Are web carousels out? (8 tips for mobile & desktop optimization)

Web carousels (or sliders) were all the rage back in 2012 and 2013. Now fast-forward to the present day and we find many companies unsure of when, where or how to use them.

Image 1 Are web carousel legacy?

So have these sliders turned legacy? Indeed, a number of studies (this from the University of Notre Dame, and this from the Nielson Group) seem to suggest they are by highlighting various problematic engagement issues and some very low click-though rates.

But these studies only highlight the symptoms at the surface of digital customer experience, not the underlying causes.

To do justice to the subject matter, Udi Zisquit and Liraz Margalit, two of the Customer Experience Analysts here at Clicktale, have diagnosed how web visitors really interact with carousels, and how their experience translates into online decision making, purchase and engagement.

The results are a mixed bag – with both pros and cons. The main thing is to take away what works best for your website, industry, brand and target audience. So don’t fire your UX team just yet!

Image 2 Arrows invite engagement but are detrimental to conversion

1. Arrows are distracting!

An analysis of customer heatmaps from various industries all indicated that web visitors love to engage with the arrows that make a carousel scroll.

But the results also show that because users are so focused on clicking the arrows and watching the panels move, most find it hard to focus on the actual content of the individual panels.

Click-through rates and engagement times have been found to be low across the board where arrows are used.

2. Don’t use web carousels for showcasing products

Image 3 An example of a product carousel. These don't significantly improve click-through rates.

Carousels are not practical for showcasing products. And they don’t help you make a purchasing decision. If anything, the opposite is true. Users are typically too absorbed in activating the carousel to focus in-depth on any one panel’s message.

Instead, they spend those valuable seconds trying to figure out how many panels there are and how they get back to the offer they may have been initially interested in.

The bottom line is that if you want people to click, static product images and banners with fewer options tend to work much better.

3. Do use web carousels to brand your site or offering

Despite the observation that web carousels are not ideal for showcasing products, Clicktale’s Customer Experience Analysts found that the converse is true when it comes to branding.

If the carousels are populated with attention-grabbing images showcasing happy customers and atmosphere shots accompanied by short snappy text then they can aid substantially in developing a desired customer experience and brand perception.

Image 4 Hilton Hotel develops a winning web atmosphere using carousels that feature beaches and happy holidaymakers.

4. Web carousels are not ideal for desktop websites

All of the above insights were based upon the Clicktale Core software, which is designed to analyze customer experience for desktop websites. However, when our Customer Experience Analysts then looked at the visual data from the Clicktale Touch software for smartphones and tablets, a different picture emerged:

5. Web carousels get very significant taps on mobile!

Image 5 The ergonomics of swiping make carousels ideal for smartphone and tablets.

Web carousels really work on mobile sites! But with one major qualification; images. Analysis from any number of mobile sites has shown that customers love to tap images on their smartphone and tablets devices.So a carousel that presents a variety of images on a smartphone will get heavy interaction.

Why do carousels work better for mobile? It may be in large part because the ergonomics of ‘swiping’ horizontally with your finger is much more intuitive an action than what you do using your mouse and desktop. Having to locate the ‘move’ arrow with your mouse and then click repeatedly is far from intuitive!

6. Limit your mobile carousel to 4 panels

There is a limit however, to how many times a smartphone user will swipe. In fact the optimum number of panels for a mobile carousel are 4 – and if you stick to that magic number, then in most cases all four panels will receive high levels of attention and click-through. Any more than 4 and the attention and click-through rates decline rapidly.

Image 6 Mobile carousels should be limited to four panels for maximum effectiveness.

7. Limit each panel to one product or image

Due to the limited size of the screen, mobile carousel images need to be kept especially clear and simple.

Don’t clutter panels with multiple images and messages. Also, limit each panel to a single product, image, or call to action with minimal text. And remember – most people like to zoom in, so keep the zoom function enabled on all mobile carousel images.

8. Are web carousels bad for SEO

Apart from their affect on user engagement and conversion the SEO aspect of carousels needs to be reviewed. For a while they have been considered bad for SEO:

Carousels tend to push the content down. Google announced already back in 2012 that users want to see content first and launched an algorithmic update that reviews the page’s layout.

Often the carousels consist of heavy image files, slowing down loading time. This is not a good SEO practice when search engines and users alike look for high speed loading experience.

Another occurring problem is the use of Flash for carousels imagery. Since Flash is common on all mobile devices, this could lead to bad user experience and affect rankings.

Developers have the tendency to wrap the carousels images with an <H1> tag, which can translate to 4-5 <H1> tags on one page and devalues the main page’s keyword relevance.

However, by building lightweight, optimized sliders that also serve for content display (product presentation for example) the SEO difficulties can be overcome.

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