A recent trend in web design which is showing no signs of slowing is the use of automatic image sliders (also known as carousels or rotators) which cycle through different banner images or slides at set times after loading. These sliders are a great way to satisfy each and every stakeholder involved in a business with different products and services getting a chance to share the limelight on the homepage. They can however have a significant negative effect on your website’s conversion rate.
What Do The Studies Say?
There have been many studies done on automatic homepage sliders and they have found:
Only The First Slide Gets Attention
With multiple offers being cycled through to keep numerous stakeholders happy you would think each would get similar, or close to similar views and clicks. Testing however has found that this simply isn’t the case with the first banner getting the vast majority of the attention and results. If the best product or offer is buried at position 2 or worse it has almost no chance of assisting the sites conversion rate. Equally, if your best offer is in position 1 some people will still miss it when the slide automatically progresses – harming the websites overall conversion rate.
People Ignore Homepage Banners
Banner blindness is a well known and documented effect in which the banner resembles an advert causing users to tune out. There have been a number of eye tracking studies carried out on banner areas and sliders with almost all studies showing that people automatically skip to the content below it. Sliders take up a key piece of above-the-fold real estate on the homepage which could be used for other more important elements which push the main unique selling benefit.
It Slows Down Your Site
Sliders generally use a number of large image based banners and this can significantly slow down the loading speed of the webpage. Sliders also usually use JQuery and a slider script to function which is additional code a visitor has to load when they view the page. The amount of extra time that a slider can add to your webpage varies, but studies have shown they can add between 0.4 seconds and 5 seconds. Having a slow load time can cause both lower conversion rates and lower search engine rankings. Having seen many sliders that move to the second banner only to be a blank or half loaded image I can see why.
Users Get Confused
Using an automatic slider can cause users to get confused as they lose control of their interface. Users, especially those who are browsing in a second or third language, have a hard time both reading and responding to (clicking a CTA button for example) a banner they are interested in before it moves onto the next one – a confusing user experience that should be avoided. To quote Brad Frost in his recent article on sliders/carousels:
“Carousels introduce a level of complexity to an interface. Instead of simply looking at content on a page, users are burdened with having to identify the carousel and then learning its controls, conventions and behaviors.”
Users Get Distracted
Like moths to a light the human brain and eye is drawn to movement and coming across a page which automatically moves can cause users to get distracted. When a user is distracted they are not learning the stuff that actually matters and will make them convert – your value proposition.
So What Should You Do Instead?
Well now that you’ve found out what the studies say I’m sure you’re convinced that your slider is killing your conversion rate – but now what, what should you replace your slider with?
Use A Static Slider
Unlike an automatic slider which proceeds to the next slide after a certain time a static slider gives visitors the ability to manually choose to move to the next slide and browse offers and information. Whilst this option does not address ‘Banner Blindness’ mentioned earlier it is a step in the right direction. The biggest eCommerce retailer in the world, Amazon is currently utilising static sliders and is constantly split testing so its safe to say static sliders do have a use.
Focus Your Homepage On Your Primary Offer
Even better than a static slider (in my experience) is simply using a clear, well thought out headline or offer on your homepage which clearly tells your website visitors exactly what you do or what you offer and pushes your point of difference. Simplifying the banner area in this way avoids banner blindness and when accompanied by a clear call-to-action button your conversion rates can be maximised. With many studies showing that 80% of website visitors only read the headline, it is extremely important you get it right and by removing carousels completely you have the ability to split test and constantly improve the headline and other copy you use.
Encompass Multiple Offers On A Static Page
If you can’t convince multiple stakeholders to decide on just one offer for the homepage another option is to essentially take each banner in your slider and add them to the homepage, with 1 prominent offer and multiple others below. You will likely have trouble with which offer to make the most prominent, something that can always be decided by a split test determining the best combination and prominence of offers.
User Personalisation or Segmentation
Better than an automatic slider or even a homepage focused on one primary offer is using personalisation or segmentation to target the homepage banner. This can be done by demographics such as country (‘The fastest way to get widgets delivered to New Zealand’) or by individual characteristics such as past buying behaviour (‘Save 30% Off Your 5th Order Of Blue Widgets’). Clearly this is hard to set up but online marketing is increasingly moving towards personalisation so it is something worth investing both time and money into.
If you’re struggling to get the move to a static homepage through internally then I encourage you to split test two versions of your homepage – one with a slider and one without – people can’t really argue against data which proves your point so it will be easier to win the battle.
I will leave the last word on image sliders to Lee Duddell who runs WhatUsersDo.com:
“Carousels are effective at being able to tell people in marketing/senior management that their latest idea is now on the home page. They are next to useless for users and often “skipped” because they look like advertisements. Hence they are a good technique for getting useless information on a home page (see first sentence of this post).”