Why Sliders Make Your Website Suck

Author
Shane Melaugh   246

At the time of this writing, sliders are by far the most widely used design element in WordPress themes and on website homepages in general. Slider plugins for WordPress are being downloaded by the millions and sold by the tens of thousands.

Yet, none of our themes have a slider feature and we don't have a slider plugin. As you can tell from the title, that's no coincidence: sliders (a.k.a. carousels) are bad for your website. If you're currently using a slider on your site, you should get rid of it as soon as possible.

Hard to believe? Keep reading...

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How Widespread Are Sliders Really?

In short, it seems that sliders are EVERYWHERE! As we'll find out further below, it actually depends on where you're looking, but if you're in the market for a new website, auto-forwarding carousels are damn near unavoidable. Here's a simple illustration of what I mean:

This is a gallery of the above-the-fold space on 40 randomly selected (and recent) WordPress themes from some of the major marketplaces.

Out of these 40 examples, only 3 do not feature a large slider as the main element on the homepage.

While it is possible to find new themes that don't feature a huge slider at the top of the homepage, it is certainly a lot easier to find themes with a veritable carousel abundance.

From reviewing customer websites and working with online business owners over the years I can say that image carousels aren't quite as widespread "in the wild" as they are in themes and templates, but they are still a serious issue that needs to be addressed.

Sliders: The Proof is in the Pudding

(and there's A LOT of pudding)

At Thrive Themes, we create products with a conversion focus and that's the exact reason why we don't use sliders.

Whatever you may think about how sliders may look pretty or add a dynamic and lively element to your site is irrelevant if the slider doesn't help move your visitors towards your conversion goal.

And as it happens, there's a mountain of data that shows sliders having a negative impact on conversion rates. Here are some highlights:

Here's what some experts in the fields of conversion optimization and usability have to say about rotating carousels:

Adam Fellows

"Almost all the testing I've managed has proven content delivered via carousels to be missed by users. We've witnessed the banner blindness concept in full effect."

James-Royal Lawson

"It gets ignored. It's distracting. It's confusing. It squeezes out relevant content. It slows down your site. It causes global warming."

And, one of my favorite quotes on the matter:

Tim Ash

"Rotating banners are absolutely evil and should be removed immediately."

I could go on. There is an abundance of other articles that combine experience, opinion and raw data and all point to the same conclusion: sliders make your website suck.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Expert opinions and even data aside, I find it very interesting to see who does and doesn't use sliders. Look at websites run by people who are known for a lot of testing and optimization. For example:

WiderFunnel

Conversion optimization service.

Visual Website Optimizer

A/B testing software.

ConversionXL

Conversion optimization blog.

Conversion Rate Experts

Conversion optimization service.

Digital Marketer

Marketing optimization blog.

Optimizely

A/B testing software.

Mixpanel

Analytics & testing software.

Unbounce

Landing pages & A/B testing.

Ramit Sethi's Sites

Known for testing and optimizing a lot.

Basecamp

Known for constantly testing.

Kissmetrics

Software for data driven marketing.

Crowdvert

Conversion optimization service.

All these sites are run by companies and people who live and breath testing and conversion optimization - and not a single slider in sight.

If that doesn't convince you to ditch every last slider on your site, I don't know what will.

Why Do Sliders Suck?

If you want to dig deeper into this topic, I encourage you to read some of the posts I linked to, further above. They include many interesting studies and ideas about what makes sliders such a bad UI element.

In my opinion, one of the most important issues with sliders is easily illustrated with an example like this one:

Look at the example and pay attention to each slide. Read the text that appears and try to understand what's being offered on each slide. As soon as you do this, you'll notice a major problem.

For any one of these slides, one of two things is going to apply: you're either interested in what's on the slide or you aren't.

If you are interested, then the content is whisked away and replaced by something else before you can fully take it in.

If you aren't interested, then you'll probably scroll down before the second slide even appears. Think about it: when's the last time you stared at a web-page for several seconds, even though it contained nothing that caught your attention?

The main culprit that makes sliders and carousels suck is the auto forwarding or automatic rotation.

Hero to the Rescue?

