When Internet connection speeds began to increase with the introduction of broadband and, more recently, fibre connectivity, the use of imagery and video within websites has dramatically increased.
It's almost an expectation now that any website homepage design has a large image slider or slideshow at the top of the page, rotating multiple images and taglines to perhaps highlight key services or simply just advertise your business. There's little arguement to be had that these look great and appear visually stunning if done well, but have you given any thought to whether they have an actual benefit for your business and its website?
There are two areas where image sliders can prove more negative than positive for how your potential customers interact with your website:
1) They slow down website page loading times
Images are one of the largest file types used on most websites. The actual HTML and other code is tiny in comparison. On modern HD monitors, the temptation is to use high definition images for the slideshow feature, often hitting FullHD or above resolutions. Even 4-5 FullHD images can result in a total image download size of over 500Kilobytes, often being much larger and can be over 1Megabyte in size (I've even seen them much larger, with homepage slideshows ending up at over 15Megabytes!).
For visitors using a fast fibre connection this may not seem an issue and in fact may not be, but for anyone browsing on a mobile phone, downloading a few megabytes of images over a 3G or 4G connection can be painfully slow and eat up precious data allowances too.
With Google now testing and beginning to use mobile loading times as a ranking factor in mobile searches, and well over half of searches taking place on mobile devices, making sure your website is not penalised through use of large-size image slideshows is becoming almost a necessity.
They still have uses in other areas, often for e-commerce where you may want to show a handful of product images from different angles or show different colours for example, but they are not the best idea for any main website page. Statistically, the slower your web page loads on any device, the more likely the potential customer is to give up and try another website, most likely one of your competitors!
2) Visitors ignore them and just scroll past
This one is perhaps the most important - website visitors simply ignore and scroll past top of page slideshows! There's a term in web design referred to as 'above the fold' which refers to what content can be seen on a website page before a visitor has to scroll down or click something to find out more. This above the fold area is the absolute key place to put your offer and key contact information - for us, it is introducing our company and providing key information about our services alongside clear contact options.
A number of usage studies show that slideshow images are seen as adverts and ignored, with only the first image in the slideshow being interacted with to any useful level - around 80% click on slide 1, but less than 10% bother to interact with subsequent slides.
A study relating to a specific e-commerce website, which tracked visitor mouse movements and clicks, showed that the slider area on the homepage was virtually ignored. Visitors clicked on menu items and specific offer links within the above-the-fold area, but hardly anyone clicked on the slideshow images. One e-commerce website with a full-width top page slideshow saw a 23% increase in sales simply from removing it and doing nothing else! This simply put key products above the fold, giving visitors much clearer and quicker access to popular products, resulting in a significant sales increase.
Lastly, they prove poor for accessibility - for visitors with poor or even no sight at all, they are all but wasted.
Overall, sliders can result in nothing but confusion, delivering a mixed range of messages which are not all suitable for the page they are on. Visitors can be drawn to watch what is moving instead of what is important - yourself gaining clients or customers.
So what are the alternatives?
Most often, a single and well chosen image can be used as a background, with the core intro and call to actions shown over the image. This is what we have gone for on our own homepage, introducing our brand and core service, with clear contact details and links to our main website pages (prices and portfolio).
Another route is to focus on 2-3 key areas which draw the visitors attention without distraction. We took this route, for example, with EYFS Resources.
For websites where searching for products or directory listings is the prime focus, placing the search feature above the fold in this area is quite probably the most beneficial so that visitors can quickly do what you want them to - this one works well on a website we designed for a Swiss client, Zugerkurse - a website for people living in the canton of Zug to list and find local courses and activities: www.zugerkurse.ch (there is a UK language option!).
For the majority of website usage scenarios, using a slideshow at the top of your homepage or other page is proven to be ineffective for attracting customers, doing little beyond slowing your website down and losing business.
We've given a few examples above of how we've created website designs without the slideshow feature and hopefully that proves food for thought for your own website. For all of our customers now, we rarely recommend sliders, and are happy to consider replacing them for existing clients if this would benefit their business model.