Despite its condemnation by conversion optimizations at conference after conference, merchandisers and Web designers love, love, love their home page carousels.
“At the recent Conversion Conference in Chicago, about 25% of the speakers mentioned carousels — of those, 100% condemned them.” — Harrison Jones
To see just how rampant this practice is across top online retailers, I personally visited each of Baymard Institute’s top 100 ecommerce sites ranked by checkout usability performance. A whopping 47% had rotating carousels on the home page!
What’s so bad about these hero-shots-on-steroids?
UX professionals have such a hate on for the tactic, it inspired its own website that scrolls through all the reasons you should just say no to sliders.
“Carousels pose accessibility issues for keyboard and screen reader users that simply cannot be adequately addressed by markup or hacks. Carousels are this decade’s < blink > tag.” — Jared Smith
“Carousels are effective at being able to tell people in Marketing/Senior Management that their latest idea is on the Home Page. Use them to put content that users will ignore on your Home Page. Or, if you prefer, don’t use them. Ever.” — Lee Duddell
“Almost all of the testing I’ve managed has proven content delivered via carousels to be missed by users. Few interact with them.” — Adam Fellowes
“We have tested rotating offers many times and found them to be a poor way of presenting home page content.” — Wider Funnel
But they’re so big! How can users not notice banners?!
Jakob Nielsen ran a usability test on Siemens’ home page, asking a user tester “Does Siemens have any special deals on washing machines?”
The promotion was plastered in 98 point font, and still the user failed the task, even after “an extended visit…including much time scrutinizing this homepage.” Giving up, she commented “I wouldn’t choose [a Siemens appliance] unless I was very rich.”
Web users tend to subconsciously ignore anything that looks like an ad, static or dynamic. Not only are banners ignored, generally, but when they auto-rotate (in the event a visitor notices or really cares), you have additional problems if they move too quickly (hey, I was reading that!).
Auto-rotation hurts SEO
Rotating banners have negative impact on SEO, as identified by Harrison Jones at Search Engine Land:
Alternating headings Wrapping multiple slider headings in h1 tags means your page contains multiple h1 tags, which changes the h1 tag with every slide change. This devalues keyword relevance.
Flash When sliders are served in Flash, search engines can’t crawl it. It also will affect your mobile SEO.
Performance Carousels can slow your page load speed, which will affect your bounce rates and SEO (Google doesn’t like sending searchers to crappy pages). Multiple high-res images magnify this problem.
Content substitute Jones observed that many home pages serve sliders in lieu of actual page content, likely in hopes of covering multiple personas. Light home page content will affect SEO rankings, in addition to the problems above.
Okay, okay. Rotating banners suck. Can I still use them?
If you insist on using them, make sure you follow these 5 best practices for rotating banners based on research from the Baymard Institute. In a nutshell, let choose your best banner as the default, use clear indicators that there are more slides to see, and let visitors control navigation through the other slides.
Ideally, your default slide is contexutally relevant to what you know about your visitor (geolocation, past page views, referring keyword, campaign or website, etc).
So what about the sites that skip the rotating banner altogether? Tune in next post for 12 alternative ways to design your home page without rotating headers.