10 years ago, choosing a format for your website would have been a straightforward choice. Back then, one page websites were few and far between. To get eyeballs on your website, a multi-page website was the tried-and-trusted way to do it.
But things have changed. The internet grew and mobile devices became popular, changing the way we interact with websites. Suddenly, everyone wanted to consume information in a fast and convenient way.
One-page websites offered both of these things and quickly became a hot trend in web design. And that’s where we’re at now:
Both options bring several benefits to the table, as well as some drawbacks. This can make the choice far from easy.
But fear not! In this post, we’re putting the two website formats head-to-head. We’ll be laying out all the pros and cons of each to help you decide which website is right for your business.
Before we get into the good and bad, let’s talk about what one page and multi-page websites are exactly.
A one page website is, as the name suggests, a website that includes everything the reader needs on one page. It forgoes the need for separate pages, such as product/service, contact and about pages. One page websites are also referred to as “one page scrolling” or “parallax” websites.
Rather than having a navigation menu that takes readers to another page when clicked, the browser instead jumps to the specific section of the page.
The Benefits of One Page Websites
With everything in one place, a single page site centers the user’s attention on one topic or idea. It also gives them a better experience on mobile by removing the need to click on links or tabs. This is a huge benefit, given that mobile browsing is now more popular than desktop.
Upstate Laundromat is a great example of how the simplified format can be used. Here, they give the reader everything they need to make up their mind about a business:
You’ll find many more examples like this on One Page Love, which is dedicated to showcasing all the great one-pagers in the world.
A multi-page website features more than one page. These are the sites you’ll be familiar with, where clicking on a link takes you to a new page. Think Amazon, eBay or Walmart:
Unlike a one-pager where the homepage is the entire site, the homepage of a multi-page site will provide an overview of what a business is about and why you should use them. This will include links, menus and call-to-actions that lead through to pages that provide more information.
The Benefits of a Multi-Page Website
Where a one page website template is only suitable for certain projects (i.e. where everything a visitor needs to know can be explained on the one page), multi-page websites are suitable for any business. They’re typically larger, more complex and information can be divided into multiple subsections to provide greater depth on a subject.
But being versatile doesn’t automatically make multiple pages the best choice. There are pros and cons to both that you’ll need to weigh up before deciding which option meets your needs.
There is a time and a place for both one page and multi page websites. They both have benefits depending on the website owner's needs. Let’s take a closer look at the advantages of one page websites before we dive into disadvantages.
One page websites are designed for simplicity. The lack of links and various menu options found on multi-page sites means users get to consume information in a linear pattern. Content is consumed from beginning to end, with only two options: scroll down and scroll back up again.
If visitors are looking for specific info (e.g. contact details), they can go ahead and click on a menu option to jump to the section they need on that page.
Single page designs are clean and free of clutter. There are no distractions and no jumping through hoops to find relevant content.
Better Mobile Experience
Simple navigation makes for a better mobile experience. Scrolling is natural, and the absence of links makes browsing much more pleasant.
Smartphones are more popular than any other device for browsing. Mobile users spend more time consuming content than desktop users. The fact that a one page site fits in with how people use apps (using thumbs to scroll) makes it the ideal format for encouraging people to stay on your website.
One page websites can also utilize “lazy loading” for fast loading speeds and limited bandwidth usage. Lazy loading works by only loading the content that’s displayed on the screen, with additional content loaded as the user scrolls down the page. There are a couple of benefits to this for the user:
Multi-page sites can use lazy loading too, but as half of all website visitors only visit a single page, the feature is more beneficial on a one-pager.
Easy to Digest Content
Everything a user needs to make a decision — what the product or service is, its benefits, cost and how to get in touch with a company — is displayed on one page in clearly defined sections.
The page follows a linear pattern, which means you control how your content is consumed. It leads readers through the site towards a call to action without the worry of them jumping from page to page. This is ideal if you’re aiming to tell a story that guides your visitor to a specific outcome or conclusion.