Okay, so if it's the auto-forwarding that makes carousels so bad, is the solution simply to make a slider static?

It's better, but still far from ideal. An example of this is a currently very widespread web design element: the "hero image".

Here's an example of one:

And another one:

This kind of layout was cleverly dubbed a "watermark homepage" in this KISSmetrics post. Its defining feature is a large background image with some text (and possibly a button) overlayed on top of it.

This is visually striking, but whether it's effective or not is a different question. There are two major issues I see with most of these types of layouts:

  1. The image is too generic. Because of the layout, the image almost has to be generic and non-specific. After all, it's a background image. The problem is that unless the image really adds meaning to the page, it's just a waste of space and bandwith. And if the image is highly relevant and specific, then it probably shouldn't be in the background.
  2. It's a full-height image. Typically, the image takes up all of the available above-the-fold space. This pushes all your other content too far down the page and it also means that some of your visitors won't realize that they can actually scroll down to learn more (because it's not implied, visually). This might seem strange, but it's a more common usability issue than you'd think.

 This doesn't mean that I'm about to lay into hero layouts as well, after having lambasted image carousels. I've seen the "hero" name attached to a wide variety of different layouts and not all of them are bad.

Here's a good example:

Here, the image tells a story that is relevant to the product, there's enough text above the fold to compel further reading and it's clear that more content awaits below the fold.

In conclusion: hero images can be effective if you avoid generic images, give the visitors a clear signal to scroll and don't use short, lame headlines (at least effective enough to be worth testing vs. other layouts).

What's the Best Alternative to a Slider?

If rotating sliders are so terrible and the hero layout also fails to be the universal solution, it begs the question: what is the best alternative to a large slider?

Quite simply, there is no one-size-fits-all solution and that's why doing your own testing is so important.

But I don't want to leave you hanging with that, so here are three types of layouts you can use as inspiration for your pages (or better: variations of pages that you'll test against each other).

1) The Big, Fat Headline

For conveying the value of your offer, text is more powerful than images. Text also loads faster and gets recognized and read faster by your visitors.

Therefore, the first and most important thing you need on any important page on your website is an unmissable headline.

The headline should do one of two things: it should either clearly communicate your unique selling proposition or it should arouse curiosity that can only be satisfied by reading more of what's on your page.

The example above from Braintree Payments shows that a big, fat headline is sometimes the only thing you need.

Examples of Big Headlines in Use:

Adespresso use a lot of visuals, but they don't let them get in the way of their main headline.

At Thrive Themes, we're quite fond of big, fat headlines as you can see on any of our sales pages (like this one).

2) The Side-by-Side

This simple layout consists of two columns. One contains an image that represents your product, the other contains a headline and usually some additional text and a button.

This layout is a great way to communicate what your business is about in both text and visuals, while not using up too much space (as shown by the Square website). The great thing about this layout is that it puts a lot of emphasis on the image without letting it overwhelm the text portion.

Examples of the Side-by-Side Layout:

The Woopra homepage shows a large screenshot that shows off their software, next to text and a call to action.

The carbon health homepage shows an animated representation of their app next to the headline.

3) Click Play!

Look at any of our sales pages and you won't be surprised to hear that video has been very effective for us. A video should not replace your main headline or your call to action, but visually, it can be the star on the page.

Video is also an element that makes good use of the space it occupies on the page, since you can communicate a lot more in a video than just an image - given the same amount of space.

As the OptiMonk example above shows, using a video goes together with a side-by-side layout as well.

Examples of Video Homepages:

Coin uses a video of someone's experience with their product as the main sales message on the homepage.

Autopilot's homepage layout is all about getting visitors to watch the video, where the app is demonstrated.

4) Whatever is Best for Your Message

Let's take a step back from all this talk about sliders and layouts.

What's the purpose of a page?

It needs to communicate the right message to the right people. Any page - a homepage especially, but this really applies to any page - needs to give the visitor two signals very quickly:

  1. There's something here that's relevant to you, specifically.
  2. That thing is interesting and valuable enough that you should take a closer look at this page.

If your page fails to do this, you'll lose the majority of visitors within seconds.

