Sliding By: Why Users Are Bypassing Your Carousel

December 12, 2018 Written by Marina Atherton-Howe

Carousels, slideshows, sliders — whatever you choose to call them, they’re everywhere, especially on homepages. Slideshows may seem like a desirable and easy way to communicate with your website visitors, but we think you should reconsider in most cases. That space is still prime real estate, but it’s likely more effective when used to convey a singular message, a mood-setting image, a key call to action, or an enticement to scroll. 

When prioritizing content, it might be time to start thinking vertically rather than horizontally, and here’s why… 

Users don’t engage with them.

There is a phenomenon known as banner blindness, where people unconsciously ignore images or features that look like ads. The Nielsen Norman Group has studied banner blindness extensively over three decades and determined that brains simply skip over items that are deemed to be visually similar to ads. Sliders often occupy the same spaces as ads at the top of the page and share features with ads such as moving images, large/bold text that varies from the rest of the page, and boxes that are set apart from other content. All these factors trick our brains into altogether avoiding the area with the sliders.

In a study of data from the University of Notre Dame website, only about 1% of users clicked on the banner slideshow, and of that 1%, roughly 84% of the clicks were just on the first slide. If only 1% of users click a slideshow that occupies the top of the home page, that valuable real estate is likely being overlooked and is a missed opportunity.

Another Nielsen Norman Group study indicates the average user stays on a website for less than a minute. In this small window of time, users are not spending time clicking through slides or waiting for them to rotate, which leads to our next point.

They’re slowing you down.

One issue with slides is since they’re often made up of large, high-resolution images, they may slow down the loading speed of your site. Slower loading can often cause frustrated users to leave the site entirely.

Also, think about what the experience is like for people on a mobile phone. It’s likely that a user scrolls down to look for what they need, so they may spend almost no time looking at the slideshow to find what they are looking for.

Google doesn’t like them.

In addition to considering load times in its search results, Google may not pick up information from your additional slides to display in its search results. Information in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, indicates it can access hidden content like additional slides, but considers it less accessible — so it may not get prioritized.

Speaking of Accessibility… 

Slideshows can be difficult for some users. They may present navigation trouble for users with visual impairments using screen readers to experience your website. Additionally, slides often advance automatically, and this can be difficult for people who may read at a slower rate and can’t absorb all the information you are presenting. Others may be distracted by the automatic movement and have difficulty focusing on either the slide itself or the information near the slider on the page. 

All that means…

Most slideshows/carousels/sliders don’t actually do what you want them to.

Consider why you want slides in the first place. Many organizations like the idea of multiple important messages getting a place on the homepage. Borrowed from the newspaper business, the phrase “above the fold” is still prevalent — yet misguided — in the web world. It may be tempting to shove your most important information to the top, but websites aren’t newspapers and users navigate them differently. Including too much may mean your messages get lost in the shuffle, or not seen at all. 

So how do we solve this problem?

Prioritize and make good choices.

For better or worse, we live in a world where we have to think about the hierarchy of information. Most websites draw more than 50% of traffic on mobile phones, so we have to be more strategic about creating and displaying information in an order that conveys quickly (and often on a 2” screen) to the user what they can do while they are on your website. 

One key is to remember that your website is about your website visitor, not you. You may be able to make your boss feel better by adding his or her one important idea to the carousel and making it “un-missable.” Yet, for today’s user, it has the opposite effect.

That initial impression on your website is vital, so that space should be used wisely — and usually for your most important idea (singular). That could be a bold statement about what your organization accomplishes or how you are distinct from your competition. It may set a mood or cue in the visitor visually about the people you serve. It may contain one key call to action (but given the issues above, it may be a call you repeat elsewhere in the design).