Does Your Homepage Really Need an Image Slider?

Written by Wholegrain Team - June 30, 2014

Image sliders continue to be a hot topic of debate amongst web designers. And the general consensus is mostly bad. These irritating merry-go-rounds (also known as carousels or rotating offers) appear to have slid from a mild irritation to a virulent hatred over the last year or so.

So why are people so anti-image sliders, and is there ever a good reason to use one on your homepage?

The Fad of the Carousel

If they’re so contentious why we bother using them at all?

Firstly, they’re an easy way out. Imagine a planning meeting for a company that’s working on a new website. There’s a variety of different departments and managers involved in the meeting and each thinks that their message/product/service is the most important element of the business. Cue a rabble of egos all vying for the top spot. The answer: yup, have an image slider so that everybody is represented on the homepage. Phew! Disaster averted. Or is it…

The other reason is simply a question of fad. Clients have seen them on other websites, and think they’re cool. After all, who doesn’t like sleek, moving things on their website? Other people use them, and they want a piece of that.

Fair enough, so what are the arguments against?

Conversion Killers

Your call to action (CTA) is the single most important element of your homepage so it’s essential that your visitors actually see it. But what happens when your CTA is hidden amongst your image sliders or, worse still, if you have several CTAs all hidden on different slides?

Your visitors simply don’t see them.

Jakob Nielson, usability guru, ran a usability study in the UK where a user was set the task of finding out whether a certain well-known washing machine manufacturer was running any specific promotions. Despite there being a huge ad in the most prominent part of the screen, the user missed the ad because it was part of an image slider and concluded there were no special offers.

Erik Runyan ran another study to look at how placing a CTA on an image slider can affect the click-through rate (CTR). Out of over 3.7 million homepage visits, only 1 percent of visitors clicked an image slide. And of that 1 percent, 89 percent clicked on the first slide they saw. Which strongly suggests that if the information visitors are looking for isn’t on the first slide, they are highly unlikely to find it at all.

There are several reasons for this. Often the sliders move too quickly so the user doesn’t feel able to control what they’re viewing (which is never a good thing). Plus, the writing moves too fast so people are unable to read it – which is a particular problem if your viewers have a low literacy level or if the language they’re reading isn’t their first language.

Bad for Speed

Adding an image slider means you are adding unnecessary bloat to your website that will take longer to load. If you have 4 or 5 images on a slider, you have 4 or 5 high-quality (therefore large) images that all need to load before your page can properly load in addition to the slider script itself. And we all know how impatient web viewers are – they’re far more likely to up sticks and navigate away before they’ve had chance to see what you’re offering.

Not only is it bad for users but also for your SEO, meaning that beautiful, sleek slider you may be hankering after will actually push your website lower down the search rankings. Which really isn’t good for business.

Too Many Distractions

Having a rolling carousel at the top of your homepage is too distracting for your visitors, and its impact can go one of two ways. Your visitors may be hit by banner blindness, where they immediately ignore the slider assuming it’s just ads, or they are so distracted by the moving images they completely miss the important message you’re trying to convey.

It also suggests a lack of focus in your business. I mean, if you can’t work out which of your messages is the most important, how on earth do you expect your visitors to be able to do likewise? Your homepage will be so much stronger if you focus on your primary offer or message and choose a simple image that sums it up. Essentially, put your best foot forwards.

Not Good for Mobile Devices

With the steady rise in mobile internet usage, it’s becoming increasingly important to build good, responsive websites that can be viewed easily on a variety of devices. But if image sliders slow down websites, imagine what they will do on your phone if you’re connected over 3G. The load times will be ridiculous and your customers won’t thank you for their data bills.

If that little lot still hasn’t put you off using an image slider, this simple website does a great job at summing up the stats and demonstrating just how annoying those moving slides can be.

Do Carousels Ever Work?

Sometimes, regardless of all the negative data, clients still really want image sliders for their websites. So is it possible to make them work? If you must include an image slider on your homepage, make it as simple as possible.

  • Use a maximum of 2 or 3 slides and make sure the page loads quickly.
  • Focus on a singular call to action, and ensure it’s clearly visible on each slide.
  • Use a manual slider so the user is in control and make sure the navigation is clearly visible.
  • Move the slider lower down your homepage so it isn’t the first thing your customers see. That way it won’t detract from your conversions, but if people are scrolling looking for more information they might find exactly what they’re looking for.

We believe that a single, well-designed, focused banner is far more effective than an image slider with lots of different messages spinning around incessantly. It’s far less distracting, it demonstrates confidence and belief in your message, and it will have a much higher conversion rate.

Here is a great article about Slider Alternatives.

What are your thoughts on image sliders? Do you agree with us, or believe they still have a role to play? Over to you…