Single-page websites are often dismissed by web designers. I think there is a lot of misinformation and myths that fuels their dismissal. Given the right set of circumstances, a single-page website can be an effective solution.

When to consider a single-page website

To answer the question if you should build a single-page website, let your content strategy guide your decision. First establish your content strategy and then decide whether a single-page website is right for you.

A single-page website might be right for your site if you’re planning on having only a few chunks of content, and the content in each of those chunks will be relatively thin.

When I was doing research for this post, I read a blog post that stated single-page websites are bad because you have to take a dozen pages and trim it down to one page. But if you have enough content for twelve pages, then a single-page website is not for you!

You may also consider a single-page website if:

  • you want to guide the user through your content, tell a story by establishing a flow from top to bottom
  • you want to start small and you can always design a full site later
  • you need a website up while the full site is in the process is being built
  • you’re currently relying on a social media profile like Facebook for your web presence
  • most of your traffic will come from targeted advertising or direct links from social media
  • SEO isn’t a high priority

Parallax scrolling

Parallax fell out of favor as quick as it came on to the scene. But don’t confuse single-page websites with websites that have parallax scrolling effects.

In Web design, parallax scrolling has a similar effect: as a user scrolls down a page, the images in the background move more slowly than the content in the foreground. This gives the page depth. – UxMatters.com

Sometimes when someone is arguing against single-page websites are bad, they are really talking about websites with excessive parallax effects. You can add parallax effects to a single-page website (or even a multi-page website) but not all single-page websites are parallax sites.

SEO

By definition, a website with one page does not have a lot of content. Adding more pages will not mean much if your content is thin to begin with. Without all those pages for search engines to index, that means SEO is a lost cause, right? That’s not quite the case, there is still much you can do to optimize your site, as Search Engine Land explains.

It’s true that single-page websites are at a disadvantage when it comes to SEO. If SEO is important to your strategy then I would advise against making a website with only one page. But that doesn’t mean you should abandon basic SEO strategy even if you do have a single-page website.

Designing an effective single-page website

Users usually do not read every word on a web page. Design the page so it is scannable, with a clear hierarchy, and definitive chunks on content.

Encourage the user to scroll. Test the page in many devices and screen sizes and make sure that it appears that there is more content below.

Use navigation to allow the user to go to each section of the page directly. I would recommend sticky menus giving the user the ability to jump around the page if they do not want to follow the predetermined flow.

Make sure to use a smooth scrolling effect so the screen doesn’t get herky-jerky when the user clicks on navigation links.

Final points

It’s possible to track to what depth a user scrolls to with Google Analytics by setting up an event to record every time a user scrolls past a chunk of content or interacts with anything. Justin Cutroni has a great article on tracking scroll depth in Google Analytics.

For performance optimization, you should make sure content above the fold loads first, taking advantage of the critical rendering path.

If you do want to design parallax scrolling effects, here is a good post that covers the do’s and don’ts: Parallax Done Right.

If you’re worried that people don’t scroll on websites, rest assured that is a myth, as UX Myths explains.

You can cheat if you have to. Let’s say you need another page for your privacy policy, I would just create an extra page for that (nobody will notice).