Is parallax an SEO red flag?

Is parallax an SEO red flag?

There’s quite a heated debate at present about parallax design and its effects on SEO. Many business owners think that website decisions should be easy – it should be straightforward to decide what the best choice is for the business’s online presence and then to implement it. Sadly, it’s not quite that simple – websites serve difference purposes and have different audiences and defining the best design for any organization’s website needs to be partly based on the target audience.


What is Parallax?


It’s a visual effect, the term that describes a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight. What does that mean?      Well, if you play video games, you’ll probably be used to parallax – it’s the effect where multiple backgrounds are used, which appear to move at different speeds to give a suggestion of depth of field. Objects nearer to the view have a bigger parallax then more distant objects. It’s one of the many effects developed by the gaming industry that then moved into film and finally into website design – perhaps the easiest way to think about it is that parallax is part of the toolkit that creates ‘bullet time’, the visual effect that slows a bullet or other projectile for the viewer’s benefit, whilst blurring the background to maintain an impression of velocity.


Why Parallax is Problematic


Parallax has some amazing advantages:


  • the visitor can simply walk through a narrative simply by scrolling down the web page. This means it offers a seamless story flow in which the visitor is guided rather than taking their own route through a series of clickable pages.
  • product presentation becomes exciting. There is nothing static about parallax, you can let the visitor interact with and explore the product for themselves.
  • visitor engagement is enhanced. This is an interesting one because one thing that parallax does is to limit the way that visitors can travel through a website by presenting a single scroll down (or scroll up or scroll sideways) page but because the visitor is ‘in control’ of the scrolling process, they feel in charge of their engagement process, and therefore are more likely to be receptive to your website’s message.


But there are some major disadvantages too:


  • Parallax results in what is – to all intents – a one page website. One page sites are difficult to optimize for SEO because all the keywords have to be concentrated on that one page rather than spread over many. Example – a five page website can effectively be optimized using 1-3 words on each page. That’s 5-15 keywords for the site. If you limit your website to one parallax page, you’re going to have just 1-3 keywords. A much more difficult SEO process! In addition to the keyword limitations, there’s the H1 tag rule. For optimum SEO you can only use one H1 tag per page or Google and other large search engines will penalize you. That tag needs to include your keyword. One parallax page = one H1 tag for your entire That’s a teeny tiny profile compared to an eight page site that has an H1 tag for each page.
  • Inbound links – every inbound link to your site can only go to that single page; nobody can link to specific page content, no matter how good the content, nor how specific the information. Over time, this is likely to result in less inbound linkage for parallax sites; users just don’t like having to link to a meta-page and send their readers hunting for the relevant data.
  • Analytics – obviously where there’s only one page, there’s a problem identifying engagement levels on-site. There are two reasons for this. First, current analytic tools aren’t well equipped to measure time spent on a site, which is the only possible measure for parallax sites. Second, comparisons between parallax and non-parallax sites are profoundly difficult – click-throughs are a great measure of user engagement on a classic site but don’t happen on a parallax site, and even if you use time as the measurement, there’s no way of knowing if the viewer is engaging with the site process or has zoned out, perhaps checking their phone messages or daydreaming as the site scrolls!
  • Mobile users lose out – parallax just isn’t mobile friendly. This means that businesses opting for parallax for their main site will also need to have a different version of their website for mobile users. That means two lots of updating to keep the sites in synch.


So why use parallax?


There are reasons to use parallax, but they may not be cogent reasons for the average business or organization. There are also ‘fixes’ for parallax in relation to organic SEO, but most of them will fall foul of Google’s guidelines and could therefore lead to dramatic penalization. Anybody who says they can SEO your parallax site should be viewed with extreme caution – whilst there are ways to improve your search engine visibility, most of them require quite a lot of work.


Parallax plus – some sites are using a parallax main page (often the home page) with sub-pages that are static. This is how Spotify manages to balance its seamless front page with a series of content dense static pages that are accessed through content links. If your users are VISUAL, and seeking an IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE then parallax plus static pages may work for you.


The negatives to parallax plus are the need to maintain the content links via the parallax page which can be quite an intensive process, and you’re still not going to get a full picture of user engagement because if they don’t leave the landing page, you don’t get good data.


Parallax light – this is the opposite of parallax plus. You design your site using classic SEO architecture and then within each of those static SEO’d pages, you place some parallax scrolling design effects. This works because each page has an url, H1 heading and keywords, but also contains the sexy parallax effect. If your users are seeking ATTRACTIVE CONTENT and you require DETAILED TRACKING of their behaviour this may be the best solution.


The downside here is that you end up with many more pages, and that can lead to more maintenance. Also, because parallax can be slower to load, you can end up with a site that causes the impatient to click away.


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