When the desire to be trendy overpowers the need to fulfill user goals, your design is in serious trouble.
Let’s dissect single page vs. multi-page web UI design so you can make the best design decision.
Web design trends like single page sites are not a bad thing. The trend is fueled by a very justified quest for simplicity and speed. Simple one-page sites are also great for responsive design, serving all devices equally. Of course, sometimes a site absolutely needs more pages: for example, fast food sites like Chipotle includes many pages for quick menu browsing.
Photo credit: Chipotle
Adding extraneous materials or ignoring necessary content is an easy hole to fall into, especially with all the stakeholder feedback flying around.
So is it harder to design a compelling UI and UX for single-page sites, or more complex sites? Both – or neither?
A Few Quick Considerations
Large websites are certainly challenging due to the complexities of multiple sections, submenus and ever-changing content. Of course, single-page sites can be just as difficult since you must boil down all the content of a larger site without confusing the user.
Photo credit: 10 Best Practices for SketchApp
When designing the user experience, consider these basic requirements that apply to any website:
- How much are you offering to users? (information, product(s), and/or entertainment)
- What are the most important elements in the hierarchy of the site?
- How are you going to make this as easy as possible on the user?
- How are you going to make this enjoyable/informative for the user?
Single-page sites help keep the user in one, comfortable web space.
As with any website, if all of the content fits on one page, then why add more? Sometimes even the minimal amount of content needs to be spread among several pages. A great UX and UI designer will know the right size for a website. Here’s the pros and cons you will find with single-page websites.
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The immediate benefits of a single-page website is the content is presented in simple, easy and workable fashion for the user.
Single page sites immerse the user in a simple linear experience. There’s a clear beginning, middle, and end. In fact, the scrolling nature of single-page sites makes them well suited for mobile users who are accustomed to the gesture.
Photo credit: Sleeping Tapes from Squarespace
Some experts argue that single page websites even have higher conversion rates as compared to larger, multi-page websites. 37signals did a study of single-page conversions and found that a single long landing page leads to 37.5 percent more signups, compared to a multiple page version.
One-page navigation, of course, is more straightforward than a larger site for sites which serve a single purpose. That purpose might be selling one product or offering one service, for instance. If your goal is to tell a story, then single-page sites are also a natural choice for visual narratives.
Photo credit: Frames Collection
The benefit of a single-page website is simple – scrolling is easier and more continuous than clicking endless links. If a user begins to scroll, then you may find them more likely to keep scrolling than to stop and click a link.
The biggest danger is falling into the trap of stuffing “10 pounds of stuff into a 5 pound bag.” Single page websites just can’t hold life, the universe and everything. As described in the free e-book Web UI Best Practices, they require careful visual hierarchy and plenty of discipline.
As your categories of content increases (e.g. blogs, news, services, products), the more a single page site becomes less feasible. From a more technical standpoint, single-page sites are also less search optimized than multi-page sites. With tons of content and images on one page, they can also load slower.
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Search engine algorithms, of course, seek relevancy – they match queries with content. While a single page site may improve relevancy for your primary keywords, it’s more likely it will dilute relevancy for sub-topics and terms that might rank better, or at all, on their own pages.
Defining content sections and using anchor links is the suggested method for increasing single-page SEO. Using H1 tags is also highly advised. As an H1 signals that what follows is distinct and separate from the rest of the page, it’s a good way assure SEO of a single-page site. (Use only one h2 per section of your single-page site).
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A multiple-page website is usually owned by a large company with a broad range of products or services. Their user base is probably quite diverse as well.
Key points about these websites are:
- They are extremely large because they need to be.
- Due to the amount of content, they are many levels deep with intricate UI.
- Many times they are made up of many micro-websites and subsections to break up information and content as well as serve multiple entry points.
- They provide better control over SEO with multiple pages and changing content.
Multi-page sites makes a lot of sense for users who need traditional navigation to get around. They work very well for giving users a visual map of where to go.
For instance, for e-commerce sites, users don’t want to spend a page learning about your company’s story or staff. They want to find the right product, pay you, and move on with their lives. In that case, a nested navigation leading to different pages can be quite effective.
Multi-page sites also give you a better chance to rank for different keywords, since you can optimize for one keyword per page.
Photo credit: Hell’o Baby
In fact, the hybrid single-page site (like Hell’o Baby above) emerged to give designers the best of both worlds. The single-page structure optimizes conversions. On the other hand, the top navigation gives users more control than a pure scrolling experience. And as designer Cameron Chapman suggests, you can even use modals and AJAX techniques to support multiple pages of content.
The deeper the website goes, the more a traditional navigation will struggle.
Photo credit: Overstock
Some people believe that navigation can comfortably accommodate the first three levels but beyond that, expect one of two possible outcomes:
- Either the navigation has to expand, eventually taking up more screen real estate
- Higher pages in the information architecture will no longer appear in the navigation. In the latter case, if the user is deep within the website, they will lose the context of where they are because they are not seeing where the current page fits in the website’s structure.
As the site expands, we need to consider the experiences produced by all the different entry points.
If there are multiple-entry points for the website, the user must be able to easily navigate back to the home page or other pages of interest.
Final Thoughts & Advice
To sum it all up:
- Take a content-first approach. Figure out what content users care about, then design your interface accordingly. Include only as many pages as you need to.
- Make sure your site is appropriate for a pure single-page experience. If you can just barely fit everything into a single page, consider the hybrid site instead. If you know you need multiple categories, use a multi-page site.
- Don’t lose sight of SEO. Search engines optimization can be built up with single-page website. Adding fresh content is just one way to increase SEO.
- Users don’t always read. This is why infographics and videos are part of the new user experience. Quick scanning for UI is a necessity for any sized site.
- Keep it simple. A consistent design is actually simpler for users because it re-uses components, page-to-page. The behaviors, colors, and aesthetic will ease the navigation anxiety users will experience.
- Clarity is important. Although people will more willingly scroll then click layers of links, first sight of the homepage will carry a big impression for user experience and the quick decision if the UI is worth the effort.
To learn more about the art and science behind good UI decisions, check out the free e-book Web UI Design for the Human Eye. 30+ visual case studies are included from some of today’s hottest companies like Intercom, Medium, Facebook, and Twitter.