The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly About Parallax Websites

The benefits and drawbacks of deploying single-page, animation rich websites

Lights moving in a tunnel
Lights moving in a tunnel.

Parallax websites are a design trend that has enjoyed a measure of popularity over the past few year. These are websites that typically eschew a multi-page approach and, instead, putting all the site’s content on one page. Oftentimes these pages feature interesting animation and movement effects as you scroll through the content. As popular as this trend may be, there are good, bad, and ugly aspects to using this approach as part of your online strategy.

The Good

It’s easy to see what the “good side” of using parallax scrolling on a site is – it looks cool! You can create some really interesting effects with parallax sites and add an element of “wow” that will impress and excite many clients. Those effects can also create a unique and memorable experience for visitors, something that all websites strive for.

Besides the visually rich benefits that a parallax site can deliver, this approach can also allow for a smoother user experience, at least once the page has fully loaded (more on page load shortly). Because everything is on one page, once that page is loaded in the browser, there is no delay waiting for new pages to load. Visitors have access to all the content already, so links that go to content deeper on that page (anchor or internal links) load instantly, which visitors to the page will certainly appreciate.

The Bad

So how about the bad side of parallax?

One of the challenges with this approach is with search engine optimization. Since all the content is on one page, you can only truly optimize that page for a handful of terms, unlike a multi-page site where each page can focus on the terms and content relevant to that specific page. This is one of the reasons why single page websites are often used for very specific pieces of content, like a particular service or product that is being promoted, rather than for as a company’s full website.

In these instances, single page parallax sites can avoid this SEO dilemma because the page really only needs to be optimized for a small set of keywords or phrases.

The Ugly

Finally, the ugly side of this approach to building websites centers around the performance of most parallax sites. Since parallax sites place all their content, including what are usually very large images, on one page, that page can be a beast to load, especially for visitors using mobile devices. Mobile visitors may be dealing with unreliable connection speeds, which means a large page could take very long to load for them. They may also be concerned about their mobile plans data limits. Serving a webpage that eats up a sizable chunk of their monthly data allowance is unlikely to endear your company to that visitor!

With website download speed and performance becoming more and more important to a site’s success, having a page that requires visitors to download a sizable amount of data just to see any content at all can be a lot to ask for. This is why, if you are going to use a single page website approach, you need to be cognizant of download speed and performance and do your part to streamline that experience as much as possible.

Should You Use Parallax?

So the big question is whether or not you should us this approach on your website. This is a question you must answer for yourself. Parallax, like most website approaches, can be incredible powerful or extremely detrimental to your overall online goals - it depends on how you implement this solution. Done correctly and for the right project, parallax can create a powerfully rich user experience on your site. Done incorrectly, however, and you may be saddled with a slow-loading, ill-performing site that will not work well for your company or your visitors.

Edited by Jeremy Girard on 1/24/17