I wrote that you shouldn’t use slideshows on your home page years ago, but it’s time to review and update those reasons again.
The take home point: Slideshows have tons of downsides and they probably don’t do what you want anyway. Just skip them the next time you think you might want to use one.
1. No One Uses a Website Like That
Slideshows are built with the assumption that people will sit around “exploring” and “engaging with” your home page for 10 or 15 seconds at a minimum. That is not how people use the internet.
Your website visitors will judge your site in as little as 1/20th of a second and will often leave your site entirely within 10-20 seconds. Visitors who leave soon won’t grasp what it is your organization does, much less have a chance to sign up for your email newsletter.
A slideshow is a poor use of the time you have with visitors and might even reduce it because…
2. Slideshows Slow Things Down
As screens get more pixels and monitors get larger, users must download huge images for a slideshow. Images generally account for more than half of a web page’s size, so reducing images is one of the best things you can do to speed up your site.
What makes this worse? Look back up at reason #1. More images = slower site = lost time with your visitors and a first impression that may just be “this site is slow.”
3. Slideshows are Terrible on Phones
Most of the time, I don’t even show a slideshow on phones because it works so poorly. The buttons are too small, the text is probably covering someone’s face, and people who try to swipe through a slideshow may accidentally just click the slide instead. And of course, try downloading all those big beautiful images (see #2) over a bad 3G network. Yikes!
4. Nobody Clicks the Slides
There’s not a ton of data on slideshow usage, but what there is isn’t good. A good slider has 2% of people clicking in it, and almost all those clicks (often 80%+) are only on the first slide. The third slide of a slideshow might as well not exist on most sites. (We’ll come back to this point in #8.)
5. They’re Annoying, Then Ignored
Users find slideshows annoying or ignore them altogether. Partially this is due to “ad blindness” or “banner blindness”, the phenomena by which most modern web users have trained themselves to unconsciously ignore anything that looks like an ad. That includes slideshows. From that linked study:
The user’s target was at the top of the page in 98-point font. But she failed to find it because the panel auto-rotated instead of staying still.
Even worse, the motion of slideshows distracts from the rest of the important information on your website and can make the site totally unusable for people with certain cognitive impairments.
6. You Probably Won’t Like a Slideshow that Follows Best Practices
To build a slideshow right—meaning one that’s built to be accessible and implements usability best practices—you’ll need:
- Forward & back buttons
- A play/pause button (unless the slideshow doesn’t autoplay)
- Slide navigation thumbnails
- Slides that advance no more than every 5 seconds when playing
- Appropriate contrast for text that’s on top of images
- Navigation support for keyboards, screen readers, and touch devices
A slideshow like that is complicated to build (most out-of-the-box-ones don’t support all of those features) and probably doesn’t have the visual impact you wanted in the first place.
7. Google May Ignore All but the First Slide
Make your site’s important content visible by default. Google is able to crawl [hidden content] such as tabs or expanding sections, however we consider this content less accessible to users, and believe that you should make your most important information visible in the default page view. [emphasis added]
Google knows that hidden content (like the second slide in your slideshow) will be missed by most people, so it generally ignores it. If you care about that content, find a better way to feature it!
Relatedly, in practice many websites upload images of text (as opposed to real text in the browser) without providing accessible alternative text. For search engines, visually impaired visitors, and when the image fails to load, your super-important announcement does not exist because there’s no typed out information beyond the image.
8. Slideshows Don’t Solve Your Problems
Many slideshows are created as a technical means to solve a political problem. Namely, everyone wants a place on the home page. (“You get a slide and you get a slide and YOU get a slide!”)
Unfortunately, while a slideshow might save a few hurt feelings, it will make things worse in the long run:
- People will think their content is viewed when it’s not.
- Your organization won’t be forced to prioritize what information will actually help achieve its mission.
I often see nonprofit website slideshows that feature all sorts of news, events, and programs without ever explaining what the organization even does. “Newsy” slideshow content is likely over the head of new visitors who just want to know what it is that your organization does.
Use a Slideshow if…
So, in conclusion, slideshows are a great way to waste space on your home page while slowing down the rest of the site, detracting from other useful content, and skipping hard conversations about your organization! Slideshows are “shiny objects” that nonprofits have used for years, unfortunately while ignoring technical best practices and the realities of website visitor behavior.
And if you have one right now…
It’s not the end of the world if you have a slideshow on your home page, but think hard before adding one to a new project. In the mean time, maybe you can reduce the number of slides, optimize the images, or just replace it with a single “hero image.”
It’s Not Just Me!
I don’t know many colleagues (maybe none?) that recommend slideshows for home pages any more, and so I strongly urge you to follow the industry’s lead and drop them from your next home page.
If you want other takes on the topic, here are just a few: