Single-page App vs Multi-page App: Choosing a Way to Deliver the Best User Flow

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04 Oct 2018
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13 min
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Alexander D.
Copywriter

With the arrival of web apps, users tend to abandon their old desktop applications. The benefits of web apps are awesome. No installation (and no time waste and registry trashing), no need to update from the side of the user and availability from almost any device. If you want to develop a web application no matter if it's browser or mobile-based, you should be aware that there're single-page design pattern and a multi-paged one.

With the arrival of web apps, users tend to abandon their old desktop applications. The benefits of web apps are awesome. No installation (and no time waste and registry trashing), no need to update from the side of the user and availability from almost any device. If you want to develop a web application no matter if it's browser or mobile-based, you should be aware that there're single-page design pattern and a multi-paged one.

We cannot emphasize how important is the UX to the success of your app. Nowadays, you should constantly update your app according to the user demands. Customers want a web app to load fast, without annoying bugs and malfunctions as well as having a simple and convenient navigation. A sad history lesson is the failure of Google's social networking app called Orkut. Facebook and Orkut both offered a similar product. But due to slow updates and ignoring the latest UX trends like making it mobile-friendly, Orkut has suffered a terrible fiasco and that's why many of us don't remember a name 'Orkut' anymore.

And here we have run in the good old problem of choosing between single-page application vs multi-page application. SPA is a recent trend of building web apps that don't need an annoying reload to navigate between web pages. Thus, they are able to provide a seamless and hassle-free browsing experience. However, spa software development isn't such a good idea if you want to build a large web app with a pile of features. In this article, we will help you realize the differences between SPA vs MPA and make a wise choice that fits your project best.

What is a single-page application (SPA)?

A SPA application or website is a web software that downloads all the required content at the time you enter a website. They don't need to download it a dozen more times when you browse to different pages of this site. Run a quick test yourself: open the eBay website and browse through different pages of it. See that a page reload happens? ( circle spins in the page tab panel in Google Chrome, or a dot moves in Firefox). Now open a Gmail website and navigate to different email lists, open settings or themes options. Do you notice that now no reload occurs? That's why eBay is an MPA and Gmail is an SPA (no page reload, a page is loaded only when you visited a web address for the first time).

Let's have a look at the popular single-page application examples: Facebook and Twitter are great instances of the SPA. Most of the user actions don't need a page to reload including scrolling down a news feed, visit the friends' pages and write messages. But there are some exceptions for Facebook and Twitter respectively when a page reload actually happens. Concerning Facebook, it occurs when clicking 'Photos' on the left side menu. And Twitter reloads when you click on a pic.twitter.com internet address. So Facebook and Twitter can be called a hybrid solution between SPA and MPA.

One of the major single-page application advantages is delivering a spectacular user experience by simulating a native browser environment - no extra wait time needed to see daunting page reloads. They keep users in a single convenient web space and provide them with content using a straightforward and comprehensive way. All page updates happen not because of reloading every piece of content but because of updating an existing page using JavaScript. Single-page apps can be mainly developed using JS frameworks such as Angular, React, Ember, etc.

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Make sure you know the difference: How to make a choice between Angular vs React?

What is a multi-page application (MPA)?

Multi-page applications are more common on the net because all web apps and sites used to be MPA in the first place. Multi-page design pattern demands to reload a web-page to load or send data from/to server in the user's browser.

However, if you need to create a large website, bigger than such examples of single-page applications as Gmail, Slack or Trello then your only choice is MPA. For instance, your web resource may contain a forum, blog, be able to sell products and many other contents. And you can't just make one design for all of these website categories as they need different UI layers.

Usually, due to the bigger size of MPA, they demand to transfer a larger amount of data between a browser and a server. However, it is no longer a problem as in Cleveroad we use AJAX technology to reload only a specific part of an app.

What are the advantages of single-page applications?