Take a look at this single page design by Wedding Drone New York:
A user can effortlessly glide from top to bottom, consuming the essential information (backed up by powerful imagery), without feeling overwhelmed.
This is where single page design comes out on top — short, simple sections with carefully chosen content.
The Ability to Achieve Higher Page Authority, Faster
SEO is not a strong point of one page website templates (we’ll get into that soon), but they do offer the opportunity to build authority by acquiring links.
Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA) are ranking scores used by Moz to predict how well a site ranks on search engines. The more people link to your website, the greater your authority score will be. This increases the chance of your website appearing in search results (as links are an important SEO ranking factor used by Google).
With a single page, every link will point to one URL rather than multiple pages. This makes it easier to increase DA and PA scores quickly.
One page websites require zero links to other pages and limited content. They also remove the need to constantly update pages with fresh content. This makes one page website templates easy to use and manage.
While platforms such as WordPress will require updates from time to time, you can essentially upload your website and forget about it. And should something go wrong — well, you’ve only one page to worry about. This makes finding and fixing a problem a whole lot easier and cheaper.
Higher Conversion Rate
The narrow focus makes one page websites great for generating customers, leads and subscribers. Which is why they’re the number one choice for landing pages, too.
It’s much easier for you to keep a visitor’s attention and sell them on your offer without distraction.
For example, 37signals (now known as Basecamp) found this out when testing its original multi-page sign-up design against a single page version. The latter improved conversions by 37.5%.
While that was a thorough list of advantages, one page websites, like most things, have their drawbacks and disadvantages as well.
A one page website will struggle to compete when it comes to SEO performance. And that may be fine for you - after all, SEO isn’t a priority for everyone!
While there are certainly some SEO benefits to one-page websites like mobile-friendliness, the core components of what Google wants are inherently lacking. For example, a lack of content will be a problem for one page sites, even if they’re detailed.
So, if search is important (1.17 billion people perform 3.5 billion searches a day on Google alone), there are some significant drawbacks to using one page websites:
Difficult to Scale
If you’re planning to expand your product range or service offering, the inability to scale a one-pager means it can only ever be a short term solution. Before choosing between one and multi-page website templates, think about how you plan to grow your business.
The wide array of advantages that multi-page websites offer becomes more apparent considering the disadvantage around one page sites. Let’s start with SEO.
The biggest drawback of one page websites is the biggest benefit of multi-page sites: targeting multiple keywords. With a multi-page site, every page gives you the opportunity to target (and rank for) a new keyword.
To use the New York plumbing business example again, your homepage could target the keywords “New York plumber,” while additional pages could be used to target other popular terms, like “licensed plumbers NYC,” or “emergency plumber NYC.”
Blogging: The ability to add a blog to your website plays into what Google is looking for: fresh content.
While there’s nothing stopping you from creating a blog and linking from a one page website, publishing posts on the same domain brings traffic directly to your website. That’s where visitors can click through to other pages and learn more about your business.
Siloing: This means organizing your website into categories and subcategories so that you can go into detail on a topic and answer the questions visitors have.
In the image below you can see how Petri Plumbing uses siloing to break down the main category of “Plumbing” into multiple subcategories, each with individual pages.
Sites that use this tactic well are able to rank in search engines for various keywords and subjects.
Measuring performance: With tools like Google Analytics, it’s easy to see how a multi-page website is performing. You’ll see which pages are gaining the most traffic, which content is generating the most clicks and where visitors are losing interest.
You can then use this data to tweak pages and content to improve performance. This is a big advantage over one page sites, where it’s hard to tell what readers are most engaged with.
Long before we were using our thumbs to scroll down pages, we were clicking on links and menus to get where we wanted to be on websites.
There’s a lot to be said for traditional navigation. People are used to it. They know how it works and what they’re supposed to do. A multi-page site gives that familiarity.
However, you need to be careful about how many items you add to a menu. The larger the navigation menu, the more “screen real estate” it takes up. This can make it difficult for a visitor to find their way around.
