Should you have a homepage carousel? 🎠
Sliders, carousels, rotating offers, whatever you want to call them, you know what we’re talking about. Those banners that have multiple pieces of imagery and content, the ones that change to something different when you’re trying to read them, shouting about every deal the company has on offer for you. They seem to be everywhere online, but is this a good thing? Why are they so popular and, more importantly, could they be doing more harm than good?
Carousels in theory…
Carousels were born from our fear of making difficult decisions. In the hero area of your website, you need to do something, anything, to get users on your side and stop them from bouncing straight off your site. But why decide on just one thing to shout about, when you can shout about everything the user could possibly be interested in? Just put them on rotation and problem solved… right? Wrong.
Now that carousels have been around for quite a while, we have access to a multitude of data on how users are interacting with them, or (spoiler alert), not interacting with them. The headlines are in, and they’re not good. The carousel has been named a “conversion killer” by more than one usability study, but why is that?
“Rotating banners are absolutely evil and should be removed immediately”. – Tim Ash, Clickz
What’s wrong with using carousels?
We don’t dub things ‘conversions killers’ lightly. Here are just a couple of reasons why carousels have been proven to damage the user experience, rather than enhance it:
The danger of “banner blindness”.
Banner blindness is nothing new, we’ve known about this user behaviour for a while. Users have become increasingly savvy as digital becomes more ingrained in our everyday lives, and as a result, we have learned to filter out anything we deem irrelevant to our task online.
We automatically filter out anything that looks like an ad, namely, banners. If you’ve got a carousel switching things up on your homepage looking like an ad, users are likely to ignore it in favour of other content. This is called selective attention – when users filter out anything they don’t think is related to their goal.
As a result of banner blindness, legitimately important information can often be missed, and this could be why users are skipping right over your carousel. This can be because your content is in a position where a user might expect an ad (at the top of the page or on the right-hand side), and/or because the content looks like an ad (is confined in a rectangle, uses animation, a difference in style between this content and the content elsewhere on the site).
Beware the temptation of auto-rotation.
A lot of the time when users encounter a carousel online it automatically rotates to show the other slides hidden behind the first one. This automatic animation takes control of the interface away from the user, which can be frustrating and disruptive to their user journey.
Putting the user in control is a key element of designing interfaces, and auto-rotating carousels do the opposite.
Another consideration is making your website accessible for your users. It is annoying enough when a carousel moves when you are trying to read it, but what if that carousel is being presented to a user who has motor skill difficulties? These users may struggle to click on calls to action before they are swept away in favour of the next slide of the carousel. Low-literacy users or users who are using the site in a language that is not their native one may have difficulty reading the messaging on the carousel before it animates away from them. In an effort to showcase more content, you may be robbing some demographics of users of being able to engage with any of your content at all.
“Auto-forwarding carousels annoy users and reduce visibility.” – Jakob Nielsen, Nielsen Norman Group
Your users are highly unlikely to interact with them.
Multiple studies into usability and discoverability of carousels have found that, more often than not, users aren’t showing much interest in carousels. One study by Erik Runyon found that out of 3 million homepage visits only 1% of users clicked a carousel slide. And, after the first slide, click through rates tend to go even further downhill – research firm Nielsen Norman Group state that most people stop after viewing 3 – 4 items on a carousel and, especially on touch screens and mobile devices, carousels are “plagued by low discoverability and sequential access”.
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Simply put, we agree with the guy who built Should I Use a Carousel. Carousels are frustrating to use and your users are almost trained to ignore them. We recommend dropping the carousel in favour of big, bold brand messaging to strengthen your offering and get your users engaged with your brand.