Article  |  Strategy

A half-baked defense of carousels

Reading time: ~ 2 minutes

You might have seen a link, Should I Use a Carousel?, getting tossed around the internet that discredits the usage of carousels. In their example, they showed that 89% of visitors only click on a call to action in the first slide. As a result, they suggest that if that is what people want then why are we spending time putting content for people in other slides that they don’t obviously don’t care about.

Based on the write-up, it’s obvious that the authors goals are click-thru conversions on those carousels. I worry that too many designers and developers are going to read this and use it as empirical evidence that carousels don’t work—in all scenarios.

While I don’t have a huge love and/or hated of carousels—I do consider myself a skeptic when it comes to isolated data.

In a recent project, we ended up deciding to implement a carousel on a homepage. What was our rationale? We explained to the client that carousels weren’t going to remotely equate to an even disbursement of click-thru rates. I’m not sure why anyone would find it surprising that the first slide would gain the most attention. Users know that you’ve made a conscious decision to highlight that slide first.

The first slide in your carousel is likely the most compelling slide (as it should be). You know that first impressions are important—you’re not going to toss your less enticing offer up front.

Some might argue that the other slides are then irrelevant… so why distract the user with them?

This is where it comes down to knowing what your goals are.

Is your goal to convert now… or to showcase your business offerings?

In our scenario, the client is trying to entice people to visit one of their 50+ physical locations. When people are visiting their site, they’re often looking for very specific details:

  • tickets to an upcoming music event
  • movie theater listings
  • directions to a brewery
  • etc..

When they visit their site to find this information, this is an opportunity to highlight some of the other activities that they could be doing… such as relaxing in a spa, hitting the golf course, staying overnight in a historical hotel, etc.

We aren’t trying to convert today… we’re trying to plant a seed for tomorrow.

It’s an opportunity for us to expose them to other activities that they may not know about. Sometimes, content on your site is just more advertising for your other products. It’s not just about what they might click on today, but the conversation they might have with a friend later, “did you know that So and So had a hotel near the Oregon Coast with a golf course? We should check that out sometime.”

In our scenario, we opted to include an automatically timed carousel to expose visitors to high-quality photos of adventures people could be experiencing. Of course, we aim do this without disrupting the flow of them finding those tickets to the next Sigur Rós concert.

Is this the only way that we could accomplish this? No, there are many design options that could work, but a carousel appeared to be a fitting option to experiment with.

Sometimes—it’s not just the click-thru rates. It’s the impression.

The real question is… over time, will they people book more hotel rooms on the coast because more customers are aware of this option? Time (and data) will tell.

Until then, let’s remain skeptical of any generalizations about what does/doesn’t work.

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