As a web designer I have often relied on the trusty image slider as a homepage design feature and functional content tool. I mean why not? It ticks all the boxes right? Visual wow factor and multiple messages can be displayed within the same space. The clients expectations are met and a good looking homepage for the designers portfolio.
The fact is that they are yesterdays technology and research has proven that a rotating promotion slide show on your homepage can actually do more harm than good. I wanted to take a closer look so I could make more educated choices and recommendations for our clients who will more often than not think they want a rotating slider.
What does the research say?
Erik Runyon collected some interesting data from the image slider used on the Notre Dame University homepage.
The results? As you might have suspected the vast majority of visitor only interact with the first slide with all the others going ignored. So stacking up lots of promos isn’t doing anything for you.
So why are they bad?
- Speed - The load time of multiple large images can add some serious weight to your page load. Also, most rely on jQuery and the slider script.
- Not effective as a Call to Action - Image sliders are only valuable for display purposes. We don't load a page and wait for all slides to go before taking action.
- Not good for mobile - With all our focus on websites being easily accessed on mobile devices its quite a contradiction to be so committed to using sliders on mobile. Load times are massive for phones on 3g or less.
- The fold - using a slider as a reason to keep content above the fold is old hat. The fold doesn’t even exist anymore (but thats another article altogether)
- Too many messages = no messages - They lessen the importance of what really matters. As readers, we don’t search through a slider looking for important information. If we’re just browsing, we click a few times to see what’s there and then move on. If we’re hunting for something specific, we disregard the slider altogether.
Why are we still using sliders on the homepage?
- Its has become a fairly normal and expected design layout.
- They are easy to update so you can feature new content you hadn’t needed to when you built the site.
- Clients want them for visual wow factor.
- Its an easy way to add 'interest' to a page because it moves.
- You can show more images and information above the fold.
So whats best practice then?
- Use one main message. Yes it's possible - focus!
- Keep the same content type on each slide.
Using a slide for a service, one for a news story and one for the contact doesn’t make sense. Why not give these items the space they deserve if they're that important.
- 3-4 slides max. Don’t bombard your user with adverts.
- Give the user more control, disable auto magic slideshows.
- Use them for display purposes.
Use it for what it was designed for. Showing multiple versions of the similar thing for user to look at not as a method to take users to an end goal.
I think the image slider has its place and no doubt I will be using one in the future but I now feel much more clued up to make an informed decision and not use one just for because its expected or because it’s an easy option.
I will also challenge the next ‘slider wanting’ client to think really hard about what their primary message is for the website. Why water it down with multiple messages? Be brave and go with one beautifully crafted, enticing message that users will be more than happy to engage with.