While it's always nice to use templates and clear rules for how to do things, the bottom line is that you should do whatever is best for your business and for your audience. As the Intercom homepage example above shows, a good layout isn't always archetypal one.

A cartoon with a funky layout probably works for them, but might not work for many other websites.

Examples of Unconventional Layouts:

Basecamp use a layout that looks like a long-form sales letter (except it's not very long) together with a sliding signup form.

Derek Halpern's blog presents itself with a mix of slightly over-the-top personal branding and an opt-in form.

The Leopard website is a single-product store. The homepage combines a large image and video with an easy way to purchase right away.

Waaffle uses a large, animated illustration as the main attention-grabber for the homepage. It acts like a hybrid between a video and an image homepage.

Over to You

At this point, I hope you clearly see that auto-forwarding sliders are a really, really bad idea and should be removed from your website right away. And you also have a few better alternatives that you can work with (along with every template we've ever released for Thrive Architect).

What's your take on all this? Did you use sliders before? Will you continue using them? Do you have other favorite alternative layouts? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Shane

by Shane Melaugh  October 4, 2016

246

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  • I’ve been considering taking the plunge and using mega-images ever since I read a post by Justin Rondeau at The Daily Egg where a series of case studies showed an increase in leads by switching to hero images from what were already conversion optimized and performing well sales pages.

    I wonder Sean if you have any thoughts on video backgrounds for these? Too distracting, fad, or future? Here’s an example of what I’m talking about from Trey Smith’s new website and product Buildbox. (no aff): https://www.buildbox.com/

    • Hello Gary,

      Background videos seem quite gimmicky to me. They suffer from one of the same problems that the hero images do: because they’re in the background, they either have to be generic and unimportant or they will distract from the foreground content. Also, a background video will definitely slow down your site loading speed compared to an image or almost any other kind of content. So, it really has to perform well to be worth the hit in speed.

      However, these are just my opinions. I’ve not seen any testing data on background videos yet. If you can get higher conversions with a background video, then my opinion of them doesn’t matter. 🙂

      • That is wonderful news Shane! As I said before: I ave tested all WP popup plugins I could find, even the very expensive ones, and yours still converts far more! I guess because you offer so much customization. The only downside is the responsiveness which doesn’t work properly. If this is fixed… wow!

  • I like sliders. They add movement to the page and can convey sales points at the same time. People skim text, but look at pictures. They are attention getters. That said, they do make the page load slower, and after reading this post, I will rethink using them. Thank you for showing the reasons not to use sliders.

    • I encourage you to test a slider vs. some other layouts. I’d love to see your test data, whichever way the results turn out.

  • I have this exact discussion with almost every client. Distraction free websites just convert much higher than those with unnecessary bells and whistles.

    • Thanks for your comment, Keith. I can imagine that working with clients adds another layer of difficulty to this.

  • Sliders – first “Thank You!” for this excellent post with all the back up data! I have been beating this drum for at least a couple years. Meanwhile there are ever more sliders on small business websites. wtf?

    Like Matt I’m sending this to all my clients (and their designers) who still insist on using sliders …and burning their money. =^)

    • Thanks for your comment, Mark! Yeah, it seems like sliders were a fad when they came along, but the fad has held on for incredibly long. 🙂

  • As others have said, my clients often insist on sliders. I have one client that sells bespoke conservatories and orangeries and, in this case, I see the visual value to showcase what is possible.
    On my own site, however, I will certainly remove the slider and add video instead.
    Great article. Thanks, as always Shane.

    • I can see the issue with clients and that sometimes, there’s no way around it. I’ve also hear that often, a slider is more about internal company politics than anything else: every department wants to have something on the homepage, so you just add a slide for everyone and they’re happy.

    • Hi Rich,

      For sites with many products, I think two of the most important factors are search and navigation. With a slider, the visitor has to sit there and wait for different products to appear. With good, prominent site search and clear categorization, you’re empowering visitors to find what they need as quickly as possible.

