comes to getting people to take action nowadays. I’ve seen people starting to put CTA their more than once on throughout their pages. From the navigation menu…the sidebar….within the article….the “fold”…and the footer. I’ve even subscribed from multiple spots in other people’s sites – including pop-ups. I think you just have to treat your CTAs on pages like you do with marketing: that your CTA should be seen more than once (in several strategic places) for someone to take action.

  11. A great way of looking at the fold differently, especially hi-lighting the need for powerful content over positioning. I would say that a CTA could be incorporated in various ways on the page, when writing content, I always think of it as a Hansel & Gretel breadcrumb trail. This leading makes sense with your assessment that fold is not more important than any other aspect of the web page, all parts lead to conversions.

  12. Great work as usual Bnnon, love the evidence based approach – rather then the ‘i think this is the way to do it because I heard…’ approach

    If its all about motivation, how do you steer a aesthetically driven client to use images and formatting in a way that’s still persuasive?

    • One method is to create a proposal split test of the material and present it with $156.00 profit for one and $369.00 profit for the other and ask the client if they think a test run would be worth the time spent on it. Go with their decision.

  13. Your advice is timely as I’m planning an ecommerce site and am creating a call to action for a client site. I hope you will write an article on testing for beginners. Although I understand the importance of it I dread the learning curve and time consumption. Thank you!

  14. Actually, I’d build on your recommendation and suggest that there should be repeated call to actions with content that progressively motivates a user to click (i.e. as a user scrolls down the page, provide motivational content + call to action, then more motivational content + call to action, then more…).

    Also, people generally think motivational content = benefits. That isn’t always the most effective way to motivate users to perform your desired behaviour. Progressively motivating users gives you the opportunity to use different forms of motivating content to persuade users (e.g. punishment/fear of loss: offer ends in 2 days!, 3 coupons left!).

    One of the best examples I’ve seen of this recently is this one by Flow:
    http://www.getflow.com

  15. I was waiting for a post just like this to appear on Kiss Metrics. Will be a nice case to present to those above the fold evangelists. It really is all about your users uncertainty and product offering. Thanks

  16. Nice post! The content should be given more value rather than having the CTA at your site all over the place. The CTA has no use if the viewer is not convinced with what you are offering.

  17. Thanks for the insights. It is obvious how it works once you explain it, but I’ve never seen it before. You’ve changed my perspective for the better. Thanks!

  18. Nicely disruptive argument. Lots of food for re-thinking assumptions. Thank you.

  19. Great post, thank you for that. I think that many people would need to read this article before posting CTAs all over their website, spoiling the content and discouraging people from returning. Content should be the thing why should people be wanting to return to your website, not the CTAs.

  20. This goes against lots of blog posts and it’s obvious that the CTA can be everywhere, as long as it is clear and visible. You have to think about the potential customers, think about your own usage too.

  21. Bnonn, there has definitely been a trend in placing calls to action above the fold with headline and call to action. With “Free” signups I think folks think that the magic F-word is enough to convince people to signup/buy or whatever. I like to use Bob Bly’s framework where you measure how much involvement and emotion go into a purchase and that determines the copy length.

  22. Hi Bononn, I really like this post. It’s critical to remember that the CTA should come after prospects get enough information to make a decision and that the motivated ones, which happen to be the prospects that matter, are part of the 20% that will read more to find more information. I personally like the idea of multiple CTAs, when appropriate, to catch the three different groups you mention. Last but not least, too many people use either a content rotator or a standard picture, short copy, CTA above the fold formula without considering whether or not it’s the best presentation. More websites could benefit from re-thinking the way they present their products and services and considering whether or not conversions will increase with more information. In a showroom, the salesman talks until he makes the sale. Why wouldn’t websites do the same?

    • Great post, but I really like this comment…my mind is wrapping around this!

  23. Well said. It’s about how motivated your visitors are!!! To be honest, I have been a believer of above the fold works until we started A/B testing to find no significant difference between ATF and BTF. Now, I know it is the content combined with the motivation level of the visitor that result in clicks.

  24. Great Article! It does seem like there is some logic to knowing what type of prospect you attract to a site, and then building your call to action according to that. So, in fact, it’s not a myth?

  25. This is so true and follows on the same MO as those in the direct mail industry who have proven that a well written 10 page sales letter will outsell a single page advert.

