Carousel or no carousel?
I’m sure all designers and developers have come across the request at some point to add a carousel to their clients or company’s homepage, often followed by a silent growl by you the intuitive dev at the fact they want to put a great rotating lump in a prime real estate area of the most visited page on their site because they think that’s the way a homepage should look.
Ultimately, the client or business owns the website, so they have the final say and may well insist on a carousel on their site, often going against your experience and advice against it.
In this article, I’m going to look at both sides of the argument.
I must point out that “to carousel or not to carousel” is quite a subjective thing and the best way to decide if it is right to implement on a website is to look at the facts and the way it is to be use.
One of the main reasons for using a carousel on a website that I have come across in the many, many builds over the years is it becomes a tool to keep all departments happy.
From the board of directors, the buying team, the marketing team and sales teams within an organisation, they all want their content / product on the homepage.. fact!
This is where the carousel dumping ground begins.
Most devs see this as the best way to keep everyone happy and give them what they want.
What the organisation (and devs) don’t realise is the carousel is actually going to HIDE the majority of the content, so this then begs the question… if it’s important content, why hide it?
A slider by nature advances at a given speed and this can sometimes lead to a visitor having a hard time understanding what the message is in a carousel slide before it disappears off screen. Not to mention in the era of visitors being bombarded around the internet with advertising messages, remarketing messages and more, a carousels constant movement can be interpreted as another ad and lead to it being ignored.
I really don’t need to point out the obvious that this can quickly lead to abandonment and actually be counterproductive for a websites conversion, something no website owner or business wants to see in their analytics reports.
Ideally when a visitor visits your website they should instantly be able to tell who you are, what you are about and a strong call to action. This would typically be in the form of a hero unit with a strong call to action for your visitor to understand.
By having a multitude of messages, you are increasing the likelihood of a visitor becoming confused and abandoning you.
Marks and Spencer have long ditched the carousel in favour of a single strong call to action hero unit that gives a clear message to the visitor.
In the hero unit below, Marks and Spencer have tailored their message to promote the change in season and gives 2 strong calls to action, all without a carousel in sight. This is great use of their prime space on their website.
Marks and Spencer regularly review their offers and this hero unit changes often to reflect this.
So if your client or company still insists on having a carousel it is wise to have them monitor it’s performance over a given period using one of the various tracking and analytics packages available, to see if it is converting. If it isn’t converting or bounce/ exit becomes an issue on the page, then it really is time to reconsider the carousel.
In order not to hamper the overall visitor experience it’s worth considering the following:
Consider your user and ensure the carousel is for their benefit and not just for the benefit of the business. Visitors will soon make it clear if the carousel is not for them as they will vote by clicks, it really is as simple as that.
As mentioned earlier in this article, all too often a carousel becomes a dumping ground and becomes a function on a homepage that serves no real purpose other than satisfying the business. Carousels by nature produce little or no clicks but is overlooked when analysing what is converting on page and what isn’t. Beyond the first slide on a carousel interest is lost.
Monitor performance and accessibility. Carousels in nature often contain larger than normal images that tend to be uncompressed, leading to huge file sizes and performance / speed issues on the site. If a carousel is insisted on, then image compression is an absolute must.
It has to be.
Make the carousel fully accessible. Give the user control over what they see with carousel controls. This way if they do miss a slide, or not have time to take in what was displayed, they then have the option of going back to the slide and viewing it. Pause on hover is an excellent way of freezing the constant rotation. Clear forward and back arrows can also help.
Making a carousel touch friendly as part of your mobile first approach will also help a visitor viewing the website. Mobile attracts a thought process of touch and swipe and it has become expected from a user point of view.
Keep your messages short and concise.
If a carousel is auto advancing, a message will need to be read by the user before the next slide kicks in, so it is vitally important that any call to action is clear.
Remember, you are trying to get your user to the product in as short amount of clicks as possible.
In summary, there are many arguments against using a carousel on a website as mentioned above, however if a carousel is needed to be (or insisted on being) used then best practice must be followed in order for a visitor to find it of use.
Are carousels going to go away? My belief is not for some time yet.