How to design the perfect single page website
Single page designs can be an excellent technique for tackling smaller websites, even those that you might not think could ever be done without multiple pages. There are tons of great reasons for using a single page site, from ease of maintenance to reduced bandwidth needs. If you’re tackling a shorter site, one that would normally have a handful of pages, consider using a single page, and see if it will make the project easier and more user friendly. Read on for more information on the benefits, when (and when not) to use them, and some best practices you should follow.
The benefits of single page design
Obviously, single page designs are not ideal for every project. But there are a host of reasons to use them if they’re a possible fit.
They’re intuitive to use
By default, all a user needs to know to navigate a single page site is how to scroll. You might include arrows or other navigational clues, but with rare exception, simply scrolling will bring your visitors from one section to the next. You’ll never have to worry about your visitors getting stuck in multiple layers of navigation, endlessly searching for what they need. The use of a header or other navigational links is often helpful if there are multiple sections on the page, but even without them, the site is usable.
It can be faster and easier to maintain
While this one is not a given, a well-coded single page site is probably going to be faster to code than a multi-page site. The design process can sometimes take less time, though that depends on how complex the single page is going to be. A single page site can also impose certain design restrictions that speed up the process once you have a basic layout in mind. Moreso than a multi-page site, a single-page site has to have sections that work seamlessly together. That kind of restriction can really speed up page development once you’ve clearly defined what you can and can’t do. Maintenance can be easier, too. When you only have a single page to deal with, maintenance is more streamlined, so long as your code is written well to begin with.
You’re forced to simplify
This one builds off the previous point. When you only have a single page to work with, you have to simplify things to their most essential components. No more pages and pages of useless marketing propaganda. You have to get to the point right away.
Better SEO potential
Quality inbound links are a big part of how well a website performs in search engines. While search engines aren’t necessarily the largest traffic source for a lot of sites, they’re still generally important. By only having one page, you only have one page being linked to. That can increase the importance of the site as far as search engines go.
Storytelling can increase action
Single page sites often use a storytelling angle that multi-page sites aren’t as good at. This can increase conversions and inspire visitors to take action. People are used to following stories, both online and off, so this has obvious user experience benefits. We’ve been reading and hearing stories since we were children, so it’s something that comes naturally to us.
Easier to organize
There are no more endless lists of pages and sub-pages to organize. No more wondering if this page or that page should be a parent or a child. No more huge navigation menus and sub-menus. It’s all on one page. And whether you decide to include navigational links, or simply let users scroll, is up to you and whether you think it will add to the user experience or not. That’s just not an option when a site has multiple pages.
While this isn’t as much of an issue on the hosting end anymore, consider how many users are accessing your site using mobile devices these days. Decreasing the amount of bandwidth your site takes is appreciated by users with limited data plans.
Eliminate mobile sites
Responsive design is, of course, not limited to single page sites. But the more complex a site is, the more difficult it is to make it work well on a smaller screen, even with a responsive design. A single-page site is, by necessity, not complex. Making the design responsive is generally easier. Simplified navigation and similar changes also make a design that works well on small screens easier.
To parallax or not to parallax?
When to use a single page site, and when not to
While there are a lot of benefits to single page sites, they’re not a perfect, one-size-fits-all solution. There are plenty of times when you shouldn’t use a one page design, while there are plenty of other times where a single page site makes a lot more sense than a multi-page one. If you’re setting up a site that would only have a handful of pages anyway, then a single page site might be perfect. Condensing everything onto one page can give the overall site a more modern look, and if it’s light on content anyway, then a single page site can make it look like it has more substance. Another common example of the one-page site is the pre-launch website. These are, more often than not, a single page, often with a form for a newsletter sign-up. In most cases, the information provided to the public during the pre-launch can easily be organized on a single page, so it makes sense to consider this style first when designing these pages. Single-product ecommerce sites are another place where single page sites can be great. If you’re only selling one product, whether that be a physical product or a digital one, then why bother with multiple pages? A simple, single page site can be a much better sales tool. You might think that a more complex ecommerce site isn’t a good fit for a single page site, but it still can be. Granted, I would avoid it for sites that have more than a dozen or so products, but a simple online store can easily be held on a single page, with modal windows for loading product details and the checkout process. When not to use a single page site is pretty straightforward: sites that are large, complex, or by default need to have large amounts of information are not suited to a single page site. In those cases, you’re much better off with a more traditional site structure.
While there are a ton of great single page sites out there, there are also a lot of hybrid type sites. They give the impression of a single page, but by using ajax, modal windows, and the like, they actually contain multiple pages of content. The Dang & Blast site is a great example of this. These can be a great solution if you just can’t quite get everything to fit in a single page. Some sites sort of “cheat” when it comes to the single page. They have a single page for their main website, but then have a blog on another domain (sometimes a Tumblr or WordPress.com hosted site). There’s nothing wrong with this, and it can be a way to keep your message on your main site focused, without giving up the benefits of having a blog.
Best practices for single page sites
Most of the principles of good design are still applicable in single page sites, as they are with any good website design. But there are some additional things you need to keep in mind, some of which have already been touched on above.
Keep it simple
Trying to make a design that’s too complex for the content you’re trying to present isn’t doing you or your users any favors. Instead, simplify both your design and your content as much as possible, while still presenting what you need.
Navigation links are still helpful
Just because users can scroll to navigate your website, doesn’t mean that’s the most user-friendly way to do so. This is especially true if you have a long page with many sections. Unless there’s a very good reason not to include them, adding navigation links to particular sections makes your site more user-friendly.
Divide up your content
A single page doesn’t mean everything has to be one long section. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Divide your content into logical chunks and sections so that users can better find what they’re looking for.
Do something with all that background
Single page sites tend to have large backgrounds. Granted, sometimes those backgrounds are left plain or with a repeating pattern; but other one page sites take advantage of all that space to do something creative. This can also help to divide up your content, as already mentioned. Your background doesn’t have to be one single image. It can be a series of images, if that fits your content better.
Resources for your single page sites
Single page designs can be an excellent option for a lot of different kinds of websites. While they’re not the be-all and end-all of small site design, they are worth considering on many projects. Consider the reasons for using a single page, and then consider the reasons not to, and decide from there.