Hazards of a One-Page Website Your Designer Didn’t Reveal

Frank Goodman | June 4, 2018

One-page websites have spiraled in popularity recently. These sites present their entire content on a single page. Visitors are required to scroll down continuously to view everything. You can’t deny these websites look spectacular when done right.

They are clean, elegant, and do a superb job of holding a reader’s attention. You can imagine why many up-and-coming businesses are interested in them. Think twice before jumping on the one-page bandwagon, though. Modern websites can’t survive on looks alone. A website needs to be engaging, include quality content, and cater to search engines to be successful.

These sites rank high in user engagement, but they don’t do well when it comes to content. They also perform poorly in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which is the practice of improving a webpage’s rankings in Google and other search engines.

Why are people building one-page websites?

Many individuals and businesses either want a one-page website or are in the process of building one. A multitude of factors are responsible for this phenomenon. A few businesses want to provide a unique experience to customers, while some believe these websites are easier to maintain. Others want them because they’re “cool.” Some even believe pageless design is superior to multi-page design.

Single-page websites are admittedly better than their multi-page counterparts in some aspects.

• Single-page websites are easy to digest: When well done, they are easy to take in. There isn’t much text to read through. They feature a lot of pictures, which can be appealing. They engage visitors in an interactive, enjoyable experience, which is comparable to reading a visual novel or window shopping.

• They are good with CTAs: One-page sites don’t provide much information. What little they convey, though, they do well. Because they are interactive and engaging, visitors are likely to respond well to a call to action (CTA). An example of this would be providing an email address or downloading an app.

• Less is more: Minimalism is a popular trend, offline as well as online. It’s noticeable in the way websites have evolved over the past few years. Single-page websites are the climax of this trend. They are small, clean, to-the-point, and clutter-free.

• They are visually appealing: Humans are visual creatures. It’s a known fact that we’re attracted to beautiful, vibrant imagery. A well-written piece of content doesn’t attract attention unless pictures accompany it. One-page websites use imagery to maximum effect. They often use GIFs, cinematography, 3D effects, and animations to hook visitors.

• They are viewable on small screens: The majority of internet traffic originates from mobile phones now. Designers are constantly trying to make modern websites smartphone friendly. One-page websites perform admirably on small screens. Mobile users can view and access them easily even when they’re on the go.

The pitfalls of a one-page website

We’ve established that these sites aren’t all bad. In fact, they can be downright useful. It’s doubtful that they are the future of web design, however, like some articles claim. They excel in some ways but fall miserably short in others. Can you imagine an encyclopedia fitting on a single page? No one would take it seriously. We can safely say these sites are of limited use.

How useful are one-page websites for a regular small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) business? Many experts believe that this design can be detrimental to the health of the business in the long run. They look good, but they lack certain core attributes, which hampers their effectiveness.

Content is king, and you can’t fit much of it on one page

Microsoft head honcho Bill Gates coined the term “Content is king” in 1996. Fast forward to 2017, and the concept is just as applicable as it was then. The most important attribute of a successful website is its content. You can build a popular site by publishing a ton of quality content, without paying much attention to SEO. It doesn’t work the other way around, however. You can’t build a successful website without decent content, no matter how much you focus on SEO.

Wikipedia is a perfect example of the value of content. It’s not a single-page website, not all that good-looking, and doesn’t have any animations or GIFs. That hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the most popular sites in the world. It often pops up at the top when you search for something on Google.

The biggest drawback of a single-page website is the lack of content. You just have one page to publish your content, and you can’t put much on it. There’s only so much you can feed to a new visitor before you lose them. At the most, you will be able to share selective highlights about your products and services. Once the visitor finishes those, your website can’t hook them anymore. The content has now dried up. If they leave, there’s no real reason for them to come back.

Single-page websites also have other noteworthy drawbacks

1. One-page sites are bad news for SEO

SEO plays a major role in the success of a website. There are over a billion active websites out there, many of which target the same niche. The only way to make a site visible, with so much competition, is to make sure the SEO is up to par. SEO is a challenging endeavor with a one-page website. They simply don’t cater well to search engines.

When you have multiple pages, you can use different SEO settings. You can build up content around a myriad of keywords, which allows you to cover different subjects and make your site interesting to a diverse audience. One-page websites don’t have a lot of room. You will only be able to optimize SEO settings for a single page and single piece of content.

