In my previous blog post, I talked about six design alternatives to avoid slideshows. The response to that blog post was great - who knew there were so many kindred spirits who dislike slideshows? From the feedback I received, the number one question was why are slideshows so bad in the first place? Hopefully this companion blog post will give you that deeper understanding of some reasons not to use a slideshow and maybe help convince your next client that slideshows are a thing of the past.
Why do people still use slideshows?
The hero/banner section is arguably the most important region of real-estate on the homepage of your website. It is a place where your site goals are displayed - whether that is promoting a specific event, convincing users to buy your product, or listing your mission statement. It should be put to best use. So why do most sites clutter it with ineffective slideshows?
- Slideshows are the norm - politics, marketing trends, etc. cater to the misconception
- Clients still believe in the ‘above the fold’ mentality - insisting that the most important content belongs at the top of the page. This is true of newspapers, but not always the case in website design.
- Slideshows display a lot of content - clients use a carousel to get as much content on the screen at one time.
- Slideshows are “cool” - don’t underestimate the draw of flashy visual eye-candy.
So Why are Slideshows Bad?
My original blog post focused on the design/themer aspects of slideshows. The research that supported those ideas came from the many other blog posts on the subject. Try Googling “Are Website Slideshows Bad” and you will get at least 3,670,000 results. Obviously, I can’t read and give overviews of all the great blog posts about slideshows, but below are some of the main arguments I saw and links to specific blog posts that support each point, for further reading.
- Slideshows are not effective - The blog post by Erik Runyon supports the idea that having more than one slide is pointless. Studies have shown that people look at and take action only on the first slide. If you do want them to look at more than one slide, make the first slide interesting or useful. The first slide has to sell the next slide to the user.
- Slideshows can have poor accessibility - most slideshows are lacking in their support for users with accessibility issues, including users with language or motor skill issues. According to the w3.org, there are four main concepts to make a slideshow more accessible:
- Structure: The carousel as a whole as well as individual slides should have structural markup (code) that enables users to establish where they are;
- Controls: User interaction to change the display must be possible by both keyboard and mouse, as well as being identifiable, both visually and to people who can’t see them;
- Action: When a control is activated the visually rendered effect should be replicated in actual content and functionality;
- Scrolling: If the carousel automatically changes slides, a mechanism must be provided to pause or stop the movement.
- Slideshows are a blindspot - multiple eye tracking tests show that slideshows get little attention by site users. Users just ‘gloss-over’ these very important sections of your site. James Royal-Lawson argues that “banner attention and retention is a secondary task for our brains, so even having a slider containing a series of branding images and messages might not be anywhere near as effective as you think.”
- Slideshows can distract or induce user apathy - According to the blog post by Peep Laja, “Our brains have 3 layers, the oldest part is the one we share even with reptiles. It’s mostly concerned about survival. A sudden change on the horizon could be a matter of life and death. Hence human eye reacts to movement – including constantly moving image sliders and carousels.” Having constant stimulation from slideshows distracts a user from a site’s important content.
Slideshows will not increase conversion rates - In theory, a slideshow should entice a user to take an action or otherwise become informed about a site goal or mission, but studies show that slideshows can actually decrease conversion rates due to frustration of use. Fahad Muhammad argues that “Marketers put image sliders on their pages because they give them a chance to feature multiple offers at the same time. And this is a serious problem. They divide the most important real estate of their website between offers. So what happens? Nobody goes home happy. You don’t know how to persuade your customer, so they get decision fatigue and don’t make a decision. You failed to solve their problem.”
Slideshows can be bad for SEO/UX - improper header tags, slow page load due to high bandwidth images or videos, lack of alternative image tags, etc., can have a negative impact on your site’s SEO/UX . Harrison Jones’s blog post states that, “As with any website, the more you complicate and add things, the slower the page loading speed. I came across a few sites featuring full-width carousels packed with high resolution images, which greatly impacted the page load speed. Every second it takes to load a page past two seconds hurts the user experience, and has an impact on search performance.”
- Slideshows on mobile devices can be tricky - slideshows do not always work well on mobile devices and they can even slow down your site due to the amount of bandwidth they use. This can result in lower SEO rankings and poor user experience. In the blog post, Kyle Peatt reminds us to think differently about slideshows - “Don’t use a carousel just to get additional content on the screen. Think of carousels for one particular use case: providing additional content within a specific context. Use a carousel when vertical space is limited — as it is on mobile — and when the content is directly related — especially if the content isn’t useful to the user.”
Don’t Believe the Research - Take the Slideshow Challenge
Although I will admit that as a former scientist, I am dissatisfied the lack of hard empirical and recent data to support the good vs. bad argument of website slideshow, the limited data that is out there is compelling. It would be amazing to find even more studies on the effectiveness of website slideshows. If you have any links, please add them to the comments below.
In the meantime, Brad Frost encourages you to Take the Slideshow Challenge and make your own conclusions about using a slideshow on your own site.
As a Reminder, If You Must Use a Slideshow...
If you simply cannot convince your client use an alternative to a slideshow, at least use a slideshow that is accessibility/UX focused. Some ways to make your slideshow more accessible and user friendly:
- show the first slide by default and allow a user to navigate through the rest of the slides manually (not auto-rotating)
- limit the number of slides and make sure the load time is fast
- create navigation buttons that are highly visible and large enough to be useful on all devices
- include all the controls available (next, previous, stop/pause, play, etc.) and make sure you can use the controls with a mouse, keyboard, and by touch
- provide alternative ways to access the content (ex. text transcripts)
By providing accessible and user focused slideshows, we enable more users to access the important content of the site, thereby enhancing the overall user experience.