Don’t Use a Carousel on Your Website. Here’s Why.

There’s something about a carousel — you can also call it a slider — that’s so appealing when doing a website design.

Based on my experience working with clients of all shapes and sizes who are considering using a carousel, it’s often the idea that multiple marketing messages can be used in one, large, above-the-fold space.

There’s other reasons, but that’s the primary motivation I’ve heard.

When we talk with a client who’s considering using a carousel, we work to educate them on the data that shows that using a carousel is a bad idea.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it and say that our evidence always works; it doesn’t. At the end of the day, it’s the client’s site and they’re going to make the final decision.

But as long as we can make our case and explain to them why using a carousel isn’t recommended, we’ve done our job.

Here’s why you shouldn’t use a carousel on your website.

No One Clicks Through the Slides

The whole “benefit” of a carousel is that you can add multiple marketing messages into one space above the fold, but here’s the dirty truth: barely anyone makes it past the first slide.

According to tests run by Erik Runyon, a Technical Developer at Notre Dame University, only about 1% of visitors actually clicked on a slide, and of that 1% in a 5-slide carousel, the first slide was clicked 89% of the time.

Seriously.

It’s that bad.

Personally, I use a website almost every day to manage our books. I’ve been using it for 7 years.

Just last year, I realized that their login page had a carousel on it.

I’m not kidding or making it up for effect. I honestly didn’t know. I just went along my business of logging into my account, and then one day, I had the page up and realized there were left and right arrows to scroll through the carousel.

I didn’t know.

At least my bookkeeping site uses a manual carousel, rather than an automatic carousel, which is even worse. According to usability recommendations from the Nielsen Norman Group, auto-rotating carousels are a conversion killer.

Accordions and carousels should show a new panel only when users ask for it. Otherwise, it should stand still and let users read the information in peace, without having the rug yanked from under them. As our user said about the Siemens big rotating box: “I didn’t have time to read it. It keeps flashing too quickly.”

Carousels aren’t engaging. At all.

Want to see what it’s like to actually need to click through a carousel to get the information you need?

Check out this hilarious site: shouldiuseacarousel.com.

No One Actually Sees it

If your users actually engage with your carousel, consider yourself very lucky — because the reality is that most people simply scroll past them.

Atomic Design author Brad Frost points to an A/B test done that compares user interaction between a carousel and a static hero image, and the numbers are unbelievable.

When the site was running a carousel, the interaction rate was 1.96%.

When it used a hero image, the interaction rate was 43.03%.

The Nielsen Norman Group seconds this research, according to a post by Senior Vice President Kara Pernice.

You can’t count on people seeing the information in carousels on websites and intranets. Whether looking at content on a 30-inch or 3-inch display, people often immediately scroll past these large images and miss all of the content within them, or at least the content that’s in any frame other than the first.

It is true that some eyetracking research and web metrics show that certain carousels garner a number of fixations and clicks. But the most important caution about using carousels is that people frequently overlook them, together with all or some of the content within them.

Usability.gov, which publishes usability research for the government and private sectors, compares it to banner blindness — the idea that people simply move their eyes past anything that looks like an advertising banner and onto the goal they’re trying to accomplish.

They’re About Your Needs, Not Your User’s Needs

One of the most common themes in the research about why carousels are used is that they’re great at dealing with internal struggles over whose content should be displayed first.

For real.

Usability.gov says carousels …

Meet the needs/demands of stakeholders without the having to have the tough discussions about what content really should be featured on a home page.

Nielsen Norman says carousels …

… can help diffuse any infighting about whose content is most deserving.

Brad Frost opines

It’s hard to navigate these mini turf wars, so tools like carousels are used as appeasers to keep everyone from beating the shit out of each other.

It’s far harder to have an honest content strategy conversation and determine what truly deserves to be on the homepage.

That’s not a joke. These are real facts.

I’ve seen it happen in plenty of design projects. The carousel has literally become a way to manage internal indecisiveness about the marketing messages that should be promoted.

That’s not helpful to your user at all. And in the end, that’s going to hurt your business.

Photo by Eepeng Cheong on Unsplash

Jason Unger
About Jason Unger
Jason Unger is the Founder of Digital Ink, the creative and digital team that builds brands and helps companies grow. Based outside of Washington, D.C., Jason has done it all, from website strategy, design, development, troubleshooting, maintenance, content and marketing.