Easy to Scale
Multi-page website templates can be scaled without limitation. Pages can be added or removed with the click of a button so that your site can grow with your business.
Greater Marketing Potential
With multiple pages and blog posts, driving traffic to a multi-page website is much easier. Through social media posts and advertising on search and social, it’s possible to create content around target keywords. You can target different customer segments to generate visitors to specific pages.
For example, Petri Plumbing can use one set of ads to attract people interested in new boiler installation, while another can be focused on people searching for home inspections. More content to share equals more attention for your business.
Again, nothing is perfect, not even multi-page websites. Here’s why you may still want to opt for a one page website.
The larger the website, the more demanding and time-consuming it is to maintain. This includes keeping on top of elements like:
These are all things you’ll need to keep on top of for a user-friendly website.
Multi-level menus and multiple pages can make for a poor mobile experience, especially if the site isn’t optimized for responsive design.
When opting for a multi-page design, it’s important to choose a responsive theme that adapts to any display (regardless of size). It’s worth testing a template on different devices using a tool such as Screenfly. You could also run it through Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool to see how the site performs on smaller screens:
Multi-page websites are built for exploration and visitors are encouraged to go off and learn more about a business with clear menu links and call-to-actions.
This is great for getting people to stay on your website, but less so if you’re trying to keep them focused on one topic or guiding them to take a certain action. Traditional navigation means you’ll always be fighting to keep a reader’s attention on a page.
Potentially High Bounce Rate
Bounce rate is the term used to describe the percentage of visitors that leave your website after viewing only one page. For one page websites, this isn’t an issue, as there’s only one page to view. But for a multi-page site, a high bounce rate is a sign that something is wrong.
And the larger the site, the more potential there is for issues that can cause high bounce rate. These include:
Given how easy it is to scale and add content to a multi-page website, bounce rate is something to keep a close eye on.
Firmly sitting on the fence, the option that’s right for you depends on your business and objectives for your website. That said, taking into account the advantages and disadvantages, there are two main factors that can help you decide: content and marketing.
What do you offer and how familiar are people with it? Can you get your message across in a concise manner or do readers need educating and convincing about what you do?
If you’re a wedding photographer or run a small business like a laundromat, for example, people immediately know what you do and you won’t need 10 pages to explain it.
However, it may not be a good fit if you sell various products or services that need their own descriptions. Things are likely to get messy if you try to cram all of that information on a single page.
Take a content-led approach. Work out what your customers care about. What do they need to see to make an informed decision about your business?
If you’re struggling to fit everything on one page or you need multiple categories, go with a multi-site template.
Where is your audience? If most of your customers come from word-of-mouth or social media and you’re not as concerned about search, a one page website will provide everything you need.
If you want to gain traffic through SEO and advertising, a multi-page site will make things easier. You’ll have the power of blogging at your disposal, as well as landing pages to target multiple keywords.
Research your audience. Ask them how they find you, and check out what the competition is doing. Are they ranking highly in Google? Use a tool like SimilarWeb to find out how much traffic competitor websites are receiving. If search is working for them, it might be profitable for you too.
Both single page and multi-page websites bring a lot to the table. The question is: do the pros outweigh the cons?
If your business has a narrow focus with a specific desired action and you can deliver your message concisely, a user-friendly one page website design works best.
On the other hand, if your company is ecommerce or offers multiple services, a multi-page design will grow with you. It will also make it easier to get more eyes on your brand through SEO.
Write down your goals and objectives. Work out what you’re looking to accomplish with a website and consider which option provides the most satisfying experience for your customers. Because what’s right for them is ultimately what’s right for you.
Feature Image: Unsplash / Patrick Tomasso
All screenshots by author. Taken May 2019.
Image 1: via Upstate Laundromat
Image 2-3: via Walmart
Image 4: via Wedding Drone New York
Image 4: via Keyword Planner
Image 6: via Petri Plumbing
Image 7: via Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool