An article by Darrell Wilkins on 21 Apr 2021
Summary: Carousels promise much; yet, they frustrate users, convert poorly and degrade performance. You should avoid them everywhere but never use them above-the-fold on your homepage.
Carousels allow many pieces of content to appear in a single space. Often this is the coveted 'hero' above-the-fold area.
They usually animate, scrolling each piece of content into view. Some have indicators to show there is more content, and some have navigation buttons. On mobile, you can often swipe between elements.
Carousels seem like a logical way to cram important content into your sites 'hero'. They are often employed when there are competing pressures from within the business. They can help diffuse infighting about whose content is most deserving.
The problem is they work against your likely intended goal — user engagement.
Studies show that only around 1% of site visitors interact with a carousel. Of those visitors, ~90% of the interactions are with the first slide. The other slides get ~2-3% of the interactions each.
For one person to interact with the second slide in your carousel, you would need 5000 people to visit your site.
But things are worse than that.
Banner blindness is a long-established principle in usability. Users will avoid anything that they perceive (correctly or not) to be an advert. People perceive prominent animating elements like a carousel as averts and ignore them. They look away or scroll to find the content they are interested in.
A carousel makes it more likely that site visitors will miss your value proposition, even if it's on the first slide.
Static content performs far better than a carousel.
Carousels either :
- Auto-forward, moving on to the next slide after a predetermined amount of time.
- Need onscreen controls to interact.
Sometimes they do both.
Auto-forwarding carousels frustrate people. The content is there one minute and gone the next. People hate not finding things where they expect them to be. Users will leave your site rather than spend the effort to work out how to interact with your carousel.
If they leave because they can't find what they are looking at, another cognitive bias comes into play.
The peak-end rule
Human memory is rarely an accurate record of events. And it is strongly influenced by the final moments of an experience. If that last moment was good, then, over time, you will remember the experience more positively. The opposite is true too.
If someone leaves a website frustrated, they will remember the entire experience negatively. That could reflect poorly on your brand.
Every page on your site should load fast. But it is especially true of your homepage. Fast loading sites convert better, rank better for SEO and are perceived as more credible.
Conversion rates are by perceived speed; or how long users perceive things as taking. SEO is more affected by actual page speed, the measured time it takes to load.
Having a carousel as the hero on your homepage affect both.
Reduced performance isn't the biggest reason to avoid carousels. Usability is. Every little helps, though.
Should I ever use a carousel?
You shouldn't use one above-the-fold on your homepage. And you should think very carefully about using one anywhere.
There isn't a good reason to use a carousel on your site. Placating internal politics isn't one. There are more effective, engaging ways of presenting content.
There are ways of making carousels more useable and effective. The effort required to make (and maintain) a good one is considerable and is rarely a good use of resources.
What should be above the fold on the homepage?
The number one guideline in homepage usability is to make the site's purpose clear.
To give some context, here are some statistics :
It takes about 50 milliseconds (that's 0.05 seconds) for users to form an opinion about your website. That determines whether they like your site or not, whether they'll stay or leave.
It takes 2.6 seconds for a user's eyes to land on the area of a website that most influences their first impression.
Users often leave Web pages in 10–20 seconds. Pages with a clear value proposition can hold people's attention for much longer.
In that homepage hero area, you need to explain three things :
- What you do and who you do it for.
- What's in it for the user — your value proposition.
- How they go about getting it — call to action.
Do it with clear, unambiguous language free from marketing speak. If visitors can read and understand it quickly, they are much more likely to engage.
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