Parallax scrolling is the web developer’s shiny new car, but, in fact, it’s been around for a while. It first appeared in computer games in the early 80s, but it’s gained momentum in web design in just the last few years.
What is parallax scrolling? This technique utilizes layers that move at different rates to create a semblance of movement. It’s great at telling a story like makeyourmoneymatter.org does, or to create an engaging experience like spaceneedle.com. But you’ll notice that neither of those sites are content rich, nor are they SEO-friendly.
So what’s the problem? Or, rather, problems?
- Page load time. Some have egg-timer like load indicators to help prevent viewers from bouncing reminiscent of the old Flash websites.
- URL structure. What structure? Most sites create one long infinitely scrolling page with no change in URL. The Google Webmaster Blog has a great page of recommendations that recommends chunking the content into virtual pages via pagination for better crawlability. Even then, there are challenges. You lose the SEO advantages of keywords in the URL, descriptive titles, meta descriptions, and focused content.
- Browser compatibility. What works on Firefox may not work on Chrome leading to a greater need for testing.
- Images. While many implementations use text captured in images, the text doesn’t need to be inaccessible to search engines. For instance, pitchfork.com has lots of content, and its text is beautifully search-engine friendly.
- Analytics. Tracking page views in Google Analytics will need to be done through Event tracking, an additional dev cost for programming and a complication for reporting.
- Infinite scrolling. Pages that infinitely scroll have a lot of content that does not appear until you scroll to the page bottom. Google has said that content not seen upon landing is devalued. For some implementations, that could be a lot of devalued content.
- Mobile not friendly. While I’ve seen some simple parallax scrolling designs used successfully on responsive sites, others need to break off into a different mobile optimized experience. This results in greater dev work, testing, and upkeep.
Aside from SEO, the impact on user behavior must be taken into account.
- Increased bounce rate. A little goes a long way and can become quickly annoying, driving viewers away.
- Gamifying your site. Parallax scrolling could decrease the time viewers spend on each “page” as they scroll to see the cool effect and don’t pause to read the content.
- Task defying. For goal-oriented users, the infinitely scrolling page is frustrating and the answer to their question may be buried several scrolls deep. The Nielsen Norman Group recommends against using it for information-oriented websites.
Of course, there is a good side.
- Link bait. Some implementations were so much fun that I just had to share them with friends. I haven’t seen any data, but I’ll bet viral sharing is a positive benefit of the cooler parallax scrolling webpages.
- Engagement. When used right, parallax scrolling can absorb the viewers’ limited attention in a big way. A promo for the Walking Dead manages to do this very well.
- Sales frontiers. Parallax scrolling for eCommerce sites has great potential. Esbit thermos takes you inside the construction of their very tough thermos with moving exploding and cutaway views. This is a sales pitch at its best!
Whether we like it or not, parallax scrolling is here to stay. As SEOs, we can advise our clients to:
- Write unique and useful content no matter what whizzy technology frames it.
- Ensure that the content is accessible to search engines.
- Implement parallax scrolling using Google’s recommendations.
- Make sure that the implementation promotes the clients’ goals, whether it’s to tell a story, sell a product, or engage a reader.