Ditch this Popular B2B Website Feature Now!

January 14, 2015 by

While searching the Web for vendors of a certain class of engineering tool last month, I came across a one who seemed to have just what I was looking for.

Clicking on the Google search result, I was taken to the company's home page, where I was presented with a simple infographic, a headline and three or four lines of text. After reading the headline and a bit of the infographic, I was pretty sure I'd come to the right place.

Then I noticed the infographic offered a link to a video. Great, I thought, maybe the video will offer me more detailed information.

But before I could click the video button, it was gone! The entire screen had suddenly changed!

Now I had a photo of a B2 stealth bomber in front of me. Of course, with two decades experience in the aerospace industry, I was interested. I began reading the text on the new screen. It offered links to two case studies.

But before I could choose one, the screen changed again! Suddenly, I was looking at a page aimed at the automotive industry. I was frustrated, disoriented… and no longer sure I'd come to the right place.

The much beloved, much despised, home page carousel

Have you had an experience like the one just described? More than once, perhaps? I know it wasn't my first. Not by a long shot. Seems to happen every time I encounter a slide carousel (also known as a "slider") on a home page. And it seems I find sliders on the majority of B2B websites I visit.

Which made me wonder: Why are these darn things so… ubiquitous? Does their ROI justify the amount of prime real estate they occupy on so many B2B home pages?
That prompted me to do some research. What I found is that most companies would be much better off if they removed those carousels from their websites. Website visitors tend to find them annoying and rarely click on them.

Should I Use a Carousel link

Source: shouldiuseacarousel.com

In the rest of this article, we'll examine why slide carousels are ineffective and why they're so popular in spite of their ineffectiveness. We'll also look at what you should put on your home page instead.

The theory behind carousels

Why do we see carousels on so many home pages?

According to Craig Tomlin, a Certified Usability Analyst and former President of the Austin Chapter of the User Experience Professional's Association, the rationale behind them is threefold:

1. They allow multiple messages aimed at different buyer personas to appear in the "above the fold" (first screen) area of the home page.

2. They allow a mix of messaging (branding, product info, thought leadership) in that same space.

3. They placate internal stakeholders demanding homepage space for their messaging.

The problem, says Tomlin, is that this theory has a serious flaw. It assumes that visitors will hang around long enough to view every image in the carousel.

Good luck with that.

Tomlin points out that if a carousel has five slides and each is displayed for four seconds, including transitions, it will take the visitor 20 seconds to view them all. "Most sites are lucky if the majority of their visitors stay longer than 10 seconds," he adds.

Nobody clicks on a carousel

Studies and site audits indicate that carousels perform poorly when it comes to conversion (i.e., lead generation).

Tomlin says testing of carousels reveals the kind of "banner blindness" normally associated with on-page advertising, as demonstrated by generally poor click-through rates.

"Among the hundreds of website audits I have conducted in the past several years," notes Tomilin, "I have seen average Click Through Rates (CTRs) of less than .1% across thousands of carousel banner images." {1}

Erik Runyon, Director of Web Communications and a web developer at the University of Notre Dame, sees better, but still lackluster results from sliders. Erik tracked visitor interaction with carousel content on five of Notre Dame's websites. One of the sites, an aggregated news site, around 9% of visitors clicked on a carousel feature. On the other, more marketing-oriented sites, only 1% to 3% clicked on a feature. {2, 3}

Runyon concurred with one of his blog's commenters who concluded, "Basically, that data tells me: don't use carousels."

Finally, when the Nielsen Norman Group ran a usability test on a carousel, they found they could "hide in plain sight" the information users were seeking by placing it in a carousel.

In their test, one user was attempting the following task: "Does Siemens have any special deals on washing machines?"

"The biggest item on the homepage — in both screen space and font size — is an offer of £100 off 'selected Siemens appliances' next to a large photo of a washing machine," explains Jakob Nielsen, principal of NN/g.

"Nonetheless, the user failed the task. After an extended visit to the website — including much time scrutinizing this homepage — the user gave up and assumed that Siemens didn't have any special deals for her." She simply ignored the huge revolving banner. {4}

Carousels hurt SEO

And carousels don't just confound visitors once they arrive at your home page. They may prevent them from getting there.

Harrison Jones, VP of Digital Marketing at MWI, a global, digital lead generation agency, recently did a study of B2B websites employing carousels. His research revealed a number of recurring SEO problems. {5}

The most frequent of those problems were: (1) multiple h1 headings, (2) Flash usage, (3) slow page loading, and (4) shallow content.

Alternating headings confuse Google

In most of the carousels Jones looked at, he found that the headings of each slide were wrapped in an h1 tag.

"Basic SEO best practices state that there should only be one h1 tag per page, and it should appear before any other heading tag," notes Jones. "The problem with using h1 or any heading tag in the carousel is that every time the slide changes, the h1 tag changes, which greatly devalues the [page's] keyword relevance."

Flash can't be crawled

A few of the websites Jones studied served up carousel content using Flash. "Avoiding Flash to serve up content is SEO 101," he says. "Flash content cannot be crawled by all search engines — so stop using it to display important website content."

