Oct 2016

One-page Websites: Considerations from The Front Lines – Allen Frye, Director of Technology

One-pagers have been all the rage for a while now. They have become their own subcategory of website and have brought a “Flash-like” level of design cool back to the web. Today, the minimum benchmark of creativity for a website requires a heaping amount of HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS3 on a single URL. The one-page trend has forced developers to hone their skills and abstract their applications more intelligently. This is especially true as more business owners begin to embrace the scroll and move the content of their 2000 era multi-page brochure sites to a single page application. Below are some thoughts to keep in mind if you are planning to build a one-page site that will be anything other than just a basic landing page.  


Most business owners and content managers want a content management system (CMS) for their website—and they probably need one. However, the more creative a single page design gets, the more it can appear that a static HTML setup is the way to go. Static (or “flat,” in the dev world) means plain HTML files without a database housing the content. With a static setup, a developer moves faster because there are no CMS rules, themes, or templates to code around. So when deadlines loom for a site, static sometimes seems like the better option. However, unless there is web developer is on staff, supporting a static HTML site can have unforeseen costs in the long run. This risk increases with greater content and functionality. The more stuff that exists on a static site, the more likely it is that a simple change will require digging into the code. Granted, there are some good CMS options out there that will help manage a static HTML site, but in my experience, those also require a certain level of technical expertise.  


My fellow web developers are not going to like me for this statement, but most companies benefit from having a professional CMS setup — even for a one-page site. Static HTML purists will point to things like site performance, SEO rankings, and security as a few of the benefits of a plain HTML site. Those items are incredibly important, but they are achievable with a traditional database-driven CMS like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal if you know what you are doing. And in the long run, a properly set up CMS is better for the client, as well as for those creating the content and managing the site after it’s built. 

The downside of developing for a CMS is the cost of development time. The more complex the CMS, the more time it will take upfront to set up. Choosing to build a website with static files or with a CMS should be considered alongside budgets, goals and plans. At Red Letter, we consider all aspects of a website build during an initial discovery process before recommending a platform.  


Generally, it takes the same amount of time to correctly develop a CMS for a one-page site as it does a multi-page site. However, building a good one-page site in a CMS usually takes longer if there is a large amount of content and in-page navigation that has be included. I attribute this in part to Google. When CMS platforms took off in the 2000s, organic SEO was still king. Google taught us that it was better to have a lot of URLs with a lot of page-centric synergized text. The big content management systems gave us ever easier ways to organize multiple pages and add to pages with clean URLs ( e.g., “/about-us” instead of “/about-us?somevariable=somevalue”). This page-based foundation of most CMS platforms has not changed much. As a result, coding creative designs into one-page sites using WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal can sometimes feel like trying to fit the body of a sports car on a truck chassis.

At Red Letter, if a client needs a creative one-page site, we weigh the pros and cons of developing a CMS to best suit their goals. We also reference our in-house codebase to work more efficiently on complex development projects. As a developer, I’ll be the first to admit I’d rather build static one-page sites. It gives me more time to push the envelope. But the better part of me knows that content flexibility often serves our clients better.

Interested in what Red Letter can do for your business? Contact us to get started.