Do Web Users Scroll?

Many of my clients want to keep all their information within the first screen of information thinking that users don’t scroll down the page. Here is some new data from usability expert Jakob Nielsen to refine that thinking.

Web users spend 80% of their time looking at information above the page fold. Although users do scroll, they allocate only 20% of their attention below the fold.

During the Web’s first years, users often didn’t scroll Web pages at all. They simply looked at the visible information and used it to determine whether to stay or leave. Thus, in usability studies during that period (1994–1996), sites often failed if they placed important information below the fold as most users didn’t see it. This reluctance to scroll made sense at the time, because people were used to having computers show all their choices. Dialog boxes, CD-ROM multimedia shows, and HyperCard stacks all worked that way, and didn’t require scrolling.

In 1997, however, I retracted the guideline to avoid scrolling pages because users had acclimated to scrolling on the Web. Today, users will scroll. However, you shouldn’t ignore the fold and create endless pages for two reasons:

  • Long pages continue to be problematic because of users’ limited attention span. People prefer sites that get to the point and let them get things done quickly. Besides the basic reluctance to read more words, scrolling is extra work.
  • The real estate above the fold is more valuable than stuff below the fold for attracting and keeping users’ attention.

So, yes, you can put information below the fold rather than limit yourself to bite-sized pages. In fact, if you have a long article, it’s better to present it as one scrolling canvas than to split it across multiple pageviews. Scrolling beats paging because it’s easier for users to simply keep going down the page than it is to decide whether or not to click through for the next page of a fragmented article. (Saying that scrolling is easier obviously assumes a design that follows the guidelines for scrollbars and such.) But no, the fact that users scroll doesn’t free you from prioritizing and making sure that anything truly important remains above the fold. 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. 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.

See the full post.