Does the fold matter in email marketing?

In print and web design, optimizing the content that appears above 'the fold' (ie. the part that appears to a viewer first, without scrolling/opening) is given serious consideration. But is designing with the fold in mind just as relevant to email?

There are strong 'for' and 'against' arguments when it comes to putting special effort into the upper portion of an email design. In a world where the average email is read for only 51 seconds, a lot can be said for making a special first impression. However, can this mindset be obstructive to our overall design goals?

In the 'for' camp would be our good friend Paul Boag, whose recent post, 'User experience: Does the fold matter?' features a video that is just as relevant to email as it is the web:

After explaining the concept of 'the fold', Paul argues that designing with it in mind makes designers consider visual hierarchy. Plus, by presenting suitable content above the fold, readers are given suitable incentive to scroll to view the rest of the content.

"Whilst it’s important to make sure your campaigns are engaging, I think we worry too much about getting all of our content in the preview pane area." However, this is countered by Email Design Review, whose post, 'The Fold and Email', states that the digital fold is unimportant - scrolling is easy, so we shouldn't be applying antiquated print concepts to the web or email. Secondly, the 'put everything above the fold' mentality only encourages designers to cram content into a space that's undefinably dimensioned - while the fold could be the first 600px of a design in a desktop email client, it's usually much less than that in webmail and mobile clients.

Finally, instead of passing a hard-and-fast recommendation on this polarizing topic, we'd like to hear your opinion. Does the fold matter to you when designing for email? Let us know in the comments below.

Posted by Ros Hodgekiss

19 Comments

  • David
    15th August

    When a client mentions “making sure the important sutff is above the fold” I cringe and tell them it’s not as important as the 90’s would have you believe. People love to scroll. Break your content into digestible segments, problem easily solved.

  • Russell Greenwood
    15th August

    “...while the fold could be the first 600px of a design in a desktop email client, it’s usually much less than that in webmail and mobile clients.”

    This is the correct argument. Especially remembering not everyone has a full screen window, or standard width to browser when reading email too.

    Proper design includes hierarchy, which will bubble important things to the top (or not as is required) and that alone should be enough to inform where the best, most important content belongs.

  • Dan
    15th August

    Ofcourse it matters. It would be like saying does the headline on a newspaper matter.

  • Anna
    17th August

    If 40% of users are opening your email on an iPhone and you know the dimensions of the 1st screen, then yeah it’s a design consideration for me. Doesn’t mean you have to cram it all in, just be aware of it.

    Same with Android, of course there’s a tons of screen sizes so there’s not one “fold”. But you know the top left corner of your creative will show by default if it’s fixed-width. Ideally you don’t want it to be blank because that’s not cool for the user, you want some content in there they can engage with. You might just left align the pre-header and make it pop a little more. It can be small tweaks up top.

    btw Android design always makes me think of that show “Catchphase” (youtube it)  it’s such a nightmare trying to piece the message together…

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Jacques
    17th August

    I’ve got data from past campaigns that shows top clicked links as being right near the bottom of the email, that was with a design around 2k pixels long. The fold can be important, but it’s not worth breaking the flow of the design and the copy just to cram everything in at the top.

  • Chad White
    17th August

    The fold is definitely a design consideration. Subscribers are busy and assuming that they’re going to scroll to see all the hard work you put into your email is just unrealistic. Solid design, compelling content and a track record of useful emails will certainly encourage subscribers to scroll, so the fold can be overcome.

    But honestly, thanks to shortening attention spans in the age of Twitter and texts, emails are getting shorter, not longer. It’s not that long emails can’t work, but they’re becoming quite rare.

  • Anna
    17th August

    I’ve seen the same thing with long mobile emails, we’ll often repeat the cta further down as some users don’t want to scroll back up and anchor tags have flaky support. Also we put extra care into mobile footer links ect

    I don’t doubt that users scroll, I’ve done some crazy long mobile emails, it’s more about making the most of that first screen…which is totally different from trying to fit the whole email in it.

    It just varies, we did an iPhone app download email with CTA on first screen and repeated it further down after listing benefits ect and the 1st screen had the highest click throughs. Maybe because it didn’t need a long explanation for users to make up their minds. Or it wasn’t so long that they minded scrolling back up. 

  • Elliot
    17th August

    should probably clarify my point from the email design review article (it *was* a bit ranty)

    I think the top area of a campaign is still important, and that we should use it to draw people in - so the content there should be engaging. If we can communicate what we need to and also get people to convert or click through without them needing to scroll, then that’s great. But if there’s lots going on in the email, it’s likely to be more effective to spread the content out and not worry as much about users having to scroll.

    The thing I think we need to avoid is this mentality that absolutely everything has to be right at the top, otherwise people won’t read it - that’s just not true.

  • Matthew Ozolins
    21st August

    The characteristics of a landing page which are likely to “Convert above the fold” are pretty much the same as in email marketing. Also, just because the use may have another screen size, does not mean that you should just forget about fold optimization.

    As for email marketing, why would id be any different? The bottom line is that you want to make a return on your investment so it is important to strategically design everything.

    I am thinking that I will soon be writing a blog post about improving rates with email marketing. If anybody would like any specific ideas, the post I wrote for landing page design will be pretty much everything you need to know: http://www.webics.com.au/blog/web-design/perfect-landing-page/

    (Admin, I don’t know what you rules are on posting links in comments, I am not trying to be spammy I just want to help your users. Feel free to change the link to not actually be click-able if you like).

    Cheers

  • kevin
    21st August

    I think knowing the “fold” is important but it shouldn’t be a “law” to excuse bad design or limit creativity. Lots of the previous posts mention fitting all of the “important” stuff in the preview pane and maybe people should focus on the idea of putting something compelling or interesting in the space. Your client (the sender) is going to say the “important” stuff is the button to buy the product. The buyer is going to think it’s the stuff that tells them why it matters to them. The objective is to engage the reader and make them want more… not tell them everything about everything in a 200 x 200 pixel space. Isn’t it?

  • stanley rao
    22nd August

    yes off course the fold does matter when it comes to the process of email marketing. It is as important as the headline is in the newspaper,.

  • Robbie
    23rd August

    Okay, I need some serious help. I want to have a conversion optimised website and I want it to be focussed on converting above the fold.

    I also need matching email templates. Is this hard? Can I take code form my site and put it in an email? If so, how?

    This is my current site (made in a dodgy site builder called yola): http://www.shortstudios.net/ to the best of my knowledge they do not allow you to do matching email campaigns with the site template.

    Somebody please take a look at my code.

  • Daniel Thomas
    25th August

    Small bits of content which are explained in details, helps me understand the topic, thank you!

  • Mana
    28th August

    This should be an easy one to settle with an A/B test.

    We tested email length, and the shorter email had much higher click-through rate than the longer email.

    We didn’t test for the above fold variable, but I have seen emails that when opened on mobile, with images turned off, looked like a whole lot of nothing. So yes, what’s above the “fold” matters. If you only have 51 seconds to grab them and you waste 10 of those delivering 0 value, your email needs improvement.

  • Mikal
    14th September

    It absolutely matters.  All merchandise has a “fold” if you will.  Ask a package designer where the fold is on a pair of stockings.  There is a shelf for every product or format and you have to design your best stuff, for them to see with the least amount of effort.

    That pretty much sums it up :)

  • Laurence
    14th September

    Technically, I think it does matter because emails can be clipped on a mobile device which poses the question in the user’s mind, “should I bother downloading the rest?”.

    So, write well by getting to the point fast.

    I deconstructed an email from Naked Wines on my blog - would love to hear your thoughts on it…

    http://www.sourgrapes.ie/2012/07/31/case-study-the-ultimate-email-offer/

  • Ted Goas
    18th September

    Just as in website design, can all agree that there is not single pixel value for the fold? Ok good :) This old topic is relatively easy to explain to clients.

    I’m not sure how much the layout can be controlled using media queries in HTML email, but Paul Boag and others have previously hinted that media queries can be used to detect the fold.

    But besides worrying about where the fold is, there are so many other factors to design with in mind. How many clients have email preview view enabled in their client? For those that don’t, the sale must be made with the subject line and or the email’s layout might never be seen.

    Are images downloaded automatically? Do they take a long time to download over 3G? Does the design have a good hierarchy? Is the content genuinely engaging? And more of the like, mentioned in the comments above. I think these things are all more important than worrying where the fold is.

    On a side note, I’m impressed people read emails for an average of 51 seconds. Seems like along time!

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