Homepage slider, carousel, rotating banners, call them what you like. There is one thing that is consistent about websites that still make use of them – by and large they aren’t being used for the right reasons, and when they are, they almost certainly aren’t being implemented correctly.
In the UK we are beginning to see less and less of them in the bigger businesses and that trend thankfully seems to largely be mirrored here in New Zealand but there’s still a lot of websites out there using them.
There is a pretty meaty blog that can (and has) been written plenty of times about the futile persistence of using this relatively antiquated approach, and in honesty I’m all for it. When you consider just some of the issues e.g. poor usability, banner blindness, multiple messages, responsive issues and SEO downsides.
However, that’s not what I want to write about here. Regardless of what digital marketers think about carousels, they still exist and they will continue to exist for quite some time. The simple reason for this is that for businesses with multiple interests/products/departments it serves a very functional internal purpose of appeasement. And whilst other websites continue to adopt it, others will follow as ‘best practice’.
I’ve worked with plenty of businesses that purely see it as an area of real estate that’s promoting their interests, I’ve even seen inter department squabbling about who is 1st/2nd/3rd but rarely have I seen these same teams ask about the results.
I get it, it’s the homepage, it’s from the outside view the most important page on the site and you need to promote more than one thing at once, but if a slider is really the only option for you then how can you get the most out of it? I’ve looked at five common mistakes with homepage carousels and sliders and four potential solutions.
Five common mistakes with website carousels
#1. Slides move too quick/slow on auto rotate – If you have auto-rotating banners then how do you get the timing right? Too quick and the chances are no one ever sees your first banner and they probably don’t have time to take in the second (if they’ve not scrolled past) but too slow and then you may as well go static? Well, no, because then you are reliant on the user clicking through the slides themselves manually and that leads us to mistake two…
#2. Using little circles to click through – This could be my single biggest bug bear across every digital marketing touch point. A slider with tiny little circles to indicate you can click them to move onto the next slide. We’ll skip over the fact that on some sliders these are so incredibly small that you can barely see them and go straight to the basic inherent problem.
As a user what incentive do I have to a) notice it’s there b) click it? Below you can see a slider of a prominent college here in Auckland. This isn’t even a terrible example of one as they do offer the right to left arrows, but even with the arrows the principle issue exists. Why should I click them? What’s in it for me? You are asking the user to do the work for you, there should be no surprise when users then don’t click or simply ignore the banner altogether.
#3. They are too big so they push important content below the fold – This has become more of a problem than ever with the increase in mobile responsive websites. Having a beautiful huge image on a desktop is all well and good but when that resizes to take up 90% of a mobile or tablet screen, then we have a problem. It’s unlikely that whatever copy is in your banner is going to make up for the potentially rich, interesting content below your banner.
A recent problem seems to be with marketers/designers trying to use the hero banner approach but trying to mix this with the older carousel approach, what you get is a horrible mish-mash that takes over your website, and if your banner isn’t eye catching then you’re risking increasing your bounce rate. That’s a lot of faith to put in one giant image.
#4. Too much text and information, confusion reigns – Three banners tends to be the norm but it’s not uncommon to see five or more on rotation. That’s a lot of information to take in – if the user even sees the fifth! Often the banners have no relation to each other and if we wanted to be ultra-harsh we could describe this style as series of colours, images and text presented at a high speed. Banner blindness at best, a reason to leave your website at worst. In our four things to improve sliders section below we discuss the importance of being concise.
#5. No click through – Ok so I’m perhaps clutching at straws to make up my five here but this really is still a problem for smaller websites and I suppose is the ultimate slider sin – a slider with no click through. Using up all that real-estate to simply promote an image or copy with no call-to-action! Why? If you want to promote just your services there’s plenty of other more appealing ways to do this.
Four things to improve website sliders (because symmetry is overrated)
I wrote this blog then realised that actually I could just have written the opposite guide for the five mistakes above, i.e. don’t use circles, make your images smaller, slow your auto rotate down but hopefully that’s implicit – not to mention a bit stupid- so instead I’ve looked at a few different options.
#1. Hold on one slide when there’s a hover state – If you do have an auto rotating banner then why not consider working with your developer or digital agency on pausing on a hover state. If a user has their mouse cursor on your banner this is a good indication they are reading or ready to interact with it. Only, your banner is going to hold on that slide for 5 seconds and then move on. Just think, that person could be on your homepage for the first time and you’ve frustrated them, not a great start? A simple solution to this is to pause the rotations when a mouse cursor hovers over it. As soon as they move their cursor it carries on rotating through the slides as normal and everyone is happy.
#2. Tell people what is coming next – So don’t have circles then? No. Instead use a tabbed approach or any approach that allows your user to make a decision themselves. You can see an example of a slider using this approach below.
You can see that the idea here is to give some information upfront to allow your user to make their own decision on whether to wait for it to rotate or whether to click a banner they may be interested in. This approach removes the need for them to blindly sit and wait to see if the slide will be of interest to them. You can catch their attention much earlier.
#3. Conversion Strong Call-to-action/Message – For many users your homepage will be their first impression of you as a brand or company. As a result the banner could well be your first chance to impress them, what do you want their first impression of you to be?
You need to be clear on this. Lots of websites point directly to an ‘About Us’ page, is this really what the person is there to read about? As part of your digital marketing strategy you hopefully have defined your goals, KPIs and have an idea of your audience and using research here will help infinitely. If you’re an FMCG then maybe you want your top deal front and certain with a strong call-to-action ‘Sale now on – buy now’ for example. Alternatively if you’re offering a service maybe ‘About is’ is the way to go and your call to action could be a softer ‘learn more’. The key is to be concise, know your audience, know your products and to…..
#4. Test it you crazy maniac – This probably doesn’t need years of testing and experience to proclaim but your first slide will gain the most clicks/engagement. Your second will gain the second most and your third – well, you get the idea. That said, I could be wrong, you could find that you have some amazing content hidden in your third slide that is resonating – despite its location. Try different imagery, try with a different button style, try different calls-to-action, try everything. Test it, measure it and optimise it to within an inch of its life.
So in summary, get rid of your slider. I know this makes this entire blog completely redundant but that really is the summary here. Even by making these improvements and avoiding the mistakes others make you’re still better off looking at other options, there’s so much research out there on the benefits of other options – not least from a CRO point – I’ll put together a blog about it when I get a sec, in the meantime go Google it, develop a new option and then, you know, test it and see for yourself!