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The author

Michael Ellis

Head of conversion

Carousels on websites started to become popular a few years ago, a result of new tech and businesses wanting to offer users more content on one page, but do they work for their intended purpose?

Numerous studies have shown the poor click-through rates the second, third and fourth banners on a carousel have and yet, they’re still widely used. Carousels are seen as a neat, visual way to give the user all of the relevant content possible, but are sometimes used without knowing the actual impact on user experience.

Most carousels contain three to five banners but in the CRO team, we’ve seen some with as many as 40! This is surely going to have a negative impact on the user journey and indeed, many studies have confirmed this.

Often, carousels are used to achieve more than one goal for the business – there might be five service areas of the business for example that all need equal marketing, or five product offers, and so a carousel with five banners seems like the best solution.

At Epiphany, we’ve shown on many occasions uplifts in conversion rates from pausing or removing carousels, results ranging from 13% to 80% increases for a range of clients and industries.

Why don’t they work?

1. Paradox of choice

The paradox of choice shows us that while we assume the greater the choice an individual has, the better experience they will get; in reality, this actually has the opposite impact, negatively affecting our experiences.

There are three explanations for this:

  • Paralysis: The increased number of choices often leads to the user making no choice at all. The increased cognitive load in trying to compare the options and identify the right choice results in a paralysis and no action. Think about looking at a long food menu with lots of choices, you’d spend about ten minutes staring at it struggling to decide on one option.
  • Escalation of expectation: Should a user be able to make a choice, the increased number of options means that their expectations are increased, with the user thinking; “With all of these options, I’m sure to get the best deal possible”. If you think about it in terms of buying a mobile phone, despite the amount available, in reality, they all have many of the same features and are used in the same way, making it just another mobile phone. This results in lower product satisfaction.
  • Missed opportunity and self-blame: With the dissatisfaction caused from the escalation of expectation, a user is likely to be frustrated with themselves that they could have made a better choice and have missed a key opportunity. This results in self-blame and again, further lowering the product satisfaction.

2. Signal detection theory

As an evolutionary advantage, our brains became good at identifying movements and changes in our surroundings.

It alerted us to predators and dangers in order to help us survive. Similar to a lot of evolutionary traits, this is still part of our genetic make-up. This means that any animation or movement on a web page is likely to grab our attention.

This is great news for any engagement platform such as social media channels or display advertising, however, having this as part of your website pages can cause distraction from the user’s end goal.

Using movement and animation can be used effectively to draw attention to the main CTA and messaging. However, if it’s used to draw attention to the second, third or fourth slide of your carousel, you have to ask the question of why isn’t this message presented to the user on the first load?

It’s counter intuitive to want to get users to engage with the second, third or fourth slider and not be willing to put these messages on the homepage for users to see straight away. If the message is important and crucial to users’ engagement, then this should be visible to the user when first landing on the page.

So, what’s the answer?

Testing. Without a doubt, we always recommend that companies start with a testing phase before changing anything on their site, especially on their homepage.

Whilst our tests – and others – have generally shown that carousels provide a bad user experience, you need to know for sure that it’s not working for you and test to understand how your users are interacting with your site before making permanent changes.

There’s a balance to be reached between achieving business KPIs and your user’s expectations. As mentioned earlier, carousels are often seen as a convenient answer to achieve more than one business goal and push multiple products or services, but whilst this might keep internal stakeholders happy, it might be confusing your users.

The key is to present the user with the information they will need to progress their journey. They have come to your site to solve a specific problem, the content presented to them should help to resolve this as effectively as possible. Each page on a site will serve a different purpose to a user and understanding what that is will help to understand what content needs to be on the site.

Your site is your best salesman, and the best salesmen guide their customers to the right product effectively and seamlessly. Before adding too much content and wanting to provide your users with every possible scenario, ask yourself, ‘does this content help my users make an informed decision?’