Mythbusting bubbleThe longer you work in any specialist field the more susceptible you become to placing trust in tried-and-tested rules and principles.

Take the well-known fact that content placed on a website above the fold (that is in the top portion of the screen,  visible to all when the page loads) performs better than stuff below the fold. Everybody knows that, right? Yes, but it’s not entirely true.

What used to work in the days of PCs and Internet Explorer sometimes doesn’t apply in the era of tablets, smartphones and personalised apps. Today’s web users are well-versed in scrolling up and down pages; it’s a completely natural gesture on a touchscreen device and nearly every modern mouse features a handy scrolling wheel or touchpad.

But beyond the technology changes, savvy surfers simply no longer behave as predictably as in the past. What many would consider a textbook position to put a call-to-action, high on the page, above the fold, may sometimes deliver substantially better results if placed lower down the page or after additional information to motivate a click has appeared first.

To understand this you need to appreciate the context of the decision you are asking your site visitors to take. If the buying decision is complex or needs to be carefully considered, today’s surfers are extremely tolerant of supporting information like comparison charts, videos and customer references. And so it really doesn’t matter where the final call-to-action sits, as long as the right amount of supporting information can be accessed easily and quickly to enable a decision to be made. Requiring a visitors to make a few downwards swipes or to hunt briefly for the buying button is no longer automatically a barrier to success. In UI design context is king…

Confused-DesignerAdd to this the added complexity that comes from people viewing pages on a multitude of different screens and devices, anything from a 2 inch phone to an 84inch 3D TV, and the rich variety of delivery platforms from internet browsers to niche applications, and you have the perfect recipe for some very confused, sore-brained web designers.

One solution now in widespread use is to feature small, floating content boxes that remain on screen and slide as the reader scrolls through the page. These moving panels can ensure key navigation components or calls to action remain easily accessible. But they also carry a distraction overhead so test them carefully to verify that the navigation benefits outweigh any attention interference they may create.

As I explained in a recent post, the facilities we have for testing different design hypotheses are better than ever. Simply ramming a primary call-to-action down your visitors’ throats as soon as they land on your site may not give the best results today. Of course, your call-to-action needs to be visible, distinctive and worded to elicit action, but never assume there’s only one best place for it to live. That’s old school thinking, a dangerous path to tread in a world of constant change,

So have some fun, think differently and explore some alternatives. With a little intelligent testing and creativity you could open up a whole new world of engagement in our scroll-happy world!