Sliders and image carousels are a ubiquitous feature on millions of websites. But numerous studies suggest that image carousels are ineffective at conversions.
A 2013 Notre Dame study showed only 1% of participants clicked on auto-forwarding slides, and of those that did click, 84% clicked the first slide. This means the chance of any subsequent slides being clicked is only 0.16%!
In the same study, the click-through rate for static carousels (where the user manually forwards the slides) went up to about 2%. Of the clicks on the static carousel, the first slide still got 48–60% of all clicks. In both studies, the more slides that were introduced, the more the first slide was favored. This begs the question of why there are multiple slides at all.
Web usability expert Jakob Nielsen ran a test in 2013 for Siemens Appliances in the UK. In this test, a image slider at the top of the home page declared on the first slide that there was a sale going on— in large 98-point font. This is lettering impossible to miss. For good measure, there was a sidebar widget announcing the sale as well.
Yet, when participants were asked if Siemens was running a sale, they replied “No”. Even after an extended time on the website, users still could not perceive the message in the image carousel. The information in this slide was not retained.
Information that changes every five seconds does not get retained by customers. Carousels are also bad for accessibility, because people with poor motor skills cannot click them and low-literacy people cannot read them fast enough before they change.
Similar tests show that when call-to-action buttons are placed in slides, users cannot click them, because the slide changes too quickly.
But if sliders and carousels are ineffective in web design, why do we continue to use them?
Reasons Carousels Are Still Popular
CEOs like image sliders because they are a way to display multiple messages “above the fold”. Large organizations with multiple departments can appease everyone by giving them each a slide, even if that comes at the cost of conversions. It also prevents organizations from answering the difficult questions, such as, “What is the most important action we want users to take? What is the most important information we want site visitors to see?”
Web designers use image carousels because they either don’t know that they suck for conversions and are a drain on performance, or just follow whatever trends they see everyone else doing. WordPress themes on sites like ThemeForest are often bundled with multiple sliders. The theme authors do this not because of usability or effectiveness, but because they know that shiny moving objects on the demo page will make their themes SELL.
Image Carousels and Banner Blindness
Part of the problem will image carousels is “banner blindness”. Since banner advertising has been a part of the web for two decades, users ignore everything that is perceived to be an advertisement by their brain, even when it is legitimate site content. This includes the big moving images at the top of the homepage that you want to put your main messages on.
So, Do Carousels Work At All?
Where can you use carousels effectively? Not on your home page. Every image that needs to be downloaded by the browser makes the page speed bog down more. Slow page speed means users click away from your site and Google downgrades your site for slow page speed.
Carousel slides should not be links to destination pages, as they are seldom clicked. Carousels serve their purpose best on inner pages — as gallery images in a shop page, or in a portfolio. Users should always be able to start and stop the sliders manually, so they retain control over their intake of information.
Carousels should ideally be mobile-friendly and touch enabled. The carousel navigation should be crystal-clear. Users should understand instantly how to advance or back up slides.
Alternative To The Home Page Slider
Instead of trying to squeeze five messages into the top area of your website and have none of them convert, pick the most important message for your home page and focus on that. Use a single image, a single message and call-to-action. Test your new conversion rate against your old home page slider. Your business website deserves better than a 0.84% conversion rate.