Do One-Page Website Designs Hurt SEO?

Web design trendsWe take a look at how a one-page designs might affect a site’s SEO and a list of questions that need answering before deciding on a one-page design.

Over the last few years, one-page sites have been popping up all over the web. Traditionally, websites are made up of multiple pages, each of which focuses on a particular topic.

The motivation to change to a one-page layout is influenced by design, usability, and conversion rate optimisation concerns. However, it’s almost impossible to rank a web page for more than a couple of different keywords or keyword phrases.

One-page designs are not the best choice for sites that need to rank for a wide variety of different keywords or subjects.

There’s no denying that a slick JavaScript-based one-page site with parallax can look good and can provide an excellent user experience. In some cases, it’s better to present information on one page than to artificially chop it up and spread it across multiple pages. And, one-page sites are particularly effective for mobile, where scrolling gestures are more natural and user-friendly than clicking through complex site navigation.

However, from an SEO perspective, there is good reason to partition information. At the most basic level, SEO has always been about optimizing pages for keywords. That makes perfect sense when you consider how search engines work — setting aside recent concerns about keyword optimization vs. topic optimization.

SEO usually functions at the page level. Search engines return lists of links to pages that they think are most relevant to the searcher’s query. Focusing attention on optimizing pages for particular keywords gives webmasters much more precise control over how information is presented to search engine crawlers.

On a single page site, it’s obviously much more difficult to optimise for multiple narrow topics.
Portfolio site
Consider the case of James Hsu’s portfolio site (pictured above). Hsu is an interactive designer and his one-page site is focused on optimization for “interactive designer” and a cluster of related terms. The site serves as a promotional vehicle with a narrow focus and that makes it a great candidate for one-page design (The rest of the site’s SEO is terrible, including having the URL in the title tag and an empty meta description tag but that’s not what we’re discussing here).

If Hsu were offering a number of different services, it would be a different matter altogether. A talented designer might also offer logo design, poster design, WordPress theme design, and t-shirt design services.

It’s certainly possible to have a one-page scrolling site that includes sections dedicated to each of those topics with appropriate keywords, but it would be much harder to rank well for any of them than if the site had dedicated pages for each.

TinyForge offer a number of different services, including branding, web design and development, and mobile web development. While their page is simple, elegant, and great for mobile devices, it’s not so great for promoting the full range of their services in the SERPs.
Google index
They only have one page, and so naturally there’s only one page for Google to include in the SERPs. All other things being equal, compared to a designer’s site that included properly optimised subpages for each of the services they offer, the one-page site has less chance of performing well. A dedicated page with optimised copy and metadata sends strong signals of relevance to Google, whereas the single page site offers more dilute and less exactly relevant signals.
[UPDATE] Tiny Forge now had 7 results indexed but the other six are on a different subdomain and not relevant to their core business.

What Does Google Say about One Page Sites?

Matt Cutts has addressed the issue of one-page sites, but he focused on crawler technology and Googlebot’s ability to parse the complex JavaScript and CSS used on parallax design one-page sites. He doesn’t offer us much help with optimization with optimization and ranking.

When Is a One Page Site Appropriate?

It’s easy to jump on a design bandwagon. When large numbers of popular and cutting-edge companies adopt a particular design strategy, ignoring that strategy can leave your site looking stale and old-fashioned.

However, site design is a matter of both form and function. The design has to reflect the purpose of the site and the content published on it. So, when contemplating creating a site that uses a one-page design, you should keep the following in mind:

  • Is the focus of your site narrow enough that optimizing one page is sufficient?
  • Do you need to present a lot of different types of information — if so a more traditional multiple page layout may suit your site better?
  • Is using one page going to make finding the right information easier or more difficult?

In answering these questions you should develop a good idea of whether a one-page design is appropriate.

If you’re struck with the parallax design trend and determined to go that route regardless, there’s no reason not to for the home page, but make sure that you also have narrowly focused and optimised subpages that are linked from the home page.


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