      One thing I’d test is to have the broad categories of products displayed visually (e.g. in a grid) on the homepage. With many specialized products in a narrow niche, I’d also consider creating something like a quiz or interactive offer, where visitors who aren’t sure what they need can answer a series of questions and get recommendations as a result.

  • completely disagree, the use of “flashy effects” is going to depend on the target audience. Entertainment, Product Advertising and the like will all benefit from a hip, fun website, because the 18-30 age group responds well to flash… It is always all about the target audience.

    • It’s certainly true that different things work for different target markets. And flashy effects can have their purpose. However, I’d still bet that a non-slider variation with some animations or maybe parallax scrolling or even a background video would beat a slider variation. If you have some data that proves me wrong, I’d love to see it, by the way. At the end of the day, good data is all that matters in this case. 🙂

  • Sounds good! With that said clients demand these sorts of things, fad or not. I don’t mind suggesting and steering a client away from something but if they insist, I go with what they want.

    I think that the option for this should be included with your themes because ultimately if the client is happy my family – feeding, mortgage, clothing etc. – is happy.

    If down the line I need a tick box to remove it because the client sees the error of their ways so bee it.

    • That’s a good point, Monty. If they insist, you can use one of countless slider plugins with our themes. For us, it’s also a question of how we allocate resources: should we build yet another slider feature for those clients who absolutely insist on adding something that will ruin their websites? Or should we use that same time and money to build a new plugin, theme or feature that will help thousands of customers achieve better results in their business? To me, the answer is clear.

      • Shane,

        I see what your saying. Yes I do have a slider plugin I use and it works fine with TCB. I love the product(s) you put out and love the support.

        I work with clients all the time. Some are a joy to work with and others are a nightmare. They get married to ideas and sometimes there is no changing their mind. If you push too hard you have lost the client and the 25 clients they would have refereed you to – $$$.

        You say that you have never worked with clients before. I think that while you think that is fortunate – I think that you have missed out on a vital experience, because many of the people that buy your product are not the people looking to create a site to promote their own business but designers you have to deal with clients good and bad.

        Anyway Shane – Keep up the great work – TCB is a fantastic product and I can’t wait to see how it progresses.

        Best to you and yours in 2015!!!

      • Monty C,

        While I understand the logic of the article, like most things, there are always exceptions. I have a client where using a full width slider (that users will rotate manually) is a necessity and the right choice. Unfortunately, I have talked to Thrive support and they have stated they don’t have a way to use their themes and do a FULL-WIDTH slider.

        Have you found a way to make your slider full-width? If so, how did you do it and what slider do you use?

        If I can’t find an alternative, I’ll have to recreate their website with something other than the Thrive theme and Content Builder.

        Thank you for your help.

    • I guess I should be thankful that I’ve never worked with clients before. But you make a valid point, of course. 🙂

  • I’m currently “fighting” one of my designers that still insists on using sliders or at least large hero image areas without text to grab the user’s attention. I keep asking him what he does with the user’s attention once he got it. So far he didn’t come up with y viable action for them. So I keep sending his design back for revision. Next time I’ll do it with a link to this post. Thanks Shane for giving me some more backing in the argument. Luckily he is the only one on my team, all others agree that sliders suck.

    I also had to smile reading the headline of this article, remembering one of your podcasts where you said that anything unusual went viral like the headline “Your Website sucks”.

    Try something unusual more often, but check the thesaurus for synonyms of “suck” next time 😉

  • Interesting article, but IMO it generalisation to tell that all sliders are bad.
    1st of all you can make slider that have better UX (stop rotation on mouse over, thumbnails of slides clickable, pause/play buttons)
    2nd, as Joshua wrote it depends on the business and target audience. I agree that many b2b websites (like referred in the list in the post) can be fine without sliders, but for b2c, it is a good way to grab attention and show the most important. products/messages on the home page. Think about that biggest B2C website – Amazon has sliders. Knowing Amazon approach to the business, I am 99.9% sure that they did their A/B tests.
    3rd – there are other pages than landing existing and not all your visitors are coming to landing page.

    • Thanks for your comment, Alexander.

