The issues with this common design choice

Whatever you might call them - rotating carousels or rotating banners have been, and in many instances, remain a commonplace feature of website design and a popular choice on homepages.

Why? In theory, carousels offer a chance for sites to display multiple messages in a prime website position in the hope of engaging all who visit that site, whilst others feel the large imagery and movement makes a website more attractive. They can also be a solution to internal disagreement around the most important information to show on a homepage (as covered in more detail in our previous article on homepage design). 

However just because you put information in front of people doesn’t mean they will actually notice it or engage with it, and many studies have found this to be the case with rotating carousels.

Effective website design is not just about designing something that looks “nice,” in itself a very subjective thing. For your organisation to achieve its business goals, your website must offer an excellent user experience, balancing visual appeal with a high level of usability to achieve results.  

The main issues studies have found with rotating carousels focus on usability and conversions. Here we outline these issues:

The auto-forwarding of carousels can be a problem, especially if they move too quickly

This means customers can't actually take in the information. As Usability Expert Jakob Nielsen points out, moving images can also reduce accessibility to low literacy users, and low motor skills users. They can also be annoying to users who were interested in what they saw but the image moved forward before they could finish reading it. 

Some carousels feature a radio button to allow you to navigate between images but these can be easily missed, and you are asking users to do a lot of work to find what you want to tell them. 

Carousels distract users from other elements on the page

Banners are rarely the only content on a page and if you’ve gone for a rotating banner approach you’re likely to have a multitude of other messages you want to promote to your users. However this creates an overwhelming experience with so much distraction that the user takes in none of the other information on the page, even if it answers what they came to your website to find. So you create a lot of noise that interferes with appropriate content on the page being noticed. 

The challenge with a landing page, whether a homepage or (sub)category page is getting your key messages across to 100% of your visitors. It's akin to the visual merchandising challenge of a shop-front, with the differentiation being technology. Carousels seem like the best catch-all solution and have a wide adoption throughout, however, I personally think it is an inefficient use of space with a huge reliance on a consumer 'sticking around' if the first one or two banners do not appeal (assuming you have more than two).

Depesh Mandalia, Head of Digital at QualitySolicitors

Banner blindess

Jakob Nielsen coined the term banner blindness several years ago because his studies showed that people rarely look at anything on a website that looks like an advertisement, which of course rotating carousels generally do. 

We are now so used to seeing rotating banners, they no longer grab our attention as a new and exciting design feature.

Can you recall a time you purchased something that was advertised to you in a rotating banner?

Carousels over complicate the user experience

Simplicity is key. At tictoc we always advise our clients to keep things as simple as possible, whether that’s their content, a donation page or a shop checkout process. Carousels are a design feature that display content in a more complicated way than is needed.

Instead of simply looking at content on a page, users are burdened with having to identify the carousel and then learning its controls, conventions and behaviors.

Brad Frost, Web Designer Expert and speaker.

Carousels don't support conversion

There is an increasing number of studies into the effectiveness of carousels, and the results aren't great. 

One such study by Notre Dame University into its use of carousels showed they were ineffective in driving conversion. The study found that combined, the five slides in their carousel were clicked on by only 1% of all site visitors, with the first slide receiving the majority (84%) of those clicks. Based on these numbers the real estate versus the return just doesn’t add up.

Users can only take in so much information in one go, so for every message you add, the lower their overall impact.

So, with carousels still so popular and their use perhaps ingrained as a must in your organisation, what's the alternative?

Firstly, reassess your content. If you have multiple messages ask, is this the information your users are actually coming to your website for? If it isn't, then its not needed. 

Your approach should always be focused on meeting the needs of your users. It should not be based on what internal stakeholders dictate is important or on casual assumptions. Ideally before your website is designed you’ll have completed research to answer these questions. If you have an existing website, track how features such as carousels are performing and use this information to inform decisions. 

Don’t be scared to remove a carousel if evidence shows users aren’t clicking on its messages. If you need further information on their drawbacks, here Conversion XL sets out an abundance of additional reasons to lose them. 

Agreeing on one or two priorities and adding static calls to action will increase click through rates as users have less decisions to make and see clearer paths to follow. 

Every page on your website should be structured in a way that prioritises your information with the most important information at the top decreasing in importance or reaffirming priority information as users move down the page. 

Users scan, and expect to, so don’t fret that they will miss information if it's not at the top of the page. But do pay attention to making your content so great that users want to continue to learn more by moving down the page. 

If it’s the  multiple images offered by a carousel that is the driving decision behind its inclusion then simply have the images rotating with one core message that the images support. We advise refining the number of images to a maximum of 3 so they don’t distract from the actual message. 

If you currently have a carousel on your website but aren't sure how it is performing, add tracking to measure its performance and again ask yourself why it is there in the first place.

If you need help assessing how well your homepage is performing, get in touch.

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