In technical terms, you have to make do with one title tag and meta description. You can’t create internal links to other parts of the site. You also won’t be able to take full advantage of external links. What you can do is limited in scope.

2. Google is ambivalent about them

Google is the most popular search engine around. If it thinks your website is good, you have it made. If it doesn’t, then you’re in trouble. The search engine giant has been notably lukewarm about one-page websites.

Watch this video of Matt Cutts, former head of Google’s web spam team, talking about them on YouTube:

Matt tells us about Google’s improved ability to parse complex one-page websites, which often uses JavaScript and CSS. He doesn’t hand out tips on how to optimize them or inform us about how they are ranked, however. Most importantly, he states they “sometimes work” for SEO.

“Sometimes work” is not very encouraging. It tells us there are two groups of one-page websites around – one group has SEO settings that work and the other doesn’t. What is the first group doing differently? We don’t know. And, Google isn’t interested in telling us either. It’s best to avoid these one-page sites if you’re worried about SEO.

3. They are difficult to render

Single-page websites require you to scroll down to access all the content. If there’s a lot, then scrolling down continuously becomes tedious, causing readers’ patience to wear thin. Internet users have notoriously low attention spans.

One-page sites are sometimes hard to render, especially the ones that use parallax effects. Parallax scrolling allows 3D effects to be displayed in the background, which can be mesmerizing and engaging. They are a struggle to render, though, for both phones and computers. Loading takes time, especially with mobile data. Data is expensive, and people don’t want to burn it.

Many one-page sites greet you with a loading screen when you first visit them. You are then required to wait for a few seconds for it to download. First impressions are made in fractions of a second. Making someone wait for your content can be annoying, and many guests will abandon the site rather than wait for it to render or load.

4. They can throw visitors for a loop

You can take your visitors on a journey with a single-page site. It can be thrilling and engaging, if you’ve designed the site well. In some cases, though, you will leave your visitors confused, shaking their heads, and even annoyed. It all depends on how easy your site is to take in and how much control you provide your visitors with.

A large number of people visit a website with a goal in mind. They need specific information or quickly want to get in touch with a company representative. These visitors aren’t likely to appreciate having their hand held or time wasted. Not everyone wants to be taken on a journey. Conventional websites cater to all preferences, on the other hand.

A handful of one-page website owners attempt to do too much with the little space they have. They stuff it full of information, surrounded by a plethora of dizzying images and effects. This practice can backfire spectacularly. Internet users are known to be as bad as toddlers when it comes to accepting and retaining information. The threshold for what is acceptable is surprisingly low.

5. You need to be a coding whiz

Did you think single-page websites are easy to create and maintain? Think again. It takes a great deal of time and effort to create an exhaustive website in a small space. Several elements have to work together. Most sites use complex blends of JavaScript, Ajax, CSS3, and jQuery.

Single-page themes are hard to modify. A single change or update may cause an entire overhaul. If you don’t know how to code, you must hire someone to update it for you. If you need to make significant changes to the website, you’ll have to pay every single time.

There are some themes available that allow you to put up a one-page site quickly. These themes aren’t very flexible, though. You won’t be capable of building something unique or customize them much. Is there another option? You could pay a web development team to build and maintain a site, but that’s not healthy for your wallet.

6. You can’t take advantage of analytics
Analytics should be an integral part of your SEO efforts. Analyzing this data tells you how your website is doing, what’s working, and what isn’t. It gives you a bird’s eye view of what your site lacks and what you need to do to improve it.

With one-page sites, however, analytics are of limited use. It’s hard to tell which sections are working and which are putting visitors off. You won’t be able to pinpoint what your visitors are looking for either, with just a single URL to focus on. It throws A/B testing out the window.

Every regular website has a landing page (LP). It’s often geared to get guests to buy something. If not that, at least to get them to sign up for a newsletter. Website owners spend a great deal of time perfecting the LP. They create several variations of it to find the most effective one. With one-page sites, you don’t have that luxury.

Pageless design isn’t for everyone

There are amazing, effective single-page websites out there. A lot of them are owned by large brands, however. These large brands are already well-known and established, so they don’t need to cater to search engines to survive. But you need SEO if you’re a small business owner with limited visibility.

If you’re planning to build a new website, always focus on what your business needs as opposed to what’s trendy or what everyone else is doing. Single-page websites undoubtedly have their uses. They are good for publicizing small-scale events and launching a new product. They aren’t suitable for businesses with multiple products or blogs, though. You are better off with a conventional website in the long run.

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