What are the pros and cons of single page websites?
Are single page websites a passing fad that participants
will in time see as a ghastly mistake or do they have a place as a practical alternative to the traditional large website? Now I’m not questioning the role of single page websites as landing pages for promotions or product announcements, special project, showcasing a portfolio or a website with minimal content.
What I’m talking about here is the site with more than a few
pages, where there is more than one layer of navigation and where there is a need for an archive of content and a desire for social sharing. The idea of a single page website is to reduce clutter by only serving essential content, but does this desire for simplification actually lead to greater user frustration because too much content has been removed and it makes sharing of content difficult?
What is a single page website?
Initially one-page websites used a single web page to dynamically load all pages at once and this allowed the user to scroll endlessly
to view different sections of the site. However, increasingly such sites use CSS3 and AJAX to display navigation menus that take users directly to the section they are interested in.
What are the benefits?
Less is more is undoubtedly true sometimes, there is a danger that we present too much information to a user at any one time which can create cognitive overload. One-page sites reduce the amount of decisions users have to make and remove the need for complex navigation to direct visitors to specific pages.
Easier browsing & no dead-ends:
As all content is on a single page there is no need for multi-layer navigation and there is no risk of the user getting lost or finding a page with little or no content. This should speed up the browsing process and reduce the number of decisions users have to make.
Easier to keep content up-to-date:
Having substantially less content to maintain and all of it on a single page significantly reduces the resources required to maintain a website. This should make the site less costly to run and allow what content is shown to be kept more up-to-date.
It is much easier to ensure your website is mobile friendly when you only have a single page to optimise. Since Google decided to give preference to mobile friendly websites this has probably given a big boost to the appeal of one-page web sites. However, if all your content is not accessible by mobile devices (e.g. you use flash for some elements), then this is only a sticking plaster to hide a much bigger problem that needs addressing.
Focus on key content and messages:
The limitation of only having a single page to communicate your proposition and get a user to take action means that you have to keep to only essential messages and content. This may be a good discipline and is why single page sites are often used for landing pages to improve conversion rates. The risk for a multi-product website though is that some visitors require more detailed information about a product or service before they are willing to make a decision. For these types of visitors they are likely to become frustrated as they won’t be able to find the content they are looking for.
Take visitors on a journey:
Single page websites are often designed to be more dynamic and aesthetically pleasing by encouraging visitors to scroll through the website. They encourage visitors to go on a journey rather than the traditional static experience of just looking at content on separate pages. Designers may create movement by triggering images or copy to appear as the visitor scrolls down the page.
Source: Cameron’s World:
Google SEO page rank applies to the whole site:
If your whole website is designed for a single product in mind then you might get a small improvement in SEO ranking as Google will apply your page rank to the whole website. If you have more than one product or service this will not be the case and it could be detrimental to your search rankings.
So there are a number of potential benefits of creating a one-page website, but what about the potential drawbacks?
Longer load speed:
Trying to serve all your content on a single page means that your site could take longer to load and this may result in a higher bounce rate and lower conversion as a direct consequence of this change in the performance of your site. It could also affect your Google rankings as the search engine penalises slow loading sites. This should be a major concern for any marketer as people are impatient and don’t like to wait more than two or three seconds for a website to load.
A one-page website gives you little flexibility to add new content and so if you want to add new products or services you are going to be severely limited. It also doesn’t allow you to build up an archive of content, such as a blog. You will have to send visitors to another site to give them access to such an archive, which is not a great user experience and your main site doesn’t benefit from the SEO value of such content.
When a visitor first comes to your site it is important that you have sufficient content to draw them into your proposition before you can expect them to take action. Indeed, many first time visitors are not ready to sign up and this is why returning visitor conversion is often higher than new visitor conversion.
People need to be engaged and persuaded by relevant and interesting content. However, if you only have a one-page site, you can only have a limited amount of content in each section and there are no other pages to navigate to. This could mean you will experienced a fall in engagement and time spent on your site as there is substantially less content to encourage visitors to browse the site. This may or may not be good for conversion, it will very much depend
SEO Keywords and Content Relevancy:
Google and other search engines look for relevancy of content to match with the search query. With a single page website you
may be ok with your primary keywords, but it is likely that you will struggle to achieve relevancy on sub-topics and terms that would rank better on their own pages.
Indeed, Google’s Hummingbird update aims to match the meaning of a query to relevant content, not just simply keywords on a page. By restricting yourself to a single page to cover all your products, features, benefits, technical details, testimonials, partners, market segments and more – you are severely limiting your opportunities to optimize content for SEO relevancy.
Sharing Specific Content Is Difficult:
We live in the age of social media sharing, whether it is photos, video, quotes, Tweets, stories and more. However, one-page websites make it difficult to share specific content or snippets of a post because they are not designed with this in mind. You always land on the same page and if you have a blog you will have to take them away from your main site to where your blog is hosted.
Understanding Engagement Points:
As the whole site has a single URL it makes it difficult to use web analytics to identify what content your users are interested in and how they browse your site. You will also see an increase in your bounce rate as there is nowhere else for your visitors to navigate to on your site. However, this does not really help you understand how well visitors are engaging with your content.
Source: Braking Badly:
There is undoubtedly a role for single page websites as landing pages and for promotions, special projects, web toys, stand-alone games etc. However, given the number of potential disadvantages they exhibit they may not to be a sustainable alternative for many multi-page websites. We should though look to validate these risks with data as many innovations are at first dismissed because they don’t conform to existing best practice, rather than because we have data to support the status quo.
May be in time the major limitations can be resolved or mitigated, but at present they create significant challenges for multi-page websites. Users are not going to thank you if they can’t find the content they are looking for and are most likely to disappear off to a competitor website.
At the same time designers of multi-page websites could look to incorporate some of the innovate ideas and discipline of single page websites. Learning to keep content to an absolute minimum for example might reduce some of the distractions and information overload that multi-page websites often suffer from. Single page websites definitely have their place and are pushing the boundaries for website design.
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- About the author: Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for brands such as Deezer.com, Foxybingo.com, Very.co.uk and partypoker.com. He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback.
- Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website. If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.