Homepage sliders and all their variations (carousels, rotating offers, parallax scrolling backgrounds and banners) are widely employed by website designers, loved by clients and pretty much universally hated by SEOs. Tons of hard data exists tying homepage sliders to negative performance and usability, but this design element is clearly not going away. So, what gives? Here’s the Good, the Bad and the Ugly about homepage sliders and some compromises to keep both your clients and your website optimization team happy.
The homepage is the main entry point into a website. It should tell the visitor what the company does and easily guide or prompt them to continue their journey. Too many slider images competing for the visitor’s attention can be a distraction from the simple mission of the homepage and can cause the visitor to lose focus and interest. Some website visitors may find that the slider images move too slowly. Others may find that the images move too quickly, or they may have trouble finding the arrows or carousel indicators in order to move through the slider at their own pace. Other visitors may be struck with “banner blindness” and may completely ignore the slider, subconsciously categorizing it as an advertisement or unimportant content.
There are many, many studies showing that sliders just don’t convert. At best, a website slider doesn’t contribute to the website’s conversions. But, at worst, it may actually hurt or hinder conversions. There is a significant amount of research available regarding slider performance. A well-publicized study from the University of Notre Dame showed that the majority (84%) of visitors only interacted with the first slide of the homepage carousel and that the slider conversion rate was only 1%. In another study, an optimization manager from Adobe removed a slider from a client’s website and ran a head-to-head test with the original version of the website. The no banner version had 23% more sales. Sliders can also have a negative impact on the ability of a search engine to crawl a site. Carousels often slow down a site’s page load speed and sometimes generate multiple H1s. They also rarely work effectively on mobile. These combined factors can be detrimental for search engine rankings.
In theory, sliders can create an opportunity to showcase multiple products, services or offers in one prime location. Most people are visual, and a slider is an opportunity to share multiple pieces of visual content. Despite the warnings and pleadings of SEOs, clients from companies of all sizes and industries absolutely love sliders. I was recently asked to provide some advice to a local community organization that was undergoing a website redesign. During the planning stages, the group looked at several existing websites. When they came to one with a large homepage slider, a hush descended on the room. Everyone loved the slider! Despite all the data I pulled out about conversions and usability, they were determined to incorporate this design element into their new site.
Finding The Compromise
If you have a client that is fixated on having a homepage slider, here are some suggestions for compromise:
- Replace it with a static image. If your client loves the visual impact of a slider, try to convince them to replace it with a static hero image.
- Reduce the slider’s real estate. If replacing the slider is a non-starter for your client, at least try to reduce slider’s size. By freeing up some valuable real estate, you may be able to move other page elements up above the fold where they are more likely to be noticed.
- Avoid putting calls-to-action within the slider. As explained above, sliders will move too quickly for some, too slowly for others and are unlikely to hold the attention of either group. This is generally not a place to put a CTA.
- If you must put CTAs in the slider, be sure to optimize and A/B test. Brian Massey of Conversion Sciences was able to build a slider that outperformed a static image by 61%. He did this by optimizing the load speed of each image, minimizing motion distraction by replacing the slide with a fade, using a long interval between images and A/B testing the order in which the slider images should appear.
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