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Designing Your Web Magazine “Above the Fold”

You have heard the term “designing above the fold,” and this is even more important when you have a metered paywall on your web magazine because it can dramatically increase conversions from visitors.

Twenty years ago, “above the fold” only referred to the upper half portion of a newspaper. Now, above the fold can be applied to many things, especially a website or web magazine, and the first screen of content a user will see when they go to your website.

Several years ago, we heard a case study of Men’s Health where they were able to increase their pages per visit by 78% by putting story navigation above the fold, in a table of contents style. The following year, they saw another 64% jump. They still follow this internal best practice, but now they feature five click-worthy stories at the top of the page, which remains prominent no matter where you go.



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Failing to lead visitors from point A to point B is a major usability error most websites make, and one we focus on especially hard when building magazine subscription websites for our clients. Increasing page views on a web magazine with a metered paywall is a major job of the site’s design, to run the user through their credits quickly, in order to get them closer to the subscribe page.

Let’s take a look at the web magazines of three major players from our list of web magazines we love, Time, Harvard Business Review, and I Like Crochet.

On TIME’s web magazine, the table of contents remains on the left-hand side of the page, while the article remains on the right-hand side. Subscribers can easily flip through all of the articles at will without losing their place. Two other elements that remain above the fold for non-subscribers: the subscribe button, and two ads, which benefit their advertisers.

time web magazine

For a subscriber of the Harvard Business Review, above the fold you see the featured image, the start of the article, and on the right-hand side you see a photo and an article headline under the copy “what to read next.” Below that, a link back to the table of contents for the current issue. While we’d prefer the table of contents remain in that sidebar like it does on TIME, it does give the visitor two easy ways to continue reading the magazine issue, right above the fold. HBR has a metered paywall, so this content is available publicly if it’s your one in three free articles per month, but there is a prominent “subscribe” button that remains above the fold at all times at the top of the page, and as a sticky ad at the bottom of the screen. If you’re a logged in subscriber, it changes to “give a gift” copy in both places.

harvard business review paywall

Now we are certainly biased here because we designed the site and business model behind I Like Crochet with Stuart Hochwert, President of Prime Publishing. But to this day, we have yet to find a web magazine and library that is more user-friendly than his, and with such important features above the fold. First, I Like Crochet has a metered paywall for their bi-monthly web magazine, so visitors get some limited access to the content.

As an unregistered visitor, you’ll first see your desired article for a few seconds, before meeting the paywall for the first time.

After that, the visitor will be able to access their desired article, but not without some free and paid conversion architecture designed to convert them into subscribers, a button to subscribe to get all-access membership now for $34.97 per year, and another to subscribe to the individual issue for $8.97 per year.

To increase page views and use up the visitor’s monthly allowance so they arrive at the subscribe page faster, they have “next” and “back” buttons above each article, and a table of contents for the whole issue on the right-hand side of the page at all times.

Subscribers of I Like Crochet have a positive experience above the fold, as well. They, too, can click through the articles in the issue by hitting the “previous” and “next” buttons, but the Table of Contents rises to the top, making it easy for the user to peruse each issue, and also take note of which issue they’re in.

i like crochet web magazine

Having a web library is not the end of your task list as a magazine publisher. We have run into more publishers than not, who have beautiful web editions on the free side of the paywall, and once you enter their library archive, it’s all PDFs and the navigation completely disappears so that you have no idea where you are.

Designing a better “above the fold” experience in your web magazine is not just great usability for subscribers, but also increases conversions from your metered paywall and retains subscribers longer when they know how to find they content they paid for.

Having a web library that you can bundle with a magazine subscription allows you to dramatically increase your promotional frequency which leads to even higher online revenues. When building your library consider how you can make it a true resource. Read more about all the good reasons why it’s worth developing and selling a web library subscription and if you’d like to talk more with our team about making a comprehensive web magazine library a reality, schedule a free consultation.


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