  26. Thank you for fighting with dogma. Well done;-)

    Just want to say I agree with you:
    “The fold has nothing to do with it”

    Based on my experience from hundreds of usability testing,
    it is because of 2 columms layout.

  27. How about a rule of thumb. The CTA is most effective when viewed at the same time a user is ready to buy.

    Sure, kinda vague.

    But chances are, most websites need to do a little convincing before they’re ready to buy.

    Trying to sell them before they read your pitch is like asking a girl to marry you before the first date.

  28. I did not know where you were going with this but I absolutely fell for reading all the copy – lots before the fold – to figure out why I didn’t need to have my offer above the fold. You have totally raised the bar with the need to write good copy. Good on ya!

  29. Didn’t anyone notice the trend of the CTA being the right hand column when there was shown to be improvement by moving it south, but into the main body of the site? Delegating something to the right hand column relegates to secondary or maybe even tertiary importance immediately (thank you WordPress or even maybe newspapers).

    So the fact the CTA gets moved to the main part of the site (regardless of vertical placement) and gets more action really isn’t surprising, is it?

  30. A very interesting point, but I see the logic. In the end it reinforces the idea that each site needs to be testing and learning from those tests. No two sites have the same customers, so what works for one won’t always work best for another.

  31. Wouldn’t it make sense that the more serious customers or site visitors would spend more time on a site and read more content, therefore when they arrive at the CTA, they would be more likely to purchase, etc? Motivating copy would still be important, but above or below the fold probably wouldn’t, when you have serious “shoppers?”

  32. Neil Whitehead Oct 03, 2012 at 5:44 am

    Superb. I have worked around this very theory recently. More weight and conversions behind relevant content. Good for google and all.

    Rough Hypothesis: If the user is genuinely interested in the content they will read more/scan lower.

    Despite lower click rates for below the fold position I have seen a real correlation to more relevant users being filtered through a lower positioned form/offer.

  33. I like to keep a “loud” CTA (usually a button) above the fold for the presold prospects. If I must have lengthy text, I would usually add a soft CTA as a text link incorporated into the last line. It stops the CTA becoming disassociated from the text… But, as usual, test until it’s best!

  34. Very interesting, and well thought-out.. I wonder, though, if you consider your mailing list optin pop-up to be a call to action? Nothing turns me off a site I’m visiting for the first time quicker than a pop-up asking me if I want to subscribe within seconds. How do I know? I haven’t had the chance to read more than a few words. If you ask me at that point, not only is the answer no, but I’m also more than likely to leave the site altogether and not return. I followed link to this article saying how interesting it was, which is the only reason I persisted in reading it. If I’d come in cold, I’d have been long gone.

  35. Lisa Pignetti Oct 03, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    I loved this post and want to thank you for enlightening me about long landing pages…the interaction designer in me cringes every time i see long sales pages with lots of content on them (i’ve been following Jakob Nielsen for the past 15 years or so, it was so funny to see that you worked him into this article :)), but now i get why the long pages are necessary sometimes. I’m guessing it’s especially important with expensive products/services (like a $2500 coaching program versus a $47 ebook) because you’re really trying to convince somebody that the value is worth their investment.

    A couple of things — i would argue that “above the fold” is still very relevant when it comes to home pages. People bop onto your site and back off your site without scrolling all the time — the home page is a place where initial impressions matter a lot.

    Also, as somebody already mentioned in the comments, several of your examples show the CTA in the upper right sidebar (above the fold) then below the fold IN THE BODY of the content — that’s really comparing apples to oranges. I’d be more curious to see an A/B test where both CTAs were shown in the body of the content.

  36. An interesting read. I’m just about to put together the homepage for my own tech startup so found this at just the right time. Currently my CTA is at the bottom of every page but on the homepage i was also gonna add one at the top as well (a bit like in the first few examples). Think i’ll need to split test a few different versions and wouldn’t have thought to try a version without a CTA above the fold before reading about these results.

  37. Great reading! Nice to see you discuss it all the way around. Not just adopting the best practice way like some people do, but actually adapting different thinking to different sites.
    Were well written!

  38. The only way I sign up for anything is if the service is any good, if it solves a problem. If the copy doesn’t convey that it is rubbish. I am glad that you teach your kids about Nathan Fillion.

  39. My take on this is that if our readers pass beyond the fold we have their attention and they are more likely to buy (sign up, whatever) otherwise they would have left the page log ago.