Single-page application is an ideal choice for a company or freelancer that promotes only one product and additional info about it can be received by making a call or sending a message. SPA doesn't have to be minimalistic and simplified compared to MPA. It is also able to be vivid and to have a lot of functions. Teachers, lawyers, designers, companies - everyone who has only few products would benefit from using the SPA instead of distracting a user with numerous web pages.

single-page apps benefits

Benefits of single-page apps

High speed, ease, and effectiveness

Concerning SPAs, it loads the majority of app resources (HTML/CSS/Scripts) only once. Single-page app doesn't need to reload a whole page but only a specific piece of data that users needs. Hence, it speeds up the time needed to receive info about your product and even the amount of time required to click on the 'Buy' button. According to surveys, 20% of users will abandon a website if its loading time exceeds 3 seonds. Moreover, a study by Walmart has revealed that by every 100 ms decrease in the loading time results in a 1% growth in incremental revenue.

optimal web page loading time

What is the optimal web page loading time?

When there are a lot of images on a website, building single-page applications is still a great choice. It's because all the content is loaded once even if it includes a lot of images. The same applies if your website has a lot of text. Using multiple pages website to display some text that is often considered as a low-consuming data type would be excessive.

Every piece of ontent that your users need is available on the pages with a similar design that results in less confoundment and distraction. Thus, SPA offers the most suitable way of demonstrating portfolios, biographies and product information.

Mobile-friendliness

It's widely known that a prevailing amount of traffic comes from mobile nowadays. And single-page application pattern shares this interest with you. Frameworks that are used in SPA development allow you to create mobile apps in addition. Hence, it simplifies code reuse. All that's left to do is to adjust a UI layout to match the screen of mobile devices and that's it! As for MPA, you'd also have to rewrite a significant amount of code to make it work on a smartphone.

Makes your website unique

SPAs are relatively new and create a 'Wow' effect for a prevailing number of users. Creating a single-page application can help you to stand out from your competitors. It's doubly important when you operate on a highly competitive market.

Better Conversions

Monetization and lead generation is a matter of great importance for every website. And such benefits of an SPA as simplicity and user-friendly layout helps to do it better. And a web page with a low loading time also helps to convert better.

conversion by page load time

Conversion rate by page load time

Enables brand storytelling

MPA often have a more complex navigation. However, designing single-page applications lets you create scrollable pages which allows providing all the needed information to a customer about your products or brand. There's less hassle between the pages of a typical business website such as 'Contacts', 'About us', 'Our products', 'Reviews', etc. All of the required content is available on one page and accessible without page reloads. And if you make a cool UI/UX design for your app, e.g. add interactive elements with a modern and attractive look, you can significantly increase your brand identity in the eyes of your clients.

Single-page application disadvantages

single-page apps cons

Disadvantages of single-page apps

Poor SEO

One of the frequently called disadvantages of single-page application is SEO. It would be better to have a web app with steady content with separate pages. However, it could rarely be a problem for a skilled team of developers. At Cleveroad, we know how to perform a SEO optimization using a server-side rendering that allows eliminating this disadvantage.

Development cost

In spite of a popular myth, single-page application development isn't cheaper or easier to develop than an MPA. Both of these design patterns take the same amount of time and effort from a team of web developers. Some SPAs may consume even more endeavor to make its layout simple and user-friendly. By the way, SPAs is a relatively new design pattern that requires your development team to know the latest JS frameworks. Thus, the hourly rate for developing an SPA can sometimes cost even higher.

Loading time

SPA application loading time is longer because the frameworks used are heavier and the whole site content is loaded once. Along with probability of memory leaks in JS, SPA is able to make even a high-powered computer to slow down.

There's a real-life instance of this disadvantage concerning Twitter. In 2010, Twitter decided to turn their app into a single-page application. This step required to move all the load of processing data from a server to users' devices through client-side JavaScript. Hence, users experienced much slower page-load time and inconsistent cross-browser experience. Having discovered this problem, Twitter rapidly revised its app architecture to render the prevailing amount of processing load from users' computers to the server.

Dependence on JS

A single-page app is more dependent on JS and has to be turned on in the user's browser. Otherwise, it may cause bugs and problems with app functionality that results in higher app bounce rates and lower conversion rates.

