Are website carousels a bad thing?

User Journey.

More and more people are suffering “Carousel Blindness” – a condition that causes the brain to switch-off from seeing the contents of carousels.

Web design fashion over the last few years has dictated that every (it seems) company must have a carousel at the top of their home page. Why?

The theory suggests that by showing all your products/services as a rolling carousel or flaky video you somehow engage the visitor. Except that’s not true. Carousels don’t work for a number of reasons rooted in one ugly part of the history of the web – advertising and flash banners.

Banner blindness has been well understood for over a decade, and explains why display advertising has such a low hit rate. But that’s ok for advertising when a single client might be spunking out millions of banner impressions per month.

But is that really the best use for your prime web-site space? I suspect not. It looks too much like a print, video or flash ad and therefore your brain is conditioned to ignore it. This gets worse with carousels that move, animate and do lots of stuff that distracts the eye.

So why do we have them? I suggest it’s simply a case of fashion, poor inspiration choices and an internal need to show off. Oh, and there’s lots of easy-to-use WordPress plugins for carousels and many web designers don’t comprehend the “less is more” mantra.

But, not all carousels are created equal?
Good ones contain interesting content and strong calls to actions – this does work and we’ve got the data to back it up. Bad ones contain nothing of interest, distract us with pointless transitions, or are unusable on mobile devices.

Mobile is interesting. As a general rule, carousels or animated banners are slower to load and can look a bit crap on mobile devices. The great thing about modern web-standards is that you can switch them off, or swap them for something else on a mobile device. It’s a shame most don’t.

And watch out for the fold: Having important content above the fold still holds true, despite many digital marketers “assuming” folks want to scroll. They don’t, and forcing them to do so doesn’t enhance the user journey – if it did, then carousels would create huge increases in conversion rate and we know that they don’t.

What’s the alternative?
Content, content and content. Folks come to your web-site as they are (generally) interested in learning more, so educate them rather than try to produce a fancy slideshow or pointless silent video (every tried watching a factual TV with the volume muted?).

“But I like carousels”
Liking is one thing, increasing the efficiency of the web-site is another, so it depends on what you want to achieve. However, if you use poor carousels then you are assured to:

  • Jolt the user journey
  • Distract the visitor
  • Slow the loading of the site
  • Waste time and creative effort on something no-one pays attention to

For those of you old enough to have been around the web in the last decade, you may remember “flash intro pages”. They were the fashion, they were pretty intrusive and they slowed the web down. The carousel, it seems, is the modern day version of those. Damn them to the trash immediately and keep the web a clean and tidy place. IMHO.

By Martin Dower