What Is A One-Page Website?
Is a one-page website 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 a single page website for a landing page 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 one-page website is to reduce clutter by only serving essential content. However, 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 one-page website?
Initially one-page websites used a single page to dynamically load all pages at once. 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. This can create cognitive overload. A one-page website reduces the number of decisions users have to make. It removes the need for complex navigation to direct visitors to specific pages.
Easier browsing & no dead-ends:
As all content is on a one-page there is no need for multi-layer navigation. 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 one-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 the one-page website. 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 value proposition and get a user to take action means that you only need essential messages and content. This may be a good discipline and is why single page websites 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 make a decision. For these types of visitors they are likely to become frustrated with a one-page website as they won’t be able to find the content they are looking for.
Take visitors on a journey:
One-page websites are more dynamic and aesthetically pleasing. They also encourage users 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. 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 when creating a single page website, but what about the drawbacks?
Longer load speed:
Trying to serve all your content on a single page could reduce your site load speed. 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. This 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. 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 experience 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.
SEO Keywords and Content Relevancy:
Google and other search engines look for relevancy through keywords in the content to match with the search query. With a single page website you may be fine with your primary keywords. It is likely that you will struggle to achieve relevancy on sub-topics and terms that would rank better on their own pages.
Google’s Hummingbird update aims to match the meaning of a query to relevant content, not just 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, as you always land on the same page. If you have a blog you will have to take them away from your main site to where it is hosted.
Understanding Engagement Points:
As the whole site has a single URL it makes it difficult 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 go. 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 a one-page website as landing pages, promotions, special projects, web toys, stand-alone games etc. Given the number of disadvantages they exhibit they may not to be a sustainable alternative for multi-page websites. We should look to validate these risks with data. Many innovations don’t conform to existing best practices because we have data to support the status quo.
Maybe in time some of the major limitations of one-page websites can be resolved or mitigated. 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. They are most likely to disappear off to a competitor website.
Designers of multi-page websites could look to incorporate some of the innovate ideas and discipline of the single page website. Learning to keep content to an absolute minimum might reduce some of the distractions and information overload. Single page websites definitely have their place and are pushing the boundaries for website design.