There are 2 Japanese website trends going on right now. While these 2 trends might seem really cool right now and there is merit to implementing them on your website, most web developers or web marketers don’t take into account the impact on business results of adopting these trends. Specifically, these trends could hurt your SEO, lower your Conversion Optimization, and add unneeded complexity.
Proceed at your own risk.
Let’s discuss these Japanese website trends, and the impact it can have on your digital marketing strategy and your business results.
First, let me explain the concept. Most websites are a series of pages. There is a home page, a set of Services pages, a Prices page, an FAQ page, a blog, and a Contact-Us page. As a user clicks on button menus and links, they traverse the site and visit page after page.
The idea of a single page website is all the above elements (perhaps excluding blogs) are included into a single page. Almost the website loads within the Home Page. When the user clicks on Menus, Buttons or Links, instead of going to another page, they are escorted to a different section on the home page. This is often done with a nice scrolling effect. The overall effect looks really nice and pleasing to the eye.
Modern Front-End development SDKs such as Angular and React make this type of experience really easy to implement. As a result, these websites are becoming popular.
So what’s not to like? Well, there are a number of reasons.
When you optimize your website for search engines, you need to think about keywords. Each page should be optimized for 1 primary keyword, as well as a set of related keywords. Let’s you are an agency, and you offer 2 services, like PPC Ads and SEO, you would want separate pages for each service. That way if someone searches for “PPC Ads Japan” keyword, it goes to the right page. If someone else searches for “SEO Japan”, then that searcher finds your SEO page. Each page can be optimized for the respective keyword, and what the audience is searching for.
With a single page website, all your Service pages are rolled into 1 page. Now all those keywords are mixed together along with a sea of random stuff. And when the GoogleBot parses your page, it now has to decide between the various keywords and chose a winner. And the focus of the page is diluted. All things being equal, it’s unlikely an unfocused keyword page can rank above your competitors who have keyword focused pages.
Google Analytics is the default analytics package used today for most websites. Inherently, it’s a page-based analytics package. It tracks users as they move from page to page. By using page based analytics, it can track things like paths through your website, bounce rates, goal conversions, and so on. And you can get all these features out of the box, with a relatively minor setup effort.
With a Single Page Website, as a user navigates the site, instead of going page to page, they are essentially just scrolling to different parts of the home page. Out of the box, Google Analytics just sees that visitor as visiting the home page and dropping off after some point in time. It almost impossible to tell if what parts of the site users actively engaged in, and what parts of the site users existed, because everybody is on the same page.
This point is important. Remember the analytics mantra, “if it can’t be measured, it can’t be improved.”
To get an idea of the complexity of tracking, you can refer to this article.
Or you could hire an expensive consultant to do this for you. I know some in Japan. But be prepared to pay.
When visiting a Single Page Website for the first time, instead of loading 1 page, it has to load the contents of many pages. Loading all this text and images, and then laying it out takes a significant amount of time. And load times are bad for conversions.
If you have an All-In-One website, you may want to consider either rearchitecting your design to have separate pages, or hire an Analytics/Tag-Manager Expert to wire up your analytics to track sections as Web Pages. Also, be wary of performance, and run performance tools on your website regularly to make sure your 1-page website is not bloated., and loads in under 5 seconds.
Why have Separate URLs for mobile Pages?
There are a number of reasons why website developers love to have separate mobile and desktop pages for a website.
The standard Western response, is why not just use Responsive Website Design? Responsive Design is a technique where web pages layout automatically based on the width and height of the device. These days, most themes from WordPress and other CMS’s are responsive out of the box, and will layout very well automatically for mobile devices, as well as tablets and desktops.
Unfortunately, Responsive Web Design is much less prevalent in Japan than in the rest of the world. Many websites in Japan have small images, many narrow columns, lots of text, and flashing items. If you don’t have lots of text, Japanese users might think you are hiding something. Even though most Westerners consider this design quite repulsive, most Japanese are quite familiar with this complicated presentation of text and images.
But this more complicated website design often lays out poorly on mobile devices. Japanese web developers need more control over where objects layout on the mobile page. As a result, many Japanese developers feel the need to have had separate mobile and desktop URLs for each page of their website.
Once you move to separate web pages for mobile, you can really optimize for the mobile experience. For example, you can carefully control what items are seen above the fold (first view). You can also carefully control how pixels are laid out on the screen.
In order to understand why separate mobile & desktop pages are bad for SEO, you need to think about how Google values pages on a website.
First, one way that Google Search considers the “authority” of a webpage, is the number of external links pointing to it. Let’s say you have some good content and earned 50 links pointing to your page. That’s great. But with separate mobile and desktop pages, may find you have 25 backlinks to your mobile page, and 25 backlinks to your desktop page. Congratulations, you just watered down your “link juice” by about half. And all things being equal, if a competitor has combined page targeting the same keyword, but has 35 backlinks, Google will likely rank them ahead of you.
When trying to rank your page ahead of your competitors, just remember “2 turtles won’t be faster than a rabbit”.
For this SEO problem of separate mobile pages, there is a workaround.
Some SEO savvy website developers are aware of this technique and will add it to all web pages that have mobile equivalents. It would be nice if CMSs use by Japanese companies would automatically add the appropriate Rel=Alternate and Rel=Canonical tags. But this does not seem to be the case.
Looking at analytics for websites that have separate pages can be a very frustrating experience. First, you see lots of page views on a particular web page such as:
So essentially, the number of pages on your website is doubled. While that might seem OK, it does lengthen your analysis time in Google Analytics. You’ll need to consider separate mobile and desktop pages when evaluating site content, or behavioral flow in your analytics package. It’s much more difficult to get a more holistic view in analytics that combines desktop, mobile and tablet users.
This ties in with the previous point. Having separate mobile pages ultimately doubles everything. It doubles the amount of testing you need to do, it doubles your analytics data, and it doubles the complexity of any Pay-Per-Click advertising campaigns you may run. If you are dealing with limited resources, (and who isn’t?) then you are better off not doing it.
If you have a super-important page on your site, and you really want to carefully control the user experience, then it might be appropriate to implement a separate mobile page. An example of this might the checkout pages on an e-Commerce site. A user dropping off here for any reason can cost a lot of money. OK, I understand that. But ask yourself if you really need it for the entire site?
Try to avoid implementing separate mobile pages. If at all possible, use responsive design in your website for as many pages as possible. If for some reason, separate mobile web pages are needed, be sure to ask your web developer to add the SEO workaround as described above. And be prepared to deal with the added complexity.
There are many websites now implementing “All In One” websites, as well as “Separate Mobile Pages”. While both of these design choices have merits, in terms of SEO and other Digital Marketing techniques, you are making your life much more difficult in the future. And it can impact your business results. You might be better off not implementing these techniques unless you have resources to deal with the side effects above.
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Jeff Crawford is a Digital Marketing expert, technologist and Manager. He has worked for technology companies in Silicon Valley such as Apple, WebTV and Microsoft. He has lived in Tokyo Japan since 2004, working for companies such as Microsoft KK and Adobe Systems Japan. Jeff is founder of Zo Digital Japan, an SEO and Digital Marketing agency based in Tokyo. Jeff started the Tokyo Digital Marketers Meetup in 2016, which now has over 2000 members. He has also presented about Digital Marketing at such events as Ad-Tech Tokyo, WordCamp Tokyo, Japan Market Expansion Competition (JMEC), and the Japan Association of Translators (JAT).