Parallax Doesn’t Solve The Mobile Design Problem. It Creates the Mobile SEO Problem.

By Tad Miller | Feb 13, 2015
More Articles by Tad


There it was. Probably the sixth virtually identical (with the exception of color scheme) scrolling nightmare of a website I had seen in the last six weeks. My eyes were about to pop out of my head – this one belonged to a client and I was supposed to optimize it for search engines. The idea of telling yet another client that they had taken what should have been six different pages and crammed it onto one page, and that it was likely going to be the cause of losing their rankings for 6 keywords, was an unbearable thought.

So I asked the question: why a Parallax web Design? The client was very conscious about the rise of their mobile website traffic, and the answer I was given from the designer was Parallax design essentially solved the mobile design problem: having a website that looked good across devices. My disagreement to that statement fell on deaf ears about as hard as the rankings for those keywords later fell.

Some time has passed since that date, and mobile traffic to websites is soaring to record levels. More recently, Google has been very public about telling site owners that both mobile usability and mobile page load time are very important. They have been sending website owners thousands of emails pointing out all the problems their website has on mobile. It’s been a not-so-subtle way of saying that changes are likely coming, and that mobile load time and usability will likely be factors that determine mobile rankings.

An Awesome Tool That Anyone Can Use

Last May, Google updated its PageSpeed Insights Tool to help developers and webmasters make their websites more mobile friendly. It’s easy to use and you don’t even have to be the site owner with Webmaster Tools access to use it. Just cut and paste your page URL into the tool and hit Analyze.

Google PageSpeed Insights

The tool then lists the specific problems that are keeping your website from loading quickly, and lets you know if there are any mobile usability problems. It also gives links to other pages that explain what webmasters need to do to fix those problems.

Tools To Test a Preposterous Idea

I love the PageSpeed Insights Tool, and some statements, like “Parallax solves the mobile design problem,” just can’t be unheard. So I put that statement to the test.

I did research to find the best of the best Parallax websites in the last 12 months.  See:

Also known as the SEO Booby Prize

You don’t want to drink what’s steaming in this cup.

 

I ran 100 of these hailed “Best of the Best” Parallax websites through the Google PageSpeed Insights Tool and the results were NOT surprising.

Such Pretty Failures

It truly was an interesting task to see 100 different Parallax websites…once they finally loaded. They left me feeling more like they were made for the designers’ portfolios than to serve the business needs of the companies they were made for.

The PageSpeed Insights tool scores a site’s page speed on both desktop computers and mobile devices, on a 100 point scale.  You remember getting graded on a 100 point scale in school don’t you?

Grade Scale

 

Here are my findings:

  • The Average Parallax Mobile PageSpeed Score was only 49.48% (an F)
  • The Median Parallax Mobile PageSpeed Score was only 51.5% (also an F)
  • The Average Parallax Desktop PageSpeed Score was only 61.27% (a not-too-much better D-)
  • The Median Parallax Desktop PageSpeed Score was only 65% (a D)
  • The Average decline in Parallax Mobile PageSpeed Score and Desktop Parallax PageSpeed Score was 11.8 points lower
  • 4 of the 100 Parallax sites had a Mobile PageSpeed Score of ZERO
  • Only 32 of the 100 Parallax sites had Mobile PageSpeed Scores over 60%

Obviously, page load time is a huge issue for these sites on both mobile and desktop. The most surprising insight was that most of these Parallax sites don’t load well on desktop computers either. But, the level of failure here is a bigger deal than just the SEO considerations.

Studies and surveys by Akamai revealed that:

  • 47%  of consumers expect a web page to load in two seconds or less
  • 40% abandon sites that take more than 3 seconds to load
  • 2 out of 3 of Internet users expect a site on mobile to load at least as fast as it does on a desktop

Hey Wait a Second. This is Junk Science!

I know correlation doesn’t always equal causation, and just because my little test showed that these Parallax design websites were failing the PageSpeed test in a major way doesn’t necessarily mean that Parallax is the sole cause of the load time problems.

Most of these Parallax sites are super image-heavy and that’s likely as much reason why they completely tanked as the structure of the design. So it’s not necessarily just a problem with Parallax as a design method.

So maybe I didn't stick to the scientific method...

So maybe I didn’t stick to the scientific method…

But that Parallax site that started me on this journey was not image-heavy and scores a whopping 54 out of 100 on Mobile PageSpeed. It also has problems that aren’t going to be solved without a site redesign that ditches the fanciness and sticks to putting it’s many diverse areas of content into separate web pages that speak to a single topic or feature, rather than spread all on the same forever scrolling page (and oh yeah, it’s really slow to load on both a phone and a desktop).

So it may not be 100% on point to say that all Parallax websites are slow to load and will automatically have low PageSpeed scores that could very soon destroy their rankings on mobile phones.  But it’s a lot less preposterous of an argument than “Parallax website design solves the mobile website design problem.”

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