Search marketing is in a state of constant change. Google and other search engines are on an ongoing mission to keep poor quality websites from gaming the system – a mission that results in hundreds of algorithm updates a year. Some updates go unnoticed while others, like Penguin, create huge amounts of buzz (and no small amount of panic). Websites must be flexible and adaptable to keep pace with new developments, large and small.
One thing, however, has remained constant: Larger sites rank well. Google claims that the number of pages does not affect a site’s ranking, but experience shows the opposite. Big websites tend to out-perform their smaller counterparts.
Categorizing information and presenting it in the most effective manner is one of the fundamental challenges of designing for the Web. Designers can no longer predict what method visitors will use to access a website. The majority of all Internet users are now multi-platform; the same person may come to a site from three different browsers, on three different operating systems and with three different screen sizes – all on the same day. “Standard” and “popular” monitor sizes are no longer relevant.
To meet everyone’s needs, from the smart phone user to the person with a 22 inch monitor, Web layouts are being scaled down. Simplicity was one of the top trends of 2013 and will carry on into 2014. Other long-term trends are fading. Skeuomorphism, the practice of using gradients, shadows and textures to approximate real-life elements, is being replaced by flat design. Apple released iOS7 in September, phasing out its famously lifelike icons in favor of a flat look. Google Now also uses flat design to display its cards.
Rotating banners, while still common, are being replaced by longer pages. Designers are no longer attempting to cram all available information above the scroll and are instead turning to longer, scrolling sites. Many developers and start-ups are embracing single-page websites, a trend that is likely to continue in 2014. These sites present information in a series of horizontal sections with top or side navigation that slides from one area to another without loading a new page.
Two interesting examples of single-page design are listed below:
Singe-page websites offer several advantages. They keep users engaged by presenting information in clearly defined, easy-to-read sections. Single-page sites also stop visitors from clicking away. Since all information is presented linearly, users do not have to click through confusing navigation to find the right page.
Such advantages must be reconciled with the performance edge larger sites possess and the reality that attorneys have large amounts of information to organize and deliver. While attorneys may not be able to condense firm websites to four or five pages, they can still take advantage of single-page design by employing it on a home page.
1. Pick four or five items you most want visitors to see. Check analytics to determine which pages on your current site are most popular. Then, comb through your content and select the pieces best support your strategic messaging. The resulting list will become the main navigation that will guide users from section to section on your home page.
2. Determine whether any of your main navigation items have important sub-sections. If so, create interactive elements within these sections, like sliders, to display integral content.
3. Organize remaining elements into sub-pages. Allow visitors to click away from your landing page if they would like, and provide easily-accessible navigation to direct them back.
For many years common knowledge dictated that layouts must push as much information as possible above the scroll. But the scroll is becoming an antiquated idea; websites should focus instead on creating a positive user experience that prompts conversion. Build the best layout by putting the user first.