Keep Your Most Important Intranet Content Above The Fold

3/4/2010

Where is your most important Intranet content? A recent article by usability expert Jakob Nielsen stated that web users spend 80% of their time looking at information above the page fold and tend to allocate only 20% of their attention to the information below the visible screen area.

In newspaper parlance, "above the fold" refers to the information people can see on the front page of a folded newspaper. The phrase came about from the observation that people will likely only read what's above the fold and tend to ignore what's beneath it.

The same holds true for both web and Intranet design.

On the web, users can only see the screen area beneath the imaginary "fold" if they scroll down the page. While users will scroll if content is of interest, according to Nielsen we only get access to one fifth of their attention at that point.

This means it's critical to prioritize content to make sure your key messages are communicated to employees.

While Intranets are different from conventional websites with respect to audience goals and needs, the employee audience uses the web just like everyone else. Even though users are using your site within the "walled garden" of your firewall, to them it's just another web site. If they don't find what they want quickly, they'll click away to greener virtual pastures. Prioritizing Intranet content does not mean cramming everything into the top half of the page. It means allocating the available real estate based on business requirements and user needs (yeah, that stuff again).

If you've answered the two fundamental questions of "What does my Intranet need to do for the business" and "What does it need to do for my audience", the priority content and functionality elements will tend to reveal themselves in a logical order.

This is where experimenting with different content scenarios using the Intranet Modeler can come in very handy. By combining different components, each representing prioritized and relevant content areas, you'll be able to quickly and visually ascertain which content will be above the fold and where users will need to scroll.

But of course, if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. So you may need to resolve some competing content areas within your organization and duke out the politics as necessary. The key takeaway is to understand that your most important Intranet information needs to get where your intended user focuses their attention the most.

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