Home page sliders are a design and content crutch

Home page sliders are a design and content crutch

I’ll admit it – we use home page sliders a lot. It’s a habit we’re trying to break ourselves of and our clients too. We even have sliders on our site now (**gulp**) which we hope to change in the near future. Why? Well it’s a lazy man’s solution and, in fact, research shows sliders actually harm SEO and degrade your user experience.

Why are sliders lazy?

Sliders, image rotators, content modules, carousels or whatever you call them - there’s seldom a compelling reason for their use. Usually, the motivation to “have a slider” is to facilitate NOT making a choice about content. Chances are you’ve been in the meeting where home page content is discussed and when there’s no consensus and everyone wants their message on the home page (above the fold, eek) the “slider solution” generally comes up. Everyone is happy because they feel their content will be represented on the home page. So instead of working hard to delve deep into what actual content should appear on the homepage, the lazy solution is implemented.

But user testing has shown sliders suffer from the equivalent of “banner blindness.” Visitors tend to ignore them or simply view the first and move one. Click through rates on subsequent slider panels drop off precipitously. Moreover, the chance that your two or more sliders will be noticed, resonate with, and cause a visitor to “click” are very low according to heat maps. Again and again user studies show sliders produce poor or negative results.

So why are sliders so prevalent today?

They’re cool - well to most folks, having the ability to show motion or “animation” on their home page seems cool to them. And the visual transitions and capabilities of modern slider code is actually very cool indeed. You can do lots and lots of very cool effects. However, these effects come with a cost.

First, loading the javascript code, images, and css files used on most sliders causes a performance hit. Your page loads slower which google dislikes and can annoy visitors. Worse, with the growth of mobile and responsive design, most sliders simply don’t scale down well and the need to load all their heavy code really slows performance on mobile. Moreover, if your sliders implement H1 tags on each panel, Google sees that as multiple H1 tags, and that’s an SEO penalty.

So we’re trying hard to convince clients to skip the slider

Admittedly our current home page has a slider (as of 9/17/13) and so do many of the sites we’ve designed. For the longest time it’s simply been the design trend and a priority request by clients. But as we continue to review more and more research we’re coming around to the conclusion that sliders don’t help web visitors – they only help client teams avoid making hard choices. And moving forward we’re being more aggressive at forcing clients to recognize the hardest choices can have the greatest rewards. That is, even if it’s agony to distill the home page messaging down into your unique selling proposition, in the long run the effort is worth it. Since it will help visitors recognize your value and purpose quickly it can improve usability, seo, and sales too.

Yes, we’re throwing away our slider crutches...

Moving forward we’ll be far more critical and “argumentative” when clients request a home page slider. We’ll make sure it’s really worth the tradeoffs. After all, we’re not just web designers, we’re also marketing “partners” to our clients. So unless we can see a compelling reason to include a slider, instead we’ll work more closely with our clients to help them craft their home page content. And instead of the design and content crutch of using sliders, we’ll rely on our talent and expertise to create attractive home pages that use the premium real estate more wisely. With web fonts, textures, visuals (photos or video) we can focus the messaging so it gets noticed. And worst case scenario, we can always offer the option of loading different content on each home page visit - a kind of live A/B test.

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Sep 13, 2013

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