SEO and content “above the fold”

The question on the table is, does Google prioritize content “above the fold” in search engine ranking? They certainly used to, so has the algorithm changed?

First, a quick definition of “above the fold”. It was originally a newspaper term, meaning the part of the top story that could be seen while the newspaper was still on the stand or in a box. Obviously, the most important story of the day would be above the fold. On a website, it refers to everything that can be seen on a page without scrolling. And like its paper cousin, this area should be reserved for important material.

In recent years, large “hero images” have become popular on many websites. These images often take up the entire area above the fold, requiring scrolling to get to any information about the site at all. This is clearly not the best user experience but what does Google think of these designs?

This question was put to Google’s John Mueller, who regularly fields SEO questions on Twitter and the Google Search Central YouTube channel. His reply:

So the main thing is that we want to see some content above the fold.

Which means… a part of your page should be visible when a user goes there.

So for example if a user goes to your website and they just see a big holiday photo and they have to scroll down a little bit to actually get content about a hotel, then that would be problematic for us.

But if they go to your home page and they see a hall of fame photo on top and also a little bit of information about the hotel, for example for a hotel site, that would be fine.

So it’s not purely that the content has to be above the fold. But… some of the content has to be.

This answer speaks to just how good Google has gotten at determining the meaning and purpose of a page through the use of natural language processing on the entire page. However, that includes some understanding that the content at the top is probably of greater importance.  

From the perspective of a human visitor, there must also be enough information above the fold to answer the “what is this?” question. There’s nothing wrong with having a large hero image – visuals can be very powerful after all – but consider overlaying it with easily readable text that summarizes the purpose of the page. When this text can also be read by search bots (i.e. not embedded into the image), you have the best of both worlds.

Note: this post first appeared in the weekly Webdancers Newsletter. If you’d like to see more like this in your inbox, please subscribe.

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