Carousel Sliders: Good Practice Or Bad For SEO?

12th Apr 2024

Carousel Sliders: Good Practice Or Bad For SEO?

The once universal idea to include an image carousel top of the landing page is now almost unanimously considered a bad idea. On the surface, it seems like a great way to showcase key products, services or special offers, but in-fact any form of engagement with image carousels is very low.

The rationale is sound – select good images, overlay text that highlights special offers, Unique Selling Points, confidence-building straplines, and use the variety to sell a number of different aspects of your business. In practice, these carousel sliders are now believed to have a negative impact in three specific ways: User Experience (UX), SEO and Real Estate dominance.

Notre Dame University tested click through rates on their own website carousel to determine whether a range of enticing images and messages encouraged a greater CTR overall. They wanted to understand which image (in terms of position) was the most effective.

The results were surprisingly polarised – overall, the results showed that just 1% of clicks on their test site were on carousel images overall, and that an overwhelming 84% of clicks were on the first slide, meaning that the remaining five slides combined receive just 16% of the clicks.

Tests on auto-rotating carousels showed that they receive a bit more attention, but again, the first slide dominates, receiving 40% of all clicks. The second and third positions receive 18% and 11% fewer clicks.
This is a very small reward for using such a large area at the top of your homepage or landing page. But why has this become the case?

What Is An Image Carousel?

Let’s start with the basics, image carousels have several different names, including ‘carousel sliders’, ‘image sliders’ or ‘image carousels’. These terms are interchangeable and mean the same thing, a set of images, often with links, that slide, fade or otherwise transition through a sequence. Sometimes this will happen automatically, and sometimes you can interact with it to initiate the change.

Why are image carousels now so ineffective?

Did you know? The average human attention span is short, just slightly over 8 seconds. When visitors land on a website, they have a specific purpose and expect to find what they want easily. If they don’t, they are likely to leave without converting into a sale or new lead.

The content displayed in image carousels is rarely a reason why users end up on a website, they are usually used to display promotional material, making them annoying and distracting to visitors looking for something specific.

Conversion analysts and specialists cited the following reasons they believe image carousels convert so poorly:

  • Banner blindness – often the images look like adverts, and are therefore often ignored by visitors.
  • They scatter the focus of the visitor, so instead of taking action, the whole thing gets ignored.
  • In most instances the carousel is dismissed because they don’t relate to what the visitor is looking for, so they scroll straight down to look for more relevant entry points that serve their intent.
  • Most of their content is hidden, meaning that someone has to either wait for it to change, or interact with the slider to see something that they still might not be interested in.

The best bet for any website is to get to the point quickly, by providing the answers or products that are being sought.

Image Carousels and User Experience (UX)

Image carousels are distracting, but they can also be frustrating for the following reasons:

  • Automated image carousels often move too quickly, frustrating visitors who need more time to read something before it changes.
  • The controls for a scrolling carousel are inconsistent, and often small or hard to see, making manual control difficult, especially on mobile.
  • Almost all carousel sliders include a CTA with a button, which also moves with the slides, giving a user limited time to decide if they want to click on it before it disappears.

The SEO question: it’s not good news for carousels

Our main point so far has been that carousel sliders often provide a poor user experience. User experience is one of the major ranking factors for search engines such as Google, some of the things taken into account for this are:

  • Page speed
  • Mobile-friendliness
  • User engagement

So yes, a carousel slider can be bad for SEO.

In a bit more detail, most image sliders preload all of the images and cannot be set to lazy load. Since the Core Web Vital updates of Google, every image loading into the page is considered a heavy load. If you choose to display several sliding images, Google will most likely give you a bad score for ‘LCP’ or Largest Contentful Paint.

Unsure if an image carousel is affecting your website SEO? We offer a free website audit to uncover issues and create a tailored SEO package for your business.

The Real Estate question: are image carousels a waste of space?

Space on websites (particularly on smaller devices) is at a premium. Every pixel counts, and landing pages need to engage visitors as quickly as possible to encourage interaction and goal funnelling.