      I see what you mean, but I’d also love to see some data to back this up. Several of the posts I linked to are based on B2C and ecommerce type businesses and I’ve never seen a test for a B2C business where a slider layout won. I’m not trying to say this to “win” an argument, I’m just genuinely interested in seeing data that proves me wrong.

      I checked Amazon and you’re right: I’m currently seeing a slider there as well, much to my amazement. I wonder if it will stick around. Note that they are using a narrow slider though, so it doesn’t use up too much vertical space.

    • Thanks for your comment, Eoin. I hope posts like this one will help sway the opinions of some of your clients.

  • With deep respect, how about you allow your customers the freedom to have a choice of sliders if they wish instead of making a unilateral decision to ban them? Let a thousand flowers bloom and please do NOT presume to protect us because of your imperial assessment of what is effective for our marketplace? Please do NOT treat us like children who know no better.

    • Hello Burt,

      I understand your point of view. Please understand that our decision to not create slider features or plugins is not because we think our customers don’t know any better. Our policy is to enable and educate as we did with the animations feature and the data short codes, for example.

      For us, it’s not just a question of creating a slider feature or not. It’s a question of allocating time and resources. We could spend our resource creating the one millionth slider plugin to add to our themes. But that means time and resource taken away from something else.
      So the question for us is: should we spend this resource on building a feature that we know will do harm in almost every case it’s used? Or should we spend this resource on building an amazing new feature or plugin that will create positive results for thousands of customers?

      Since you can easily use one of the countless existing slider plugins if your clients absolutely insist, the answer is very clear for me.

  • It’s interesting that so many people say that whatever the client wants, the client gets. I’d go as far to say that, as a consultant, if a person has enough experience with sliders to know that they don’t convert well then meet in the middle and create two pages and test them. The data will give irrefutable proof as to which is performing the best and go with the element that is achieving the best results. I would suggest that it is in the client’s best interests to be achieving the best results they can get. The client’s bottom line is the most important thing i.e. lead conversions and sales, not what design elements they want. If they want a design element that will kill conversions then that’s a very expensive mistake. I don’t have any experience with sliders so I can’t comment on their effectiveness or lack thereof. I would say just test, test, test and the numbers will give you the feedback you need.

    • Thanks for this comment, Malcolm!

      Maybe I should have added to the post that I’m never against testing something. Even a slider. It’s just that in the case of sliders, the existing data is quite overwhelmingly negative, so a slider winning a test seems pretty unlikely.


  • Wonderful post Shane. Even I too hate the sliders now. But I got a question regarding your hero image. … Does it apply to all types of sites? I, like millions of developers, have a business site which is usually meant for those who’re supposed to come to my site for web design, SEO, content and the like. Mine is primarily a web design business website. Now, I got a big image upfront with two CTA buttons and one tagline. Does it look vague to visitors or does it discourage them to scroll down further and check out my services? In our cases, the target is not standard visitors who come here to read content or so; they come to look for a service and that is on web design. Hence, should I assume that they will be amazed to see my design on my own site and then get more of this by digging further down?

    • Hi Kalyan,

      Like I say in the post: the hero image thing isn’t necessarily bad. I’d encourage you to test this, though. You can use tools like Mouseflow to record your visitors, for example. This will quickly show you whether your visitors scroll down the page or not.

      Or you can create a test with a full-height image vs. a narrower image and see if there’s a difference in conversions.

  • I have to agree with your primary reasons; when a slide appears it is usually gone before I can react. Then I am distracted by the subsequent slides, taking my focus off whatever drove me to the page in the first place.
    We dropped them early on from our sites, finding a static selection of half a dozen of our products, well displayed, got more orders.
    The issue is almost irrelevant to us, though, as over 92% of our traffic enters directly to a product page from either social or email/newsletter links.

    • That’s a good point, yes: in many businesses the homepage isn’t as important as it seems, because a lot of traffic goes to inner pages.

  • Don’t sugar coat it Shane, tell us what you really think! I have a question though, as a magician/balloon artist I want to show my client what I can do. Would you recommend a large static collage of balloon art/spectators being wowed, or 1 image with a call to action buttons to see what else I can do for their events? Thanks! As always, I appreciate you dedication to eradicating Optimize Press and other plug ins through Thrive themes.

