Above the Fold SEO: First Impression is Everything

woman using laptop and external hard drive in a cafe

They say you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. This is certainly true in the world of SEO as well as life.

When a user first arrives on a page from search engines, the first impression is everything that loads in the first screen view.

It’s no secret that Google has been pushing publishers to make sure that first screen view is the best experience possible.

This is one of the hallmarks of Google’s pagespeed efforts, including the new Page Experience and Web Vitals. Moreover:

Beyond pagespeed, the content appearing in the first screen view is just as important as how fast it loads.

For eight years, Google has been evaluating the first screen view, or content “above the fold,” as part of its page layout algorithm.

Yes, Google flat out says that content above the fold impacts rankings.

This makes sense, given that all Google SEO optimizations are based upon the single core principle of ensuring that users who click on search results end up with a good experience on that website.

The first thing that shapes their experience is that first impression, so you need to guarantee that when readers visit your website, you’re delivering what they came to find via those search results.

What is Above the Fold?

Both Google and Mediavine use the term Above the Fold, a term that dates back to the ancient times of print journalism and the content appearing above the literal fold of a newspaper’s front page.

In the world of digital publishing, Above the Fold (ATF) refers to everything in the first screen view, or before a user has to scroll down. We’re going to be referring to ATF a lot in this article.

How do you optimize the first screen view?

The Mediavine blog fanatics may recall that in our keyword prominence post, we talked about using your keywords early in your content. Guess what, that concept is coming back!

SEO experts will commonly tell you to use your keyword or keyphrase in your opening paragraph, and that’s incredibly important here.

Absolutely try to get those keywords in your first paragraph, because then that phrase should appear above the fold.

Again, this is fairly intuitive. Readers are most likely going to be scanning for the thing they searched and found your result for.

As early as you possibly can, give the people what they want. They’re going to be skimming for it and that first impression is critical.

woman scrolling on a smartphone

Is Your Theme Optimized for Above the Fold?

A lot of website themes incorporate gigantic featured images and/or banner logos at the top of the page.

We’re sure it looks cool and all, but you’re going to want to reduce and shrink that as much as possible.

The irony of you reading this on the Mediavine blog, which features a rather large header, is not lost on us.

Do as we say, not as we do in this case and don’t make the same mistake our old designer (me) did.

Lead with Text, NOT an Image

Text is easier to parse than images, according to Google. It’s no secret, and it’s why using words in your anchor text, not images, is recommended.

It’s also why Google strongly encourages alt text. In addition to being great for ADA compliance, alt text is easier to parse than images.

So when Google is parsing your ATF content, make it text. I personally like to see sites lead with a few paragraphs before inserting an image.

Bonus: This will also help with your web vitals!

If you don’t have an image in your first screen view (besides your logo, of course), you’ll have a much faster Largest Contentful Paint (LCP).

There’s also a speed element that can’t be ignored. Images are not just harder to parse, they’re also a heck of a lot slower to load.

We know, many bloggers are visual story tellers, and that’s okay. Look at those few paragraphs of text as an opportunity to set the stage for that first beautiful image — and help get more traffic to it.

woman at a desk using a laptop

DO NOT RUN ADS IN YOUR FIRST SCREEN VIEW

If you’re with Mediavine Ad Management and are running our Optimize for Page Speed modes, we have some good news for you:

You’re already not running ads in your first screen view. We strip these automatically to optimize your first screen view for ads.

Bonus: It also means your content is up top and featured prominently.

If you’re with other ad management companies, don’t run big leaderboards or large mobile ad units in that first screen view.

These were historically the highest paying ads in old brand campaigns, but this is no longer the case and many advertisers haven’t evolved with the times.

This is so important that we put it in ALL CAPS. Deliver a strong first impression and the ads along with the revenue will come in time.

woman typing on a laptop at a desk with papers on it

Start Strong, Finish Stronger

As with so much of our SEO advice, focus on the experience for your would-be reader and Google will reward you for it.

Optimizing ATF content doesn’t require that much from a technical standpoint, just a commitment to this principle.

Follow the guidance above and you’ll make that first ATF impression a positive one for audiences and search engines alike.

By ensuring a fast, SEO-optimized and ad-free first impression, you’ll be in position to maximize earnings thereafter.

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