Carousels bog down page loading

The more complicated you make a web page, the longer it will take to load. Jones found sites with full-width carousels featuring high-resolution images, which heavily impacted page loading speed.

"Every second it takes to load a page past two seconds hurts the user experience, and has an impact on search performance," Jones says. He also notes that Google plans to impose a penalty for slow loading on mobile. {6}

Carousels reduce space for textual content

Since carousels rotate content every few seconds, the amount of text in each slide has to be limited. Otherwise, visitors don't have time to read all of it. And since carousels take up so much prime real estate, they leave little room for text on the first (above-the-fold) screen.

Many of the websites Jones evaluated took this to an extreme by putting little or no body text on the page. "Content is a requirement for ranking for keywords," notes Jones. "If you have little or no content, you cannot expect to rank well for any search terms."

Carousels annoy your visitors

Another reason carousels hurt websites' conversion/lead-generation capability is that most B2B website visitors find them annoying.

When Dianna Huff and KoMarketing Associates asked B2B buyers which website elements annoy them or cause them to click back out, 35% indicated carousels. {7} And many of them were passionate about what ticked them off:

"My biggest turn-off is anything that *moves* (unless I choose to initiate the movement myself). That includes any kind of animation or rotating images."

"I hate things that move (including Twitter feed) and things that make noise."

Personally, I find that a big problem with carousels is that it's practically impossible to get their display timing right. Transition timing depends on several factors:

  • Complexity of the images displayed,
  • Amount of text displayed
  • Reading habits/skills of individual visitors.

If slides remain too long, the visitor moves on before seeing any slides other than the first. If slides don't remain long enough, the visitor may become frustrated and annoyed, like I did with the website I described earlier.

And since the correct timing depends on the individual visitor, finding the ideal timing that suits all visitors is simply impossible.

What should replace your carousel?

Killing your carousel will free up valuable "above-the-fold" real estate on your home page. That gives you plenty of options.

The most important thing to do with that space is convey your company's main message – something that often gets lost when a multi-message carousel is used – as quickly and concisely as possible. In 5 seconds or less, you need to tell your home page visitors:

  • Who you are
  • What you do
  • Why they should care

Luckily, all that can be accomplished with just your banner header (logo and tagline), page headline and a short paragraph or subhead. That leaves plenty of space for other content.

You might want to try what's called a "hero layout." According to Sean Bestor, a copywriter at LeadPages, "the hero layout is based around a single content section that takes up the first fold of a page with one clear goal." {8}

Not only do they help your home page pass the "5 second test" described above, they focus the visitor on a specific call to action, as shown in the following example:

CoverityHeroLayoutHomePage

Source: www.coverity.com

And as you can see, this layout also encourages scrolling, making it very mobile friendly.

As an alternative, you might choose to set up static interest areas, as in this example:

Algosec_InterestAreaLayout

Source: www.algosec.com

Such a layout not only appeases competing stakeholder factions. It also offers several routes off the first screen to help visitors find the information they've looking for.

You might even ask visitors to identify their persona or their area of interest, as Officite does on their home page. Provide a pop-up menu based on need, industry, type of company, etc., and help visitors find what's most relevant to them with just one click.

After all, finding what they're looking for is why visitors come to your website in the first place.

Conclusion

The only reason I can see for the continued popularity of carousels/sliders on B2B websites is the need to placate various stakeholder factions demanding visibility on the home page. For everything else, they are decidedly ineffective.

But as we've just seen, you have alternatives available that are far more attractive to your prospects and can still appease those stakeholders. Dump that carousel now!

Take-Away Points

1. Home page sliders are bad for conversion (lead generation).

2. Home page sliders are bad for SEO.

3. Home page sliders annoy your website visitors.

4. Ditch your home page carousel.

5. Choose an alternative home page layout that:

a. Passes the "5 second test"

b. Helps visitors find what they're looking for.

Next Steps...

Need content for a new, carousel-free home page or other parts of your website?

Call CopyEngineer at (+39) 011 569 4951.

Or drop me an email at:

info@copyengineer.com.

References

{1} Tomlin, W. Craig, Kill Conversion Killing Carousels Now, Useful Usability, April 2014.

{2} Runyon, Erik, Carousel Interaction Stats, erikrunyon.com, January 2013.

{3} Runyon, Erik, Carousel Interaction Stats – June 2013 Update, erikrunyon.com, July 2013.

{4} Nielsen, Jakob, Auto-Forwarding Carousels and Accordions Annoy Users and Reduce Visibility, Nielsen Norman Group, January 2013.

{5} Jones, Harrison, Homepage Sliders: Bad For SEO, Bad For Usability, Search Engine Land, June 2013

{6} Schwartz, Barry, Google: Site Speed Penalty Coming To Mobile Web Sites, Search Engine Land, June 2013.

{7} 2014 Web Usability Report, Dianna Huff and KoMarketing Associates, February 2014.

{8} Bestor, Sean, Why Home Page Sliders Are Ineffective (And What’s Replacing Them), LeadPages.

1 Comment

  1. Marsha

    All my other sites are down except for the one with the slider. Which I will be removing even if it is super cute!

    Thank-you for the advice I really had no idea of the drawbacks.

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