    • Hi Harvey,

      This question sounds like the basis for an A/B test. I really can’t tell you which of these variations will do better, but it sounds like something worth testing. 🙂

  • Thankfully i never used sliders.My theory is same as yours that if big players in your niche are not doing something then its probably not working.

  • Thank you for your comment, Shweta!

    I answered a similar comment above, so I’ll just quote myself:

    For sites with many products, I think two of the most important factors are search and navigation. With a slider, the visitor has to sit there and wait for different products to appear. With good, prominent site search and clear categorization, you’re empowering visitors to find what they need as quickly as possible.

    One thing I’d test is to have the broad categories of products displayed visually (e.g. in a grid) on the homepage. With many specialized products in a narrow niche, I’d also consider creating something like a quiz or interactive offer, where visitors who aren’t sure what they need can answer a series of questions and get recommendations as a result.

  • I’ve listened to you and other experts and finally stopped experimenting with sliders. This is THEE question I have been wanting to ask. How should content stack on mobile? I use mainly referral based marketing for my local business. One soccer mom recommends me to another soccer mom so she looks up my site on her phone during her child’s practice. (maybe only having a minute to get that first impression) Video highlights and images are what they are most curious about. I hope you can address this type of conversion design in detail. Thank you Shane.

    • Thanks for your comment, Rudy!

      In general, you just stack all content vertically for mobile devices. Scrolling up and down is very easy to do on any device. Anything else, including pinching and zooming, is more cumbersome to do.

      In terms of priorities, nothing should change: both for large and small screens, the most important stuff should be at the top. On large screens, that can mean the most important things are above the fold, while on a smartphone, it will still require some scrolling to see it all.

  • Another great article. Thanks for these – I really enjoy reading your thoughts and I find that I learn a whole shed-load along the way.

    What I’d really like to know is your thoughts on affiliate marketing. I know you run a very successful affiliate program with Thrive Themes, and want to know whether you think it’s a good idea to create an affiliate program immediately alongside a product launch? I’m currently working on my first internet product and wonder whether I should launch an affiliate program alongside it, or wait until I’m on product 2.0 or something else?

    If you are able to write an article about this, I’d obviously be interested in learning about your software recommendations for affiliate administration.

    Cheers,
    Adam

    • Thank you for your comment, Adam.

      There’s no reason to wait before adding an affiliate program, as long as you follow the principle of rapid implementation. I.e. if it takes you forever to choose and implement an affiliate program and your entire schedule gets pushed back by months because of it, that’s bad. But if you just pick something you can implement quickly and get it done right away, it’s basically risk free.

      I recommend taking a look at Zaxaa, which is a very feature-rich solution (and you can start using it for free). If you implement quickly, the worst thing that can happen is that you get no affiliates and essentially the same result you would have gotten without an affiliate program. The best thing that can happen is that a couple of strong affiliates like your stuff and you make a ton of money you would have otherwise missed out on. 🙂

      I am working on an article about this kind of thing for imimpact, by the way. 🙂

  • I’d be interested to learn what you think of sliders that 1) do not auto slide and 2) are meant as a way to feature a premium listing ?

    I ask simply because most of my sites are directory portals which merchants pay a premium for certain features, being showed on front page with a slider is a premium feature.

    Feedback ?

    Great article

    • Hello Juan,

      A slider that doesn’t auto-forward is definitely better than one that does. But you have to be aware that very few visitors will see more than the first slide.

      If you’re selling positions in a homepage slider, then I guess having it auto-forward will be more satisfying for the customers who purchase that premium listing. In this case, it’s to your advantage that few people know about how ineffective sliders are. Personally, I wouldn’t pay for anything but the first position in a slider. 🙂

  • Great article Shane, I don’t really like sliders myself and have found the big background pics to be far too generic to really get an idea about the product or service. But people want to compare themselves to their competitors so if one does it, others follow. I added this to Inbound.org so I hope to see our community on it as well. Should be an interesting discussion.

  • It’s hard to agree entirely with you here when Amazon, the company also known for its conversion focus and success, puts a slider right on their home page. 🙂