What's the SEO relevance to above/below the fold content?

Jonathan Greenberg
Jonathan Greenberg used Ask the Experts™
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A web development client of mine has a WordPress site with a theme that has what is a very normal and popular look these days: the top of the Home page has the company logo and the site's main menu; underneath this is a full-width image slider; and below the image slider is where the textual content begins.

A buddy of mine who's a web marketing guy maintains that websites of this type, with textual content only appearing "below the fold," are hurting themselves in terms of SEO. But I have trouble accepting that this is the case, when most attractive and professional-looking sites these days have that very look.

In 2017, are web pages with images above the fold and text essentially only beginning below the fold really at a disadvantage in search engine results pages placement? Or has the "above the fold / below the fold" concept become irrelevant by now?
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Google have repeatedly affirmed that speed is a ranking signal, meaning fast pages will have a ranking advantage of some sort over slower ones. Also, users encountering a lethargic page may just close it before it loads, sending a another "bounce rate" signal to Google.

The exact algorithm used by Google is profoundly complex,  secret, and changes from day to day. No one really knows exactly how it works; anyone who claims otherwise is best avoided. I have done some SEO for a couple of companies, in my experience, speed seems to make negligible difference, unless your site is really slow. I doubt that you this sort of minor flaw would be significant. I would certainly prioritise engaging content and useability over minor technical imperfections such as this one.

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Commented:
Malmensa, you're talking mainly, it seems, about page load speed. But I'm specifically asking about above and below the fold content (which I think but am not certain that you've addressed in your last two sentences). Are you saying you think that's not relevant, and that you would go ahead and place engaging content - such as an image slider - above the text?
As I understand things, content "below the fold" can be a problem if it interferes with the time that it takes for a website to complete initial rendering. Anything above the fold should load quickly. Slower initial rendering MAY be a ranking signal.

The other possible problem is that some users never bother to scroll downwards, so content below the fold may not be seen by some, and the bounce rate will be worse, indirectly impinging on SEO. Many designers suggest keeping engaging content above the fold, as users will tend to be repelled if they need to scroll down to find actual content. Of course, this depends on your niche, the users you hope to attract, and actual useability and artistic factors.

I would not panic over this.
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Here are a few more links with discussion about "the fold". After reading these, you will probably be even more confused, but anything to do with SEO and behaviour of web page users is confusing.

http://boxesandarrows.com/blasting-the-myth-of-the-fold/

http://iampaddy.com/lifebelow600/
Dave BaldwinFixer of Problems
Most Valuable Expert 2014
Commented:
Content above or below the fold is not relevant to SEO as such.  The bots read the whole page.  People however make a snap judgement on what to do next based on what they see 'above the fold'.  If there is nothing there for them, they may not scroll down to see more and may go away instead.

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Commented:
Thanks to both of you for weighing in on this!

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