Why rotating carousels and image sliders aren't as good as you think they are

By Thorren Koopmans on Jan. 25, 2013

It’s most important to think about the elements of your website, how they interact with your visitors and how they help communicate the messages you have to say.

It seems inevitable that one of the features a client will bring to the table as a “must have” for their new website is a rotating carousel – a banner that provides a site visitor with rotating images or content.

Carousels are popular. As a design feature they can look very slick and can give sites a very ‘interactive’ feel. However, we’re cautious when adding this feature to a site. Although carousels can be attractive, they don’t always fit into the larger strategic goals of a website, for instance, taking into account the site’s purpose, goals and strategy.

Rotating Carousels Dilute the Site’s Primary Message

If you have a website, you have something you want to share with an audience: it may be a specific message, published media, or products you sell. Sometimes you have more than one message, and the obvious appeal for a rotating carousel is that the carousel allows for multiple messages to be displayed ‘front and center’.

The issue with this logic is that delivering multiple messages often means that no message gets deliverd well. With analytics we know that most visitors do not spend a large amount of time on a web page. Instead of intentionally focusing the message you give to visitors in one key primary message, you often lose visitors in the jumble of multiple messages, with none of them leaving a good impression.

It’s not an easy decision to choose what the most important message to display is, but choosing to avoid this decision altogether and have multiple “primary” messages can compromise the site’s ability to communicate clearly and quickly with site visitors.

Carousels That Rotate Automatically Can be a Nightmare for User Experience

The Internet is a self-directed medium where users control the information and content they are exposed to. If a user doesn’t like a site’s message or experience, they can simply choose to leave a site and find the information elsewhere.

An issue with automatic rotating carousels is that the control is taken away from the site visitor. It can be very frustrating for a site visitor if they are in the middle of reading a message only to have that message changed in front of them. Most all timed transitions fail to match when and what the viewer wants to see, and most viewers will give up on following through on the content that they actually find interesting.

If a site is going to use a rotating carousel, there at minimum needs to be an element that offers the user some element of control.

Function First

The initial appeal of rotating carousels is that they can look great and, for many, can give the site a ‘polished’ appearance. We admit, we’ve used carousels in site that we’ve designed in the past, and they still are a topic brought up by clients. However most don’t need a carousel to look great and engage the viewer in the content. It’s 2013, and we’ve learned that carousels just don’t perform in terms of long-term usability and they are no longer the cool new features that they once were.

Implementing a feature into your website design based solely on aesthetics is a mistake. It’s most important to think about the elements of your website, how they interact with your visitors and how they help communicate the messages you have to say. If you really love the idea of carousels invite the user to explore the content or use the space to highlight key and important stories. The main point is that carousels should only be used when the tool can work in conjunction with a website’s overall goals and strategy. If a carousel won’t contribute to your website’s purpose then you don’t need one, and that’s okay.

Additional Reading:

Looking for more great reads? The following related articles might be helpful. 

The Lift Way: Project Management for Websites and Web Projects

Focus on user experience, not keywords, for SEO

Success is greater than scope

If you’d like to get in touch, please email Thorren and let him know how we can help with your project or question. 

Thorren Koopmans

Director of Strategy

Want to grow with digital?