    An analogy is probably that the customer is well inside the store and is already touching, examining, admiring our goods and is ready to buy.

    Thanks for the article.

    Russ

  40. There is a big difference between the title of the post and the conclusion you present at the end:

    “The issue isn’t whether the call to action is visible when your prospect first arrives. The issue is whether your call to action is visible at the point where your prospect has become convinced to take action.”

    This is true regardless to the fold. In most cases, you should try to place your call for action AFTER you convinced your user.

    Let’s assume I can create two versions of the same landing page where the call for action is visible at the point where my prospect has become convinced to take action. The only difference is that in one version I’ve managed to do all in one page without scrolling . Which one will convert better?

  41. Hits home even more the importance of investing time in the strategy behind your site and the development of content. There is no silver bullet page layout and each site needs to explore the right mix for themselves. Thanks for sharing!

  42. Page layout and design is extremely important. The 7 second rule applies to everyone. Above the fold maybe all your viewers see.

  43. Great article…fantastic

  44. Like the article, but could not help noticing there are 5 calls to action on the very page where I read this post.. and they are all above the fold. First one is at the very top. Next 4 in the sidebar left.

  45. Great and interesting reading. Thanks!

  46. I am ready to start moving my calls to action into the logical place on my pages.

  47. Hey Bnonn !
    Yeah I am ready :)

    thanks.
    Matt

  48. Another very misleading article on the content and the fold.

    The fold still matters. Scrolling happens when you find what you are looking for, not when you are looking.

  49. Very interesting article.

    Thank you!

  50. While it does depend on type of a page you’re on, it’s more about how you make the call to action rather than where you place it (as long as it’s not tucked away somewhere).

  51. Hi Bnonn, thanks for writing this and opening up the dicussion on this topic.

    I agree that “it’s all about motivation” and that is the critical element in getting conversions.

    But with all due respect, to say that the fold “has no bearing whatsoever on conversion rates as far as calls to action are concerned” is just plain wrong.

    The examples you gave of instances where below the fold converted better is the result of testing. So yes, in these cases, the tests concluded that… for that particular audience/traffic, for that particular offer, for that particular copy, below the fold converted better. The only thing this proves is that above the fold vs below the fold is simply another one of the many variables you should test.

    And to say that “the fold” is a myth is as misleading as saying “the headline” is a myth. In some instances, a page without a headline converts better. But it doesn’t make it a myth.

    Here’s a partial list of what I test for clients:

    1) Headline
    2) Pre-headline
    3) Bullets
    4) Image/pictures
    5) Video
    6) Offer
    7) Call to action
    8) Scarcity elements
    9) Size of page
    10) Font size
    11) Trust seals
    12) Above the fold call to action vs below the fold
    13) Long copy vs short
    14) Affinity elements based on source of traffic
    15) Form fields
    16) Testimonials/Endorsements
    17) Design of page/colors
    18) Geo-targeting
    19) Size, color and text on call to action button

    Again, this is just a partial list.. and yes I would place certain things higher on my list of priorites to test, but I wouldn’t claim that any one of these things has no bearing whatsoever on conversion rates. Instead, I would test and let my prospects tell me what is important to THEM, and not make landing page decisions based on what I think (intellectually) is more important to them. It’s never my opinion, it’s always the opinion of my target audience.

    Thanks for your post.

    Gary Gil

  52. Great read. I think there is much to be said about CTA’s based on consumer actions taken upstream. It amazes me how little variation I see in CTA’s across most sites.

    Whether I’ve stumbled on the homepage or engaged with some content on a twitter feed, the engagement was different, the motivation is different, so the CTA should be too…

    Thanks again, looking forward to more on this.

  53. This makes so much sense, and really explains why I react the way I do to what I see on some websites. I think the same holds true for pop-ups. If I’ve *just* arrived on a site and get a pop-up, my immediate reaction is, “I haven’t read anything, I don’t know if I want to sign-up yet!” It really makes sense to give new visitors some time to get acquainted with you and your site before you ask for the dance.

  54. Interesting article. Always refreshing when someone questions the “truth”.

    However, it is somewhat ironic that Kissmetrics homepage is a carbon copy of the pages they are “mocking”…

    https://www.kissmetrics.com/?utm_source=blog-header-cta

Comments are closed.

← Previous ArticleNext Article →