First it was Flash, then AJAX, and now…. parallax design. As SEOs, we often find ourselves butting heads with Web designers over website design and usability. Certain design approaches and techniques, while helpful for usability, may not be ideal for SEO purposes. But that doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice good design for solid SEO — we just have to be creative and find solutions that marry design with SEO.
Parallax design is a website design approach that’s been used for several years now and takes its name from the concept of parallax movement. Instead of linking from one entire webpage to another, the visitor moves up and down on the same webpage.
The Spotify home page is a great example of a parallax design — the site essentially displays layers as a visitor scrolls down the page:
One of the main benefits of using parallax design is that it allows the website to essentially walk a visitor through a story just by scrolling down the page. A good demonstration of this storytelling technique is found in Google’s “How Search Works” site, where Google explains in very basic terms how the Google search engine works.
Parallax can go a long way in helping guide a visitor through a story or goal. Rather than expecting the visitor to click through a series of pages, parallax makes the experience easier and provides a cleaner flow overall.
Similar to Flash and AJAX, parallax design presents unique challenges for SEO. Most of these challenges stem from the fact that all of the content is housed on a single page, essentially giving you a one-page website.
A single-page website design makes it difficult to optimize the site for a wide variety of search terms. All of your target keywords must be concentrated on one page rather than spread out over many, leading to keyword dilution. Additionally, inbound links can only link to your site’s single page and not to specific page content.
It can be difficult to truly measure engagement on a single-page website with today’s analytics tools. While time on site might be an indicator, it’s not a very accurate form of measurement. As Avinash Kaushik mentions in a blog post, tabbed browsing has really mucked up time on site metrics in analytics, so they aren’t always the most accurate measurements.
In fact, while many claim that parallax design increases engagement, I failed to find any studies or A/B tests that supported this claim. I suspect that is because the measurement for engagement would likely need to be time on site, and given that this particular measurement isn’t exactly accurate, a true study on parallax versus non-parallax engagement on the site would be difficult to perform.
A recent report from Walker Sands indicated that mobile traffic to websites has increased 78% year-over-year, now accounting for 24% of website traffic on average. But parallax, unfortunately, does not work well on mobile devices. This means that webmasters have to create a second version of the site specifically for mobile devices (as Google did with its “How Search Works” site, creating a series of pages to tell the same story).
If organic search engine visibility is a priority for your website, then ideally you should avoid solely parallax design. While there are creative workarounds for SEO, many may be in conflict with Google’s webmaster guidelines.
That’s where this becomes a sticky wicket when optimizing for purely parallax sites. While a redirect workaround for parallax sites may seem pretty smart, it’s in violation of Google’s guidelines and thus puts sites at a penalty risk.
So inevitably, there is a trade off. Is the SEO or the user experience more important?
A better approach might be to combine a parallax home page with accompanying sub-pages. Spotify takes this approach — while the home page is a parallax design, some of the content links go to separate, static pages that explore a particular topic in greater depth. This approach helps ensure that a) there’s a separate page URL for each unique topic and b) each unique topic has a dedicated page to house its related keywords, all while respecting Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
The result for Spotify? Its US-based site has over 3,400 pages indexed by Google. Compare this to a parallax-only site, like this Victoria Beckham edition of the Range Rover which only has one page indexed in Google for its US site.
Parallax isn’t all bad, but it’s not ideal, either. The main questions to ask yourself when considering parallax as an option are:
If you do decide on the combo approach, the next thing to consider is what information is most appropriate on the parallax page versus the other supporting pages of the site. Some key things to remember about how to divide up the information (which goes beyond just SEO) are listed below: