Conventional wisdom would have us, as digital marketers, believe that above-the-fold inventory is the most valuable landscape for ad placements. But is it really?
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at user engagement across a page and why we might want to rethink how we can use the fold adjustment to optimize campaigns and positively impact goals. But first, let’s define what we mean by above the fold and below the fold.
What does above the fold mean?
The term fold comes from newspapers. Newspapers are usually folded in half before they are put on the newsstand, so prospective readers can only see the top half of a newspaper.
Because of this, it’s crucial that the content on the top half of the newspaper–above the fold–draws readers in. This concept has been carried forward into the digital world where anything displayed on the top half of a webpage (that doesn’t require the user to scroll to view it) is considered above the fold.
Carrying that forward, anything that is placed below the scroll line of a webpage is referred to as being below the fold.
Traditional above the fold practices
The conventional line of thought as it relates to fold position and CPM advertising has been that ads placed above the fold are more optimal because targeted audiences are more likely to see the ad before scrolling down the page. Thus, it’s widely accepted that an above the fold placement will also yield the most clicks. This approach appears to be the most logical as a large percentage of marketers still judge the effectiveness of an advertising campaign by tracking CPMs and click-through rates.
An analysis of data in Choozle also shows that marketers are placing a premium on above-the-fold inventory. In an analysis of campaigns from 2019 through February 2020 (8,222 ad groups), our data shows that, on average, marketers increase bids on above-the-fold inventory while they adjust bids down for inventory that appears below the fold.
|Average bid adjustment||1.37||0.45|
|Maximum bid adjustment||5.00||3.00|
|Median bid adjustment||1.25||0.3|
Above the fold ≠ viewable
In this context, it’s also important not to conflate the presence of an ad being placed above the fold with the ad placement actually being viewable. If you are assuming that ads placed above the fold are responsible for more influence and brand awareness, then you may be confusing the concept of viewability with actual viewing.
Digiday defines viewability as an advertising metric that aims to track only impressions that can actually be seen by users. For example, if an ad is loaded at the bottom of a webpage but a user doesn’t scroll down far enough to see it, that impression would not be deemed viewable.
Believe it or not, but not all above-the-fold ads are actually viewable. Google’s 2018 state of viewability report found that viewability for above-the-fold video ads was 73 percent while display ad viewability above the fold was 69 percent. So, prioritizing above-the-fold inventory does not necessarily guarantee 100 percent viewability, nor does it guarantee the interaction we may be seeking with increasingly limited advertising budgets.
Scrolling, engagement, and the fold
If we’re looking to maximize performance what can we take away from these findings? How can we think differently now that we know above-the-fold placements are not always the best performers and don’t guarantee 100 percent viewability? Let’s start by asking ourselves why this might be the case.
Enter Chartbeat’s study on scroll behavior. Chartbeat, a content analytics and insights tool, conducted a scroll behavior study that analyzed a random sample of 25 million user sessions from across a wide sample of sites and content types. Chartbeat wanted to find out where users spent their time reading across a webpage. As it relates to the fold, the study’s findings are very interesting. Chartbeat found that just under 70 percent of users saw the very top of the page they were viewing.
Additionally, they found that many visitors scroll down the page before it finishes loading, which means that no portion of a typical page is viewed by 100 percent of viewers. In fact, Chartbeat discovered that the very top of the page actually had about a 20 percent lower view rate than slightly farther down below the fold.
When looking at engagement across a page, Chartbeat found that pixels at the top of the page were in view for the shortest amount of time–about four seconds, and that engaged time on a page peaked just below the fold at around 16 seconds. In a separate study, Chartbeat found that around 66 percent (65.7) of engaged time on a page actually happens below the fold. In fact, visitors were only engaged for a few seconds at the top of the page, where the highest priced ad inventory often sits.
These findings were corroborated in a separate study that looked at viewable engagement time (VET) from supply vendor Sovrn.
Sovrn measures viewable engagement time as the total time an ad is viewable (based on MRC guidelines) while a user is actively engaged. Sovrn discovered that below-the-fold ads that are viewable are seen for 2.6 times longer than those above the fold.
Moreover, Sovrn’s study found that users are actively engaged for 27 percent of viewable time on a below-the-fold placement, while for above the fold placements users are actively engaged for just 3 percent of viewable time. Overall, Sovrn concluded that below-the-fold placements actually offered higher levels of engagement with targeted audiences.
Folding it together
Knowing where potential audiences spend the most time and where they are most engaged can help you properly allocate and optimize spend. These findings show that we shouldn’t consider inventory or placements below the fold any less valuable than their above the fold counterparts. If anything, this data shows us that when ads are contextually relevant and timely, the ad placed further down a page–below the fold–is no longer a distraction, as the ad at the top of the page might have been, but it can be considered a welcome and productive way of continuing the user journey.
Next time you’re planning or optimizing your campaigns and come across the fold adjustment, take your goals into account and consider how an ad below the fold can potentially help you maximize reach and ad exposure time with a more engaged audience–all at lower CPMs.