Conversionista, a company in Sweden specialising in conversion and goal-efficiency, conducted a test that included an eye-tracker, and found that a static image held the eye 38% more often than an image in a carousel (40% of the time compared to 2% when the image was part of a carousel).

Adobe Optimization Manager Blair Keen took that test one step further, and instead of replacing the slider with a static image, removed the slider entirely, simply raising all of the content below it into a more visible space on the page. He tested this against the version that had the slider and found that the version without resulted in a 23% increase in sales.

Why are image carousels still so popular?

Many major ecommerce websites still use carousel sliders, which is a surprise given their low conversion rates. Initially, image carousels may have been effective in ecommerce due to their novelty. However, as they became more popular, they became less and less effective. This could be because users became too used to them and started ignoring them altogether.

Perhaps they are still popular simply because everyone else still does it. They see their competitors and other major retailers still using carousel sliders, assume that it must be working for them, so they continue to do so too.

Are image carousels ever a good idea?

Image carousels can be useful for promoting a range of new products or a more specific promotion, like a seasonal sale. BUT in terms of content promotion, a lot of competing messages delivered in a single position can lead to focus being lost.

It’s a well-established sales and marketing principle that one of the worst things you can do is present a customer with too many options. An abundance of options often leads to users feeling overwhelmed, resulting in them taking no action at all and this is what image sliders often do.

Having said that, they can be effective when you want to highlight features or options, but lack space to display them all at once.

Image Carousels can work to:

  • explore product options
  • to browse testimonials or reviews
  • to preview an experience such as a hotel, event, restaurant, or museum
  • showcase brands that you work with

In other words, image carousels are useful to provide additional content within a specific context.

Alternatives to Landing Page Image Carousels

If carousels are ineffective, what can you use instead?

The answer is to try to give your visitors what they’re searching for. By highlighting your most popular products and content on targeted landing pages, there is a much greater chance that users will stay on your website and convert into a sale or a lead than if you suggest random, unrelated offers to them.

  • Use a static hero image, but change it often enough to keep the site fresh!
  • Create a feature for your top-selling products, or services. Showcase the most popular products that are already bringing people to your website with clear links leading directly to them.
  • Instead of several distracting promotional messages such as a variety of discounted ranges, codes, or other offers, highlight your latest sale or campaign. If you have more than one promotion, you can always include a ‘Special Offers’ or ‘Sale’ link in the navigation to direct bargain hunters to a page that summarises all of your promotions.

The main landing page elements that reliably fulfil user expectation are:

  • Hero image: Something that show unambiguously who you are and what you do
  • A title element: This could be your company name, or your main product or service
  • A short content element: We call this the Value Proposition, a short sentence that should give your visitor a reason to stay on your website.

If the landing page you have created is good, you have built a bit of trust and confirmed that you can provide a solution to their enquiry, then you can expect the visitor to engage.

In Summary

Landing page carousel sliders have been popular for years, but many companies seem to be using them out of habit. Using them does not provide a good user experience and can harm your SEO.

It may be tempting to include a carousel on your homepage but resist the urge. Digital technology changes rapidly, something that worked well a couple of years ago could be considered bad practice today. Research shows that image carousels are one of those things, because they almost always hurt your conversion rate.

Online, people often feel that there is a constant assault on their senses, which has led them to start ignoring banners and sliders without even realising they are doing it. To combat this, focus on highlighting your most popular products or services at the top of your landing pages. This will help your users to hone in on what they need, and your overall conversion rate will be better.

Are you looking for a better way to design your homepage or landing pages? If you currently use an image carousel on your website, it’s probably time to update so you provide your potential customers with a better user experience and improve your conversion rate. Contact Realnet to discuss how.

[Originally published in April 2018, updated April 2024]

Realnet is an established Cambridge digital agency, we have been helping all sorts of organisations with their online presence since 1998. From website design and ecommerce to digital marketing and PPC campaigns.

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