There are many drag-and-drop tools that you can use to build a single-page website. Some popular options include:
You might assume that because we do a lot of work with full-featured content management systems like Drupal and WordPress that we’re strongly biased against these kinds of tools. But we’re not. There are common problems that nonprofit, publishing, and higher-ed institutions face where a single-page-builder is the right fit for the job. You just need to be careful not to shoot yourself in the foot.
With these tools you can potentially get from an initial idea to launching a uniquely designed webpage within a couple days. That’s right: days to get a unique design.
Sometimes you want to diverge from your primary brand for a campaign, or other short-lived operation. Because these tools are more like Photoshop than a CMS, you can use whatever colors/typography/layout is appropriate for the situation.
Fewer people required
If you want to create a uniquely designed page within your Drupal or WordPress CMS, it’s going to require several specialists: a designer, web developer(s), a project manager, writer(s), a production manager, etc. But with a single-page-builder you might be able to pull this off with as little as one person if someone on your team has both content experience plus an eye for design.
The whole point of a CMS is to have governance of your content: Each program/project/exhibit/article/event (or whatever else makes up the content on your website) has the same structure and presentation, and the whole package has been reviewed by people with a variety of skill sets. If you’ve been around long enough, you’ll remember back to the early 2000s, when every page on the website was a special snowflake and it was a bear to manage.
With single-page-builders there are a few key areas where a lack of governance can really bite you:
Chances are, the person who puts together the page is not going to be an expert in web accessibility. Is the color contrast sufficient? How is the keyboard navigation? Is the heading hierarchy correct? Remember that many nonprofits and higher-ed institutions have higher accessibility requirements than the average website. Because single-page builders cater to the “average” site, they just don’t have enough accessibility built in.
Will the person building these pages know to check the page in multiple screen sizes, and across multiple devices?
How to make it work
One technique that has worked for our clients is a two-step approach: They create something quickly in a single-page builder, then ask us to come in and tweak. This seems to be an excellent balance of time to market vs. quality.
Here’s a common requirement for any webpage (CMS or not): Show teasers for three articles according to some criteria (e.g., most recent, matches some tag, chosen for editorial purposes, etc.)
While you can use a single-page builder to create something that looks like this, it won’t be dynamic. If you create a new article, it’s not going to appear here; if you edit an article’s title, you need to come back and also edit it here.
Sadly, we have no trick to get around this one. But sometimes this trade-off is fine; sometimes the content for a campaign is fairly static. Just be aware of this limitation going in.
Visually disconnected from your main site
You want the people who come to this page to get involved with this campaign, but you also want them to learn about all the other work that you do. Oftentimes these single pages can be silos that are too disconnected.
How to make it work
Use the single-page builder to create only the main content of the page, without a header/footer. Then insert it as a page within your main website. The Brennan Center (one of our fabulous clients) created this campaign leading up to the November 2020 U.S. Federal election using this technique (below).
Innovation is lost
You’ve used this campaign as an opportunity to push past the limitations of your primary website. But now you have no way to reuse these ideas elsewhere.
How to make it work
Think of the campaign site as a prototype. Now create the same components within your main website, incorporate your primary branding, and make those components dynamic and configurable. Now you can reuse them anywhere.
Find the right tool for the job. A single-page builder might be it. Just be aware of the limitations before you start. Use these tricks to add long-term value.