Should I Use a Carousel? A Brief Look Into Featured Content Display

Erin Hinnen Erin Hinnen
November 21, 2014
User Experience Design , Web Strategy , Digital Marketing

Navigate to your favorite website’s homepage. What do you see? A main navigation, some content, and most likely an image or feature carousel. Most websites have a carousel on their homepage that slides through images and text to feature different pages or promotions on their site—it’s rare that I work on a project without one. It’s easy to see why; companies want users to see as much relevant content as possible upon the initial visit to their site without taking up too much space.

Should I use a Feature Carousel?

What most companies fail to realize is that the carousel is not a viable solution for this issue. Erik Runyon, the Director of Web Communications at the University of Notre Dame, conducted a website study with 3 million unique homepage visits. The study concluded that roughly only 1% of users click on a feature in a carousel and of that, 89% of the users clicked on the first slide in the carousel. In addition, most carousels are not ADA compliant, which can cause frustration to users with disabilities who browse the site. So why then do companies continue to use carousels? They may not be aware of more relevant solutions to their problem.

Content Panels

Feature Carousel Content Panel

One of the problems that a carousel presents is hidden content. A visitor who is familiar with the site and its content may navigate to a site and know that there are promotions or features within a carousel. When we take into account that the average visitor stays on a web page for under 60 seconds, commonly in the 10-20 second range, then it isn't unreasonable to assume that a new visitor who navigates to the site will have a much lower chance of seeing and clicking on the third or fourth feature in a carousel. A better solution to displaying multiple features in one carousel is to use content panels. A content panel displays flatly on a page, can be as large or small as needed on a page, and does not rotate content. An example of a content panel instead of a carousel can be seen at the top of Roundedcube’s homepage; this way, we focus all of our viewers onto one feature that does not rotate or change, hiding content from users.

Content Grid

Content Grid

If one or two content panels just won't cut it for a company's needs, another option is called a content grid. This presents a grid of images and text that can sometimes be hovered over to produce different results. A grid allows a company to deliver multiple pieces of information to the user at once without "hiding" that content from them or cycling through it. This reduces the amount of missed opportunities when it comes to promotions and offers. Roundedcube's homepage also features an example of a content grid in the middle of the page (as shown above) to address this concern as well as share relevant social media activity.

Sitecore DMS Personalization

Feature Carousel Content Panel

In addition to static features, one should also consider personalized features as an alternative for a carousel. As mentioned above, Roundedcube’s website has one content panel at the top of our homepage. This content panel displays alternate content based on numerous personalization rules. For instance, if the visitor’s geographic location shows that they are in the St. Louis region, we can show them our St. Louis tailored content (shown above). Or, if the visitor navigated from a partner website by clicking a link, the feature can change to serve up content regarding services we offer with that specific partner. Implementing personalized content to replace a static feature carousel is a great way to start delivering a more relevant customer experience to your visitors. You can learn more about personalization with Sitecore here.

The Bottom Line

Frustrating Feature Carousel

The statistics are in and they seem to show that carousels are an obsolete mode of displaying content to a user. Whether it is via content panels, grids, personalization, or a combination of the three, there more relevant options becoming available to users every day. If a company is still set on using a carousel, there are certainly ways to make the content more noticeable to users: a website must serve up compelling content that not only engages a user but can also catch their attention to begin with. In addition, keeping the features to 3 or below reduces the amount of content “hidden” from users. The bottom line, however, is this: carousels can be an ineffective tool to deliver content to users, and there are more relevant solutions available.

How do you deliver relevant information to users on your website?

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