May 30, 2017 | Sarah Danks
A few years ago, at a previous job I accidentally got into an argument with a colleague about parallax design and infinite scroll. I say “accidentally” because it wasn’t my intent to ruffle feathers; merely to inform the powers that be of the best way — according to The Google — to optimize a website utilizing these trends in web design.
Obviously the colleague in question was the web designer.
What’s the Difference Between Parallax Design & Infinite Scroll?
Here’s how it went down:
I was part of a team working on a website that would be utilizing parallax design. I’d seen the mock-up and was concerned about the lack of pagination, the seemingly infinite “home page” and the lack of navigation to find specific areas within the content.
So I sent an email to the team with the then-new Webmaster Central post regarding how to make infinite-scroll sites search-friendly. The email response I received back from the designer was, “This (article) really has nothing to do with parallax.”
(sc)Rolling my eyes, I responded back that yes, technically, parallax was merely the visual/coding aspect of background to foreground. I also pointed out that the site in question — the one we were working on — was not merely using parallax design; it was a non-paginated scrollfest (read: infinite scroll).
So, if the Webmaster Central article is about infinite scroll sites, and I sent it to our team regarding our parallax design site…what’s the difference?
Is parallax design synonymous with infinite scroll? No, but in this case, yes. Does every infinite scroll site shun pagination? No, but, again, in this case yes.
Parallax design refers to the way the site is designed (background moves separately from foreground); infinite scroll is the way the site is (i.e., a one-page site wherein the visitor is forced to scroll to access the content).
But Wait, Aren’t All Parallax Designs One-Page Sites?
Of course, most of the infinite scroll websites I’ve seen utilize parallax design. That’s the entire point of parallax: foreground and background move separately from one another, blending into a smooth (infinite) scrolling experience.
Well, what’s the point of a parallax design built on a “normal-sized” web page? Of course there are parallax sites that aren’t infinite scrollfests.
And, of course there are infinite scroll sites that don’t utilize parallax (think Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest). However, the majority of parallax sites are also scrollfests (infinite scrollfests?).
That’s the entire point of the design trend.
Parallax Scrolling: It’s Merely a Design Trend.
Did I say “trend”? Sure did. See, while parallax might be super-cool looking (enter The Walking Dead site), what’s the POINT of websites like that?
Basically on an infinite scroll site you enter on the “home page” (i.e., the ONLY page) and you scroll and scroll and scroll some more while the cool designer-y and coding stuff (read: parallax design) entertains you and sends shivers up and down your spine.
But that’s pretty much it. There’s (more than likely) no pagination on these sites — you can’t “grab” a URL from a certain part of the experience — on any other website, a unique page — and say, “hey, cool, check out the part on this page where they show you how they do zombie makeup.”
Because there is no PAGE where that info resides; you need to start at the beginning every time and scroll, scroll, scroll ’til you find it.
1: “Where’s that one video again?”
2: “Well, once you get to that page you need to scroll for approximately 2 minutes and 10 seconds.”
1: “Wait, at a normal-scroll rate, or rapid-pace scroll rate?”
2: “Dude…just block out 10 minutes on your calendar and start at the beginning.”
Infinite scroll sites are like reading a book — remember those? — where you start at the first page and read ’til the end to capture the whole story. Oh, except with these infinite scrollfests there are no pages, so you can’t bookmark an interesting chapter.
Want see that cool part ¾ of the way through again? Guess what. You have to start at the beginning and scrrrroooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooolllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll your way down — or over — to it. Every. Single. Time.
Is your mouse finger tired yet?
Are Parallax Sites SEO-Friendly?
See, while parallax as a design option looks cool, and — along with infinite scrolling — is still somewhat popular, I have many concerns with these sites in regards to traditional web marketing and search engine optimization (i.e., bringing visitors in via search engines and getting them to convert):
- Since there are no pages, how do you optimize content?
- Since there’s no optimization of content, how do you bring in visitors via search engines?
- Let’s say traffic DOES come — interested in content ½ way “down” the design — but they land at the beginning of the entire experience…won’t they just hit the back button if they don’t enter on a landing page they expect?
- Again, since there are no pages, how do you get visitors to fulfill a goal?
- And, even if you could somehow get people to perform some type of action, without pagination, how do you track any visitor activity with Analytics?
Is there a time and place for parallax and infinite scrolling sites? Sure. Is this design trend good for most websites?
In our opinion, no. But…why? And more importantly…WHY?
Because the entire point of most websites is to get visitors to DO something other than just float about like shrimp in the sea. I.e., take ACTION — fill out this form, download this whitepaper, sign up for the newsletter, buy this whatchamacallit, watch this video. Whatever.
Analytics Doesn’t “Work” on Most Parallax Scrolling Sites
Oh, and also? As a webmaster I want be able to track everything that happens on my site with an Analytics program:
- Which pages are my visitors most often converting on?
- How are they navigating their way through my site?
- Which pages are most popular?
- Which content brings in the most visitors from search engines?
If you’re interested in ANY of that information, then parallax design isn’t for you. Sorry, infinite scroll sites. Unless, of course, you break from the mold and create a parallax/infinite scroll website that’s also paginated.
I highly doubt THAT will happen, if the reaction of aforementioned ruffled-feathers designer is any indication.
That was my entire point — the website in question used parallax design, infinite scrolling, and there was no pagination. Was it pretty? Yes. Did it look super neat? Yes.
Was it going to be functional in the way the client required? Absolutely not.
Why not? Oh, because of this a fun tidbit: the website in question was for a business that focuses on lead generation.
Is Parallax Scrolling the Best Idea for All Sites?
I guess the point of all this is, why parallax? Or infinite scroll? Is it because designers are sad they don’t get to use flash anymore? Is it because social media has prompted them into doing “the latest & greatest” new things to keep up with the cool-kid crowd?
Either way, none of those are valid reasons to be designing that way.
Put it this way: every site has a job to do. Almost every single parallax, infinite scroll site out there on the www is for something other than conversion (namely, branding).
With those types of sites, it’s all about the experience, whereas with marketing sites — websites that need to bring in traffic to convert to customers — the entire purpose is to take action.
Here, designers, is a word to the wise: don’t do it — whatever “it” happens to be right now — just because it’s “hip” and trendy. Do it because it makes sense for the client. Remember the client? The one footing the bill? Oh yeah, them.
If you want to design something that’s “just pretty,” start a personal blog. In the meantime, remember this: you’re a designer; not an artist.
So, what’s parallax design? A design trend.
What’s infinite scroll? A web experience.
If you want marketing results for your hard-earned dollars (i.e., if that’s what your client’s goal is), I’d stay away from this web design trend.
*Update: Although, it seems there are others out there who think like I do — that if you have a client interested in online marketing and you’re utilizing parallax scrolling, you designers can’t just create one-page scrollfests. Read more about Parallax Scrolling & SEO here.*