Are you wasting space on your homepage? How you can learn about your scrolldown rate

Am I the last website editor on Earth to have found out what scrolldown rate means… and that scrolldown rates are apparently very low… and that this is terrible news for anyone publishing a site?

I don’t know if it was a big techie secret that few if any journalists were let in on, but the light dawned for me when I attended (virtually) a recent webinar put on by my friend Birgit Pauli-Haack, who runs Pauli Systems, LC in Naples, Fla.

Birgit demonstrated it via Google Analytics on two attractive real-life sites. I was jolted, and appalled, to discover that one site had a scrolldown rate of 5 percent, the other 6 percent.

This means that of the readers who call up the first site, only 5 percent bother to scroll down from the first screenful they see.

Too much hard work, apparently, to click that down arrow!

I was petrified to discover what the rate would be on my own site,, as we have amassed a tremendous amount of material: 320-plus interviews of academics, journalists, business leaders and top professionals on various issue topics. You have to scroll down or move around the site to see a lot of this.

Our rate turned out to be 16 percent – gratifyingly higher than the samples, but still, this means that just one of six readers on our site scrolls down. Of course I don’t have the faintest idea what the rate would be for other sites, as this is locked into their own Google Analytics codes.

But it also means that our site, and probably lots of other sites, needs a redesign. The lesson I took away is that you have one shot – AND ONLY ONE SHOT – to get prospective readers to read, and that’s by what you offer on the first screenful that pops up when the site gets opened. The more elements (promos or items), the better. We have several elements but a Joomla template I’ve seen has 20. That’s the direction I’d like to go in.

Let’s take a look at Politico, which I think is a terrific news and discussion site. When I call it up as I write this, I see one dominant element with large photo (“GOP finds governing isn’t easy”) and parts of three video buttons. That’s all. When I scroll down another screenful, all of a sudden I see 12 promos, and many of them I’d love to open up. If Politico has a good scrolldown rate, and I hope it does, and maybe it does because its loyal readers would know they have to look around, these stories would be read. But if it has a low scrolldown rate like (I guess) many others, these stories would be largely wasted.

This reminds me of my newspaper days when we poor hacks vaguely were aware that lots of readers stopped reading when a story jumped. We didn’t think this applied to us because our efforts, ha-ha, were so brilliantly written that how could anyone not follow the jump?

Then I became a Gannettoid working in the same headquarters building with (though not for) USA Today, and while it was fashionable for the journalism industry to look down on USAT, if not sneer, in fact it was brilliantly proactive. In a revolutionary move for papers, it limited jumps to one per section front – the so-called cover story – as it attempted to get people to like the product, find it easy to navigate and read more of it.

So now we find ourselves in a similar situation: the people who can’t summon up the effort to follow a jump are the same ones who can’t summon up the effort to scroll down. It’s appalling to me, this lack of desire and effort. I frankly don’t understand it. But it is what it is, and editors who deal with it and try to beat it will probably be better off.

Oh yes, how to find that perhaps humiliating scrolldown rate:

1) Start on your Analytics Report Dashboard,
2) On the left side click on Content,
3) Then click on the expanding sub-navigation In-Page Analytics,
4) And there will be a readout at bottom saying X% clicks below.

P.S. I will respond to any reader comments (even the inevitable ones telling me how dumb I am.)

Gerry Storch is editor and administrator of OurBlook – “blook” meaning a cross between a blog and a book. He was a feature writer with the Detroit News and Miami Herald, Accent section editor and newsroom investigative team leader for the News, and sports editor/business editor for Gannett News Service. He has a B.A. in political science and M.A. in journalism, both from the University of Michigan. This is his third article for OJR.

About Gerry Storch

I was sports editor and business editor of Gannett News Service in the USA Today headquarters in McLean, Va., when I and a number of colleagues took buyouts at the end of 2001. Before that, I was a feature writer at the Detroit News and Miami Herald, and Accent section editor and newsroom investigative team leader at the News. I hold a B.A. in political science and M.A. in journalism, both from the University of Michigan.


  1. says:

    Glad that you are expanding your own and OJR readers’ awareness of what happens below the fold. However the data you mentioned doesn’t measure scroll downs. It only measures clicks below the fold. A lot of people may scroll down and then not click on (in fact the vast majority of page visitors never click on anything.) And another group of people may scroll all the way down to check out everything you’ve got..and then go back up again to click on something nearer the top.

    Eyetracking studies, which were pretty much pioneered as research tools by Poynter Institute for online newspapers and by MarketingSherpa for online marketing pages, can tell you A LOT more about what typical users “see” or not on a page. For example, if a photo is cut in half by your fold, many people will scroll to see the rest of it.

    The fold is a changing target – depending on the size monitor visitors are looking at when they view your page and what resolution their computers are set at. You can guess at the first based on demographic. You can get the resolution data from your analytics reports under “visitor” stats.

    Overall, tell your designer you may have ~590 pixels from the top of your page to the fold for many visitors. Do the best job you can with them!

    Lastly, lots of marketers have a/b tested shorter and longer pages. We have a library of those tests (samples and data) available for free at – we’re page optimization journalists, so it’s all we cover.

    Good luck!

  2. Sometimes the store front analogy helps, when trying to qualify & quantify performance measurements.

    A store front’s design success is not only measured by the number of passers-by, but by those that actually stop and look in the window. However, what really helps you move your business forward is data pertaining to the people walking in the door.

    In terms of measuring the performance of web design, placement strategy, or headline copy, there is a similar quality difference between scroll downs and clicks. You definitely want to measure clicks, which is the desired action on a web site, (using the analogy, this is similar to getting them to walk into your door).

    You already have the data of those that passed by your page (i.e., that actually stop at the store’s window), but the InPage-Analytics helps you analyze the actions your visitors take. This type of measurement only makes sense on front page or specifically promoted landing pages. What you learn from specific features on single article/product pages is link placement performance in terms of interlinking of pages, related articles promotion or sidebar items, and, of course, “buy now” buttons.

    Birgit Pauli-Haack runs Pauli Systems, LC and writes on the company’s blog: Above The Noise

  3. Thanks so much to the first commenter for responding so thoughtfully, and also to Birgit for her addition.

    As a tech Neanderthal I don’t have the faintest idea of what to say other than that …

    And that the new age of media has turned topsy turvy. Writers and editors used to be king/queen in the print era, with the designers, copy editors and tech support a notch below. Now the techies rule and the content from writers and editors is subservient …

    Not complaining, just saying it …

  4. In addition to good design, do you think there’s a correlation between low scroll-down/click-through rates and high amount of content/proliferation?

    I work on a hyperlocal news site, and since our content is generated 100% by the community, sometimes I get nervous about how much comes in – especially when you’re drawing from a smaller community – which can range from 6-30 pieces of original content per week. I recently got feedback from a few people that, to my surprise, liked that they didn’t feel like they were always playing the catchup that comes with an inundation of content (think how quickly some niche news sites rack up numbers in Google Reader, for example).

    I wonder how much readers get overwhelmed by what’s “above-the-fold” and don’t bother to scroll down.

  5. says:

    Hi interesting article. I’m interested to know did the developers give any thought as to weather we would like to see all our information at once kind of like a newspaper? I mean scrolling is not a real problem but it would be a lot nicer if you did not have to. Maybe a 27-32″ screen in portrait mode would do the trick. There are certain things that look better in Landscape mode. More comment I have than questions. I would be interested in every ones thoughts about what I have said.