A Eulogy for the Homepage Slideshow (or: Why the Image carousel Should Die)
One of the website design elements that comes up in discussion a lot at Eternity Web is the homepage carousel, or slideshow, or "hero" image slider. Like many common things, it has many names. Indeed, even as we have discouraged our clients from using image slideshows on their homepage, we still frequently end up including them in the final product.
It is our belief that, except for many e-commerce sites where merchandising and promotions might be effectively managed by a well-thought-out sequence of calls to action, the homepage slideshow has done its duty. It's been a ubiquitous design element of websites for perhaps 15 years. Since commercial websites have only been around for about 23 years, the homepage slideshow has lived a long and full life. But it's time for its retirement, if not its outright death knell. Here's our thinking, and our reasoning for really pushing the no-carousel philosophy in 2016 and beyond:
Homepage slideshows are cookie cutter: We estimate that at least 8 out of 10 websites have a moving "hero" image. It seems to us that it's tough to stand out if you look just like most of the marketplace. Certainly, one reason clients ask for a slideshow is because they've seen it used so much -- so the presumption is that it must be effective. But according to a 2013 study, just 1% of people click on carousels (Erik Runyon, ErikRunyon.com). Most people simply ignore the big moving image, and don't note the text on the image. Since so many businesses reply on those images to impart their mission, core market strategy, or promotional content, it's critical that we find other ways to deliver these types of messages.
Slideshows & carousels hurt search engine performance: Though Google and other search engines can read text on slideshow images if it's properly coded, there's typically hot enough content for the text to be search-relevant. Also, because the slideshow contains numerous possible headlines for Google to read, the impact of critical keywords is devalued, and it can get "confused" about the real purpose and validity of the website. The lack of content means that it’s difficult to get meta inform
Homepage slideshows can adversely affect site load time: More images means more to download, and slideshows can frequently cause a site to load slowly on users' connections. Frequently, slideshows are not optimized for image density, so the entire user experience can be slowed down, or even interrupted. Too many bounces or failed page loads will hurt your Google rankings.
Carousels push content down "below the fold": While "above the fold" content is perhaps not as important as it once was for people, and we at Eternity Web have argued for a long time that getting more (and more relevant) content onto the homepage is critical for SEO, it’s still not recommended by Google that you push content lower down the page. Certainly, users expect to scroll to get to content as they increasingly use smaller devices with smaller browsers. That's fine for people, but Google looks for relevant concepts and keywords in the first content areas it sees. So if important text is superseded by a slideshow that has little real content value, you may have created something that looks nice but has little or no value for the user (or your marketing plans).
We're not saying absolutely that you shouldn’t use carousels at all in your website design, but there should be a good reason for using them other than that you (or your marketing director) like it. Certainly, they had visual interest and virtual "action" to a webpage. But we're more inclined to add "interactivity" through other visual means, like dynamic navigation, animated flip "tiles" and other transitioning image techniques to communicate motion while also avoiding the foibles of a large sliding image at the top of the main page of our websites -- arguably the most important place to get your key message across, and where the data show you're not likely to succeed in doing so if you use a slideshow.