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The home page is no place for a slideshow

I haven’t complained about image carousels for ages, so maybe it’s time to do so again, because they don’t seem to be going away. Image carousels are those rotating slideshows which businesses love to put on their home pages, in the self-important belief that visitors will actually stop and watch them scroll by. Here’s some news: visitors don’t. Look at how long the carousel takes to go through its cycle, and then look at how many home page visitors spend that long on the page. Turns out it’s hardly any of them.

Image carousels have been a trend because of a deadly combination. They’re an easy, lazy option for website designers to offer to clients – most off-the-shelf templates have them available. And from the client side, whoever’s managing the website project usually grabs the opportunity offered by the carousel to have multiple messages, so they don’t have to make the hard decision of focusing on just one.

People who test these things find that replacing a carousel with a static image improves ‘conversion rate’ for the things which matter. But why?

The main reason is simple distraction. Movement is attractive to the eye, but in this case it’s probably drawing attention to something relatively unimportant. A typical carousel just shows a series of bland messages, or scrolls through the company’s different divisions. Meanwhile, what your home page needs to be doing is to get people quickly to the information they need, which is probably hidden in a modest navigation bar.

In addition, carousels can be big files, and almost inevitably slow down page loading. You really don’t want this. And some just don’t work (or look all wrong) on small screens such as mobile devices.

Movement on a web page can be very powerful. But it should be used sparingly, to draw attention to something as part of a path you want the visitor to take. Too often, it’s just slapped in by lazy designers and indecisive website management.