Weaker security

JS doesn't perform code compilation so it becomes accessible to malicious users. By using Cross Site Scripting they are able to deliver dangerous JS scripts to other users. It needs extra work of proficient developers to make it secure.

Complex debugging

Most of the IDEs don't have an SPA support. Single-page app testing requires programmers have to use browser's debugging tools instead.

Multi-page applications pros and cons

multi-page apps pros and cons

Advantages and disadvantages of multi-page apps

Limitless extensibility

With an MPA you can create as many pages as you want using each one for one specific purpose or topic. Moreover, you can place as much information on each page as you need without any limits. On the other hand, building single-page applications limitations on the amount of content and features allowed on one page. It's because this single page will have a longer loading time that damages the user experience. Thus, if you want an extensive multi-feature web app or site, you should go for MPA.

Better SEO potential

Google doesn't stand still and certainly constantly updates its search algorithms. They say that crawling a spa application won't be a problem as well in the future. However, if SEO parameter is crucial for you right now, MPA has a slight advantage here since it's more familiar to search engines. MPA allows ranking your page for various keywords better because you can optimize each page for a specific keyword. You can place focus on different meta tags on each web page.

Low speed and productivity

MPAs demand a server to reload the majority of data like a layout, visual styles, and scripts after every user action. When a user visits another page of a website, a browser has to download all the data once more. What's worse is this data can include the sections that are the same on every page, e.g. header and footer.

Harder to maintain, update, and provide security

When the size of a websites increases so are the efforts needed to maintain, update and secure its data. MPA requires to make every webpage secure while it's enough to safeguard only data endpoints for a single-page applications.

Single-page vs multi-page apps. What to choose?

To make a well-thought choice you should put the content in charge. The end purpose of every app or website is to deliver an excellent content to an appropriate target audience. And SPA or MPA is just a form you use to present it.

You should pay attention to the single-page application design pattern if you want a dynamic platform with a lot of content. For instance, if you are about to promote one product or service or it's targeted to a narrow group of users. SPA is suitable for you if you don't need heavy data processing tasks and many pages with a different design. Also, go for the SPA if you want to make a mobile application from it.

stages of web apps development

Stages of web applications development 

Some of the use cases when reating a single page application is more suitable:

  • Telling a story about your product by guiding a user from the top to the bottom of the screen;
  • Building a small app that costs less to create a big app from it in the perspective; 
  • Creating an SPA as a temporary app while a highly time-consuming app is being developed; 
  • You use such promotion channels as targeted ads and direct links from social networks and don't rely heavily on SEO. SPA is perfect for SaaS solutions, private communities, social networks. 

You should go for multi-page applications if you have a large company that offers a wide variety of products. Another reason to choose MPA is you need a lot of user interaction and technical features in your app. MPA is a better choice for large e-commerce stores and marketplaces like eBay, huge web portals. Also, this kind of apps often has a huge user base which SPA is also more suitable for.

There's another option considering single-page app vs multi-page app that we haven't mentioned. It's using a hybrid approach that allows creating an SPA with synthetic pages that uses URL anchors. It's also an attractive solution as it enables to combine a complex functionality of an MPA with a convenient navigation of an SPA. A hybrid approach strives to utilize the best of SPA and MPA and decrease their drawbacks.

As you see, it's not a simple task to choose between single-page vs multi-page design pattern (and vs hybrid approach). In fact, it reveals a need for a good consultant or advisor who is a professional in software development. We fully understand it and offer help in making such an uneasy choice.

Cleveroad is ranked among the top 15 outsourcing app development companies in Ukraine. We have successfully developed hundreds of apps, explored a wide range of technologies and made numerous clients happy. We can help you to choose the most suitable approach to design your app according to your budget, needs, and goals. That's not all benefits of cooperative with us because all of the project estimation and testing services are totally free at Cleveroad! All that's needed is your strong commitment to making an app and take the first step by contacting our managers.

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