The Content Slider: A Design Intervention

Okay, it’s time for a bit of a design intervention. The subject? Content sliders. You might call them web sliders, carousels, or any one of their other frequently used names. The point is, these things are EVERYWHERE. At Papercut, our clients frequently request sliders on their websites because they’re such a popular design element, but we often find that they don’t completely understand the implications behind using them. Heck, a large percentage of the sites we do have some kind of slider somewhere on the site – it is hard to look past what everyone else is doing sometimes to see what really works for YOU. We do our best to educate our clients and provide them with beautiful, modern websites that their customers will find easy to access and navigate.

To be blunt, we’re not fans of sliders, hence the point of our discussion today. Below are just a few reasons why we encourage our clients to look beyond web carousels when redesigning their websites.

Low Clickthrough Rate

Clickthrough rate is the percentage of website users who click on any given element within your site. Generally speaking, the purpose of a website slider is to get visitors to click on the content that appears in each slide. However, a decent amount of research suggests that sliders actually have the opposite effect. Think… how many times have you stayed on a site and clicked through a slider completely or even realized there was a slider to click through? Yea, it’s bad.

One of the most frequently referenced pieces of research about carousels is a study conducted by Erik Runyon, the Director of Web Communications and a web developer at the University of Notre Dame. He studied the clickthrough rates on several sliders on the university’s websites and found that, for the main site, only about 1% of visitors clicked on the slider. Additionally, the first slide got about 84% of those clicks, and the rest were split evenly across the other four slides. This raises an interesting related point – that content appearing in slides beyond the first position is often hidden from visitors. Many times, especially if navigation elements are too subtle, a visitor won’t realize that a carousel contains additional content and will move on without seeing anything beyond the first slide.

Side Note: Auto-forwarding Carousels

So, have you ever gone to a site and there is this obnoxious area that keeps switching images over and over and over… Oh hey, that is an auto-forwarding carousel – it advances the content automatically without users having to click a navigation button. According to a study by the Nielsen Norman Group, moving content sliders can cause visitors to view content as an advertisement and ignore it completely. Not good at all.

Organizational Crutches

In the words of respected web designer Brad Frost, “carousels are organizational crutches.” In short, he argues that carousels are used as an easy way to satisfy competing interests within an organization by placing all the content at the top of a webpage. This eliminates a crucial part of the web design process – discussions about content structure and strategy. When you eliminate carousels from your design, you are much more likely to spend time thinking about what content actually deserves to be permanently displayed on your site. This also leads to valuable talks about your goals and what you want visitors to do when they land on your website, making it a much more effective marketing tool for your organization in the long run. We find that it can be hard for organizations to objectively look at what kind of content should be on pages, but taking a step back and attempting to understand what your target audience is looking for is crucial to the success of your site.

Usability Issues

Using website sliders can open your site up to a host of usability issues, all of which are bad for your visitors and some of which can even harm your site’s SEO. For example (again pulling from Brad Frost’s insightful observations), carousels add a level of complexity to your site, both in terms of placing additional burdens on the user and extra technical requirements. Sliders require additional scripts and coding in order to function properly, and the more elements you add, the more likely something is to break.

In terms of their effect on SEO, web carousels that use large images can slow your site down because they take longer to load. Slower load times can have a negative impact on your SEO because they affect your user experience, and search engines don’t want to reward sites that offer a bad UX. Google announced that they were using site speed as a ranking factor back in 2010, and it still remains an important signal.

Additionally, Harrison Jones points out in an article over at Search Engine Land that sliders can often be used to replace content, which is invaluable for SEO. Sliders can be used at the expense of the vital, HTML-based content that helps your site rank for organic search terms. If there aren’t any words on the page, your site’s chances of appearing in Google’s search results are drastically reduced.

Consider an Alternative

What this all boils down to is that your site doesn’t have to have a content slider and, in all honesty, it probably doesn’t need one. Good web design that incorporates visual cues with content can achieve the same objectives you thought you needed a slider for and will likely show better results. Take the time to step back and really understand what it is you are trying to say to your audience and how you want them to get there. It is easy to look at what everyone else is doing and find a comfort in copying their choices – but many times your project will be more successful if you create experiences that are simple and tailored for your audience.

Want to know more? Leave a comment below and let’s talk about it!