Carousels are no longer fun. As it turns out, they were never really fun. And I know what you’re thinking — unfortunately, we will not be discussing how kids interact with those merry-go-rounds full of creepy horses. Instead, we’re talking about those rotating teasers of content that are featured prominently on so many homepages.
As the world of web design turns, so does the research and data behind user experience and user interaction. That data speaks — and it’s saying that it’s time to start being creative again. It’s time to think of new and better ways to engage customers visiting your website.
Below, we’ll take a look at the facts, think about alternative solutions, and highlight the rare circumstances where they actually make sense. Armed with this information, you should be able to make an informed decision next time you’re considering adding one of those image merry-go-rounds to your website.
Here’s what you should know about the type of results and interaction you are getting from using carousels. A recent study by Erik Runyon discovered that 1% of visitors interacted with the carousel. Of these clicks, 84% were on the image or feature in the first spot and the rest of the images were clicked about 4% of the time.
Erik ran this study for other Notre Dame sites and had similar results. One of the sites he tested was using an auto-rotator (timed to rotate to the next image or feature) and had a higher visitor percentage percentage of about 9%. While the auto-rotator did receive more clicks, as the images rotated through, the interaction still continued to decrease significantly.
Speaking of auto-rotators — please don’t use those either. First, the image usually rotates before the user has a chance to read it. Second, users tend to ignore them. A recent test by Jakob Nielsen discovered that the automatic movements may cause a certain level of “banner blindness” (a phenomenon in web usability where visitors to a website consciously or subconsciously ignore banner-like information). Users seem to associate it with an advertisement and it turns them off, causing them to automatically ignore it.
Obviously, results will vary based on the type of industry, who you are marketing to or how engaging you make the content. However, the data makes it pretty clear that these are generally ineffective. Users do not interact well with carousels, they pretty much ignore everything after the first image and they are turned off by them because they appear to be advertisements.
Solutions & Alternatives
Okay, so you decided that maybe it’s not in your best interest to use a carousel — what are your other options? How else are you suppose to blast all of your messages out there and hope that something sticks? You can start by focusing, targeting and eliminating information overload.
Simplify Your Homepage Layout
Instead of using a cluttered homepage to pull people in, determine your most important message and stick to it. Maybe that’s your brand, a specific product, a promotion or a piece of information that helps your customers.
Geolocation & A/B Testing
Stop trying to share all your deals, promotions, stats or information at once and let the users do the work for you. For example, try adding a geolocation feature to your website that will display certain images or information depending on the user’s current location.
Another option is to run A/B testing. This can help you determine the most effective layout based on which option gets the most clicks.
Keep Your Site Truly Interactive
Interactive is a term thrown around a lot in our industry, but what does it really mean? A truly interactive site engages a customer in a way that guides them through a process you want to take them. Interaction has a purpose and doesn’t just give commands. Instead of hoping they click on what you want them to, use the site as a tool to guide them to where you want them to go. It doesn’t have to be as complicated as a site like Jurassic World, it can be simple like what Wasp Archery did for “Find Your Ultimate Broadhead” on their homepage.
Scrolling is a great option. Since scrolling is a common action, users are comfortable with it. Engage your customers through your site by bringing them below the fold and effectively displaying the content and information you want them to see. Check out how Vessyl accomplished this.
Hopefully these suggestions have helped you understand that there are alternative solutions that can be more effective than using a carousel. Be creative. Give your team the freedom to think of new and inspiring ways to deliver your information. Don’t get stuck in the trap of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or “that’s the way they do it.” It’s okay to be different and standout. That’s actually a good thing.
When to Use Carousels & Best Practices
While I’ve spent the majority of this post trying to convince you not to use carousels, there actually are appropriate places for them. For example, carousels are great for displaying information quickly and with as little distraction as possible. A good example of this can be found on ESPN’s Media Distribution Site.
You’ll notice this isn’t used as the first thing you see when you get to the page. It’s not the most important information on the page. It also doesn't overwhelm you with information. It uses simple calls to action and imagery to efficiently guide the user.
If you are using a carousel to display secondary information — go for it. But, if you’re in doubt whether or not you should, than don’t.
- If you still feel like your content absolutely requires a carousel, use this guide:
- Avoid featuring the carousel prominently above the fold. If you feel like you need it there, try to only rotate the images and keep the copy and call-to-actions in a consistent location throughout the slider images.
- Keep the images as clean as possible and avoid using a lot of copy on them. Let the images entice your users to click through with simple call-to-actions.
- Use subtle, clean transitions, but make sure they load quickly.
- Avoid using an auto-rotator. If you feel like you must, keep the timing slow and make sure the user still has control over it.
- Keep the slides to as few as possible — the longer it goes on, the more slides your users are not likely to ever see. Alternatively, you can let the user see all the content by giving them the option to click through.
- Most importantly: Use very clear navigation and offer multiple navigation options. Use large arrows on the sides or dots to let users get back to a specific slide if necessary.
So, let’s recap — stop using carousels. They annoy your users, they are ineffective and they are typically ignored. Let’s start thinking of ways to step outside of the box and create an experience that gets people talking. If you have to use a carousel make sure it’s for a good reason and designed in a way that provides a good experience.
Let’s work together to come up with a unique solution that works for you and engages your customers in a way that no one else in your industry is doing. To learn more about how we can help you accomplish this, contact UNION.