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Sliders: When To Get On The Image Carousel – And When To Get Off

Insights / 06.21.2017

Lindsey Weintraub / Associate Strategic Planner

The homepage of your website is prime digital real estate and during a redesign it may feel like everyone in the company wants a piece of it. The all-too-common response to this challenge is to try to give everyone space in the form of a rotating image carousel. Before you default to this common web design feature, it’s worth evaluating whether or not it makes the most sense for your business. 

Homepage design decisions should be focused on the best way to achieve marketing goals in alignment with business outcomes. Unfortunately, an image carousel (or “slider”) is often reflective of a “design by committee” approach, driven by the desire to avoid conflict, rather than a goal-driven, consumer-centered approach.  

In other words, when you try to appease multiple internal stakeholders who want homepage placement, you risk putting individual interests ahead of the consumer and jeopardize business outcomes. 

Of course, doing your own testing is ideal for determining how image carousels affect your website performance. However, it’s worth evaluating existing research for the sake of time and resource efficiency. Continuous optimization is ideal for maximizing performance, but the inevitable opportunity cost calls for an informed approach whenever possible.  

Here are 4 important considerations to discuss with key stakeholders when evaluating whether or not image carousels are conducive to achieving homepage goals:  

1. Banner blindness 

People are so used to banner ads now they automatically filter them out, scrolling right past them and generally ignoring the content. Image carousels are often mistaken for banner ads, making them collateral damage. If the goal is to increase awareness for products or services, it's often better to provide one or more on-page content modules displayed independently of each other with links to more detailed content rather than an image carousel. 

Eye-tracking studies done by the Nielsen Norman Group show that as soon as people think they see an ad, they tend to ignore the content. Nielsen Norman Group eye-tracking studies also show the considerable lack of attention advertisements attract in comparison to the page's main content.  

2. Usability 

Even if the user is interested in the content displayed within an image carousel, auto-rotating images can threaten readability. A carousel that’s too fast or too slow can detract from the user experience, and both “too fast” and “too slow” are subjective and contextual beyond control. 

The Nielsen Norman Group ran a usability study that found auto-forwarding carousels and accordions annoy users and reduce visibility. 

3. Retention and Conversion 

There is usually a significant drop-off rate after the first carousel image disappears. Tests done at the University of Notre Dame showed one instance of carousel click-through-rate performance: “1% clicked a feature. Of those, 89% were the first position.” (Source: ErikRunyon.com). 

 

Source: ErikRunyon.com 

4. SEO factors

Displaying content through a carousel approach can create multiple H1 headings, require flash, and slow page load speed. This can impact your site’s search engine optimization (SEO), potentially negatively affecting your site’s findability and discoverability on Google.    

Evolving Role of the Homepage  

In the past, the vast majority of website user flows began on the homepage. With today’s focus on giving people exactly what they want in the fastest way possible, funneling users through the homepage only to direct them to another page is considered unnecessary friction. Technology has also evolved, especially Google, which now can understand search queries well enough to send people to more specific inner pages, and not just the brand homepage. This means people coming to the homepage often have a broader “search intent” (what they’re looking for), which may or may not be specific to your brand. In cases where you’re trying to engage users who are unfamiliar with your brand, people may want to explore and see what it’s about before they’re ready to commit to deeper pages. RDI Director of Marketing Technology Ron Hadler refers to this kind of behavior by saying: “Clicking is making decisions, scrolling is browsing.” 

Instead of seeing the homepage as the de-facto destination for all users, focus on optimizing for user flows and task completion. This will help you focus on what really matters. Of course, the site homepage still plays an important role for most businesses, but it’s up to marketers to understand exactly what it is and how to optimize for performance.  

Ultimately, research and anecdotal evidence suggest image sliders on websites can be detrimental to performance, but it's important to remember that performance is contextual – based on brand strategy, business goals, website goals, and target audience.  

When internal stakeholders ask for homepage real estate, it’s important to step back and acknowledge what they really want to do – deliver on their own goals. As the leader of a web design project, if you can demonstrate how everyone can win – without sacrificing homepage efficacy – you remove the incentive for any one stakeholder to feel compelled to bulldoze their way onto the homepage, and increase the likelihood of shared success. Bring research and data to the table to illustrate the various problems associated with image carousels and the appeal quickly fades, with favor shifting to more proven, reliable methods of engaging consumers.  

Interested in learning about alternatives to the homepage image sliders? We’re happy to share battle-tested recommendations, so feel free to get in contact with us. 

Insights,User Experience Design

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