WordPress slider: Awesome design element or instrument of the devil?

A case for carousels

When developers first screamed for a design solution to effectively deliver multiple messages, sliding carousels answered the call. They give site owners the opportunity to nab users’ attention without the need to click or scroll. Plus, considering there’s overwhelming evidence that folks bounce if they don’t see what they’re looking for, carousels occupy valuable real estate above the fold. For many web pros, including myself, carousels initially turned our heads. But how awesome are they today? On a scale of 1 to wow, you be the judge.

Why some designers give sliders the slip

There’s a funny site called Should I Use a Carousel that makes a strong case against them. Of course, it uses a carouse to get the snarky message across. And I gotta say, I find its carousel quite effective, although it could use some slowing down.

Even though sliders provide a way to visually display multiple messages within a constrained area of a web page, there are some reasons they get flak:

  • 66 percent of users will scroll for additional information on a web page (according to Chartbeat).
  • Only 1 percent of users clicked on the first slide of a slider, and virtually no one clicked the slides thereafter (according to Erik Runyon).

But what about the fact that users spend 80 percent of their time looking above the fold?

Why some web designers give carousels a whirl

For those considering users’ fixation above the fold, sliders are a design feature that speaks directly to the problem. This is precisely why I’m still a fan. I don’t expect people to interact or click on them, but I do believe a slider provides a way to get key points across to a visitor who, otherwise, might quickly bounce.

I’ll give you an example that we often use. Working with technology companies, we’ve discovered there are three important aspects they must cover. These include their:

  • Product — People need to understand the product that they are selling, front and center, on the site.
  • Services — Most technology businesses have a significant revenue stream from selling services around their product.
  • Authority — Why would you trust the company? Well, perhaps there’s an award they recently received or the CEO has just done a keynote or is scheduled to do one at an industry event.

My expectation as a marketer isn’t that the users interact with the slides. Instead, I wish to present the three different key messages in an aesthetically pleasing manner. If I opted to tile that information on my page, it could reduce the beauty of the design and branding by squashing the messaging together. I don’t want to sacrifice user experience and comprehension because no one clicks.

Don’t take my word for it. Test! In my example above, it would be fairly simple to extend the page vertically with each section, or list the three options in horizontal columns. Aside from clicks, observe the time spent on each page and whether or not your overall click-through rate (even outside the carousel) increases, whether you get more phone calls, and ultimately whether your site converts better.

Design tips for WordPress sliders that don’t stink

The Nielsen Norman Group — an evidence-based user experience organization — has found that carousels can be effective when designed and deployed correctly. It provides 7 tips for carousel design for enhancing the feel and function. These include:

  1. Use five or fewer frames so users can remember and return to slides they wished to investigate further.
  2. Use clear images and text that is easy to read and comprehend within the timeframe allotted to the frame.
  3. Provide an indicator that shows how many frames are present and what the current frame is that the visitor is viewing.
  4. Use icons and links within the frame that are unique and recognizable.
  5. Keep navigation controls within the carousel, not below or outside of it, so that users can navigate the carousel on smaller screens.
  6. Don’t use identical buttons on each slide’s call-to-action (if you’re using a call-to-action) to avoid confusion.
  7. Make links and buttons large enough to decipher and click.

Here’s an example of a GoDaddy carousel on its Domain Name Search page. Scroll down, then notice there’s no call-to-action, just a simple manual carousel that the visitor can advance to get the next message. If fits nicely within the aesthetics of the page and offers a means to get some key messages about new domain extensions available.
GoDaddy carousel
What if a visitor saw your software but never noticed the services you provide? Would you lose them to competitors? What if they didn’t notice that latest award or your CEO’s next keynote? Could you have lost them as a lead? This is why testing is essential.

From hated to halo

Do you personally hate sliders? Well, that’s a terrible reason not to include them on your site. You shouldn’t develop your site for your aesthetic pleasure; it should be built for your audience and for your business. Worry about them and leave your subjective opinions out of it.

A carousel is not your page, nor your site. It’s just one element. I encourage you to incorporate sliders and measure the impact. Got an opinion? Share it in the comments section below.

Image by: puroticorico via Compfight cc

Bryant Tutterow
Bryant brings over 18 years of business acumen to DK New Media focused on strategic marketing and e-commerce. He has more than a decade of P&L responsibility, leading in-house marketing organizations at Fortune 500 companies and building three separate marketing departments from the ground up into world-class teams of as many as 14 people. As the Chief Marketing Officer for DK New Media, he provides overall strategic direction for marketing and e-commerce while leading business development of all strategic advisory and measured marketing services.