Back in 2013 we did a short series on web conventions—design and usability aspects that have become so deeply engrained in our collective web experiences that ignoring them risks a bad user experience. We discussed the logo, navigation, and your links and buttons, and while 2013 was a long time ago when it comes to the web, the conventions in those articles still hold true today.
Familiarity does not always lead to convention, though. Simply because you’re used to seeing something on websites does not mean it’s a convention or even a good idea (think fedoras or cargo shorts*).
One such element of web design that many incorrectly assume to be a standard is the carousel, commonly known as “the slider.”
WordPress is the “largest self-hosted blogging tool in the world“. A search of WordPress plugins for “slider” returns 1000+ results, which might lead to the conclusion that sliders are a good idea to have on your website.
We’ve all seen sliders, or ‘carousels’ before. These are the big rotating photos that reside in the top section of your homepage, what’s known as the ‘billboard. We at BK are certainly guilty of designing sites with sliders, aiming to please clients with the trends of the time.
The billboard is arguably the most important real-estate on your website, and if you have a carousel you’re likely wasting this premium real-estate.
For a long time, the argument was made that if your company has several value propositions, you should get them all out there right away. That, coupled by the craze for moving objects on a website (yay, animation!), was enough to get everyone onboard.
The result is a variety of messages cycling so fast that you can barely read them. By trying to feature everything, you dilute your message to nothing.
Carousels do have a place though, specifically on content-based websites. We’re all familiar with landing on a news site and seeing the top 5 articles scrolling past us. This action gives us the ability to see many articles at once, and since we all have different interests, the priority of that content may vary from user to user.
The benefit outweighs the cost on a content-based site because no one article is any more valuable than the next, and a broad array of topics is more than likely part of the unique selling proposition (USP) of the site.
But if you have a lead-generation website or an ecommerce website, you want the user to follow a specific path—the user path—to get what they need. You want to spoon feed the experience and control their every action. How do you do that when you give them 5 options to take the moment they arrive?
Yes, many people adopted carousels, but that doesn’t make it right. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, which is why we’re seeing a major departure from sliders or carousels by marketing-savvy folks as of late.
In this article, we explore the negative impact carousels or sliders have on your website.
One reason to avoid carousels is because the user has no control over the duration that a particular message is being displayed. You’re forcing them to absorb your message in a set timeframe, but what if they’re slow readers?
Or worse yet, what if they were distracted by your big scrolling photo behind it, and now they missed the actual value proposition? Now the visitor has to wait until the next 4 or 6 slides pass by before the message in question returns. This cat-and-mouse game can cause anxiety and send the visitor into a negative user-experience.
Yes, some carousels have pause buttons, or even menus, but these tools are convoluted at best. Let’s face it—if you’re counting on the user to take action to stop chaos as soon as they get to your homepage, why not just remove the chaos to begin with?
And then there’s the topic of page load speed.
Website visitors typically expect a website homepage to load within 1–2 seconds of visiting a site, and often consider abandoning ship when load times increase to 3 seconds and beyond. Because of this, Google has incorporated load-speed into their algorithm for generating search results on a given query.
Well guess what? That carousel you love so much—it takes TONS of time to load and slows your site down. Bad for search, bad for the user experience.
Check this article from KISSMetrics for some great tips on reducing page load speed.
Have you ever been on a carousel? There comes a point when you’re ready to get off because it just keeps spinning and spinning. You literally start to feel sick.
I’m sure I don’t need to say this, but I will: making your visitors sick when they land on your homepage will usually result in a poor user experience.
Instead, give them a headline, subheading and call-to-action that answers their questions, alleviates their concerns, and directs them to the solution for their problem. That will give them the confidence in your brand, or at least enough to click past the homepage.
The appeal of carousels for most business owners is the combination of two things: real estate and volume. That is to say, implementing a carousel in their site’s billboard allows them to put as many messages as they deem necessary right there in front of an arriving visitor.
Rather than building a single, concise message, many sites attempt to tell a story using their slides. Slide 1 makes Point 1, Slide 2 makes Point 2, and so on. But whether you have 3 messages or 30, you’re counting on the fact that a visitor will sit down to watch it all.
But consider the real-world equivalent of these sliders: the fancy new electronic billboards that now dot our highways and major thoroughfares. Have you ever stopped to watch (let alone read) each of the ads on those billboards? It’s much more likely that you kept driving towards your destination, and perhaps you saw a different message the next time you drove by, and another after that.
Even for those less tech-savvy of us, we fly through the internet at a fast pace, similar driving on the highway. We usually have a destination in mind, and even if we don’t, we’re scanning quickly and looking for keywords of elements to lead us towards one.
When your homepage rotates like a carousel, visitors “driving through” are seeing just a fraction of what your business is about at any giving time. But which part?
Did they see the part that talks about your attention to detail, the length of time you’ve been in business, that fact that your products are all hand-crafted, or the new product you’re featuring? There’s the problem—you don’t know if they’ve seen the full story and neither do they.
The moment someone lands on your homepage, they should know:
That’s why we prefer a much simpler billboard featuring a headline, subheading and a call-to-action (CTA).
First, your website needs a clear value proposition—enter the headline. But there are often several value propositions with any given brand. What if we have free shipping, a money-back guarantee, and we outperform our competition in every consumer reports review? We need three messages representing those three value-props, right? Wrong.
Enter the subheading.
Take a look at this website. The moment you land on this site, you know what they do, why they do it better than their competition, and where you should go to get started.
They don’t have one slide for custom stickers, another for easy online ordering, another for their 5-day turnaround, etc. Instead, they summarize what they do in the headline, and use the subheading to describe why you should choose them over the competition.
And finally, the call-to-action, or CTA.
What good is a website without a call-to-action? Even non-profits have CTA’s like “Donate Today” or “Contact Us”. For content-focused websites, the CTA is often “Read More” or “Subscribe Today”. But there should always be at least one CTA on a website.
In fact, most websites have a range of CTAs. Your job as a marketer is to prioritize them for the reader and deliver them in a sequence. If that visitor doesn’t “Buy Now,” we can always lower the burden of entry and simply ask them to “Subscribe to our Blog”.
We need to have a priority to the conversion points on a website, and often time the billboard highlights the primary CTA.
Your headline should highlight what you do, your subheading should highlight why you’re a better choice than your competition, and the CTA should drive them to the primary conversion points on your website.
If you have several messages in a carousel, each waiting turn to reveal itself, inevitably people are going to miss your complete value proposition.
If you think you want to use a carousel for your homepage, visit a site that uses one and pay attention to how you feel the first time you see it. Keep watching it. And watch it again. Are you tired of it yet?
Now ask yourself: what does this company do? What makes them different?
How many slides did you have to read before you had a firm grasp on those answers?
For all their faults, lack of clarity and focus is the biggest. With the overwhelming number of options that visitors, readers, and customers have online today, your site needs to make an impression, and fast. Carousels may seem like a great way to show everything you think your customers want to see, but unfortunately they don’t show your customer what they need to see.
This is what we do, but we’d love to hear from you. Do you think we’re wrong? Leave a comment and tell us why carousels should live another day.
* For the record, I do own some cargo shorts, but I wear them camping or hiking or any other time I need to carry lots of stuff, not every day.
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