Do sliders help or harm your website?

Do sliders help or harm your website?

Sliders, sometimes known as carousels, are a popular addition to many websites. They consist of a rotating series of images which either auto-forward after a certain number of seconds or remain static until a user clicks an arrow ('choice sliders').

The trouble with sliders is that many people from the user experience and SEO side of web design are convinced that they do not work and point to numerous click and conversion tests which appear to back up their opinion.

However, there are tests which seem to show sliders can be beneficial to conversions so who is right?

The case for sliders

For a long time now, web designers have railed against static content. Website consumers are now used to being delivered content which grabs their attention with plenty of movement and colour.

Sliders certainly tick that box, presenting visitors with dynamic content which is ever changing. Businesses which use visuals as their stock in trade (e.g photographers and graphic designers) need a means to showcase their work beyond presenting visitors with a single static example and a carousel achieves that goal.

In a news or sports site, sliders can be used to cycle through headline stories while, in some cases, sliders can tell a compelling story themselves.

A few cases have even provided evidence that sliders can boost conversions. For example, a 2012 test by Device Magic found that a webpage featuring a slider converted significantly better than a similar page with a video above the fold.

Brian Massey of testing experts Conversion Scientists also demonstrated how optimised sliders can increase conversions.

So why do so many in the web design and development space disagree?

Sliders are distracting

Critics of sliders argue that sliders are distracting and are treated in much the same way as advertising banners. In the same way as the overuse of banners has led to so-called, 'banner blindness,' sliders – and the messages they contain – are largely ignored. Since visitors are forced to actively scroll or avert attention to avoid the sliders, this can even lead to resentment and an increased bounce rate, say the skeptics.

Advocates of sliders believe the opposite is true. They claim that exposure to sliders has changed viewer behaviours so that they now know what a slider is and how they are expected to interact with the content. They say that much of the evidence against sliders is outdated.

People don't click on sliders

Even the most die hard slider advocate will probably have to concede on this point.

There is a wealth of evidence out there which demonstrates that banners deliver a poor click-through-rate (CTR). For example, this study from Search Engine Land found that sliders failed on both usability and SEO counts.

Even when banners did attract clicks, the first slide in the reel tended to attract a disproportionate percentage of them. This begs the question, why not just replace the carousel with a single, powerful image.

This is the concept which lies behind the so-called 'hero layout.' This layout captures attention with a single, simple image above the fold, forcing the visitor to scroll down to gather more information before clicking a 'call-to-action' (CTA) button. Proponents of this layout explain that users are presented with the most compelling content first. They ask the question: if you don't know which is your best content, how can you expect your visitors to?

Other commentators point out that CTR isn't everything. As long as the sliders are engaging with the visitors and encouraging conversions what does it matter that the slider itself isn't being clicked?

The trouble is, conversion experts tend to agree that sites with sliders don't convert particularly well either. They point to examples such as Adobe, who saw their conversions rocket by 23 per cent simply by removing their slider and moving the remaining home page content up above the fold.

SEO specialists, such as the well-known slider-skeptics at Yoast, also point out that sliders can slow page load time (due to the need to load Javascript code) and prevent crawlers from accessing all of the content. Both of these are bad news for search optimisation, particularly if slow load times lead to increasing bounce rates. Sliders which include text marked up with an H1 tag and those requiring Flash to run are even more problematic from an SEO perspective, say the experts.

Sliders, or the images they load, are not always compatible with mobile devices either, putting question marks over their inclusion in responsive website designs.

Most of us have also experienced the frustration of trying to read a slider which scrolls too quickly. This is even more of a problem for people suffering with visual problems or low levels of literacy which is why accessibility is another area in which sliders often fall down.

Lessons from the big players

One way to make a decision on sliders is to look at the big players and to see whether they opt for sliders, static images or something else.

At the time of writing, Apple have gone for the hero layout with a single image on a plain background dominating the page above the fold. Other big companies which prefer large images and a simple layout above the fold are Evernote, Disney, Dropbox, Gap and Hilton.

Even Netflix, once (sometimes begrudgingly) cited as an example where sliders can be made to work have for now gone the single image route leaving Amazon as the one glaring exception. Around two-thirds of the above fold space on Amazon's home page is dominated by a classic auto-scrolling slider with prominent forward and back arrows for manual control.

Amazon's homepage features a large slider

Testing is the way forward

The fact that Amazon can make sliders work for them illustrates an important point. There is no single rule when it comes to web design. Every web designer and their client has to make their own informed decision regarding whether sliders will benefit their business or not. It could be that your particular business in your specific niche can make a slider work. Or it could be that adjusting the scrolling speed or the type of navigational controls can turn a 'bad' slider into a good one.

Getting a clear answer means running tests. An A/B test is a basic tool for trying out different versions of webpages and other digital content on online consumers. The technique generally involves randomly generating version A or B so that 50 per cent of visitors are exposed to each.

If you currently use a slider on your website, you could generate a variation whereby the first slide in the sequence is used as a static image. Using an A/B test, you will be able to compare both versions and know for sure how many clicks the static image gets compared with the slider and which webpage converts best overall.

At Eyes Down, we work closely with our clients to ensure their objectives align with their users'. To find out more about how this could work for your website, please call us for an initial chat.

Topic: User experience

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