Go take a look around at online stores, heck even look at a basic website, you’re likely to see a slider. How many people actually question what a slider is really good for though?
Lets start by looking at why companies and designers put sliders on sites.
Theoretically adding a slider to a site does a few things for you.
- Gets more important content on your site. You may have more than 1 important product or marketing message to highlight so a slider puts 2 or 3 or 4 on the homepage which of course is the most important page on your site.
- Allows you to engage users with differing desires on your sites. So the construction worker can see power tools on one slide at your hardware store and the home shopper can see the garden furniture they are thinking about.
- Tell marketing or management that their latest ‘great idea’ is on the homepage
The reality is that the only thing that sliders effectively accomplish is the 3rd item above. They let you tell marketing or management that their latest idea is now on the homepage and is important.
Sliders make it easy for you to never have to say NO to a content idea on someones site. NO is hard to say sometimes and not having to say it is easy.
Okay so I say that sliders aren’t really that useful. How about we look at some stats to prove it.
How Users Click on Sliders
Let’s start by talking about how many users interact with sliders. A common percentage of users to click on a slider is around 1%. Yes that’s right, if 100 people visit your site then 1 person will click on it.
Not only that, but out of that 1% of people that actually click on the slider, 80% of them are clicking on the first slide.
The slider itself is effectively dead based on user interaction but anything past the first slide is even deader.
User Interaction with Slider Content
What about if we gave a user a specific task like we would in a user testing scenario. This study asked users to find if Siemens have any discounts on washing machines?
Guess what, despite the washing machine discount being the biggest thing on the page in the biggest font the user failed to find the discount. They actually gave up figuring that Siemens didn’t have sales and said
I wouldn’t choose [a Siemens appliance] unless I was very rich
Yeah that’s right they couldn’t find the biggest thing on the page and Siemens is expensive. Good job sliders.
Surely sliders let you serve relevant content to a wider range users though. Right??
Well first off, is the slider actually displaying content relevant to the current visitor? Maybe if their coming to see your sale on garden furniture in spring but that also means that the person coming to look for power tools gets to see the sales on garden furniture which have little to do with their point in coming to the site.
Next, how long do you stay on a slide. Assuming that the user is in fact the right user for your slider is it going to switch to fast for them? Usually it doesn’t stay around long enough and just as a user decides that they want to click on it the slide changes.
Then they have to decide again if they want to engage with the current content.
So you just keep throwing new cognitive load on a user.
Site Speed Impacts
Even outside of user interactions, how to sliders affect with site speed? We already know that Google looks at sitespeed for your rankings so it’s an important consideration.
When you load a slider you’re loading:
- All the images
- All the JS needed to make the slider work (and JS is blocking)
- Extra HTML and PHP to hold the slides
That’s a lot of stuff to load. Looking at this comparison of NEXTGEN Gallery you’ll see that it takes 5 seconds to load. Then take a look at this evaluation of popular WordPress sliders, a bunch of them take 4 seconds to load.
So you’re going to add 4 seconds of time to load your site in many cases and Google will penalize your ranking for that slowness.
Not only that, but a 1 second delay can reduce your conversions by 7%. That real money left on the table on a store and I like money.
The simple fact is that adding load time to your site means decreasing your conversions which means you’re going to make less money.
First off it’s likely that your slider code has lots of headings thereby cluttering up your page hierarchy with content to index. Lots of them actually make everything an H1 heading, which means it’s the most important thing on the page.
Some even use flash still? (Yeah WTF).
Oh and we just talked about sitespeed and SEO.
Even worse than the above SEO issues is that so many sites just put shallow content in the sliders. A slider is used as a copout for a decent content strategy. They toss well written, well thought out content on the homepage away in favour of a slider.
If you have little or no content relevant to the keywords your trying to rank for how on earth do you expect to rank for them?
Instead of using a slider for content, get a content strategy and put well thought out content on your homepage.
Have you ever tried to use the modern web with an assistive device like a text based web browser? Go ahead and download Lynx and try it, the book will be here.
So how much fun was that? Not fun at all was it. Some people have things like Lynx as their fulltime web experience.
Did you know that web accessibility is law in the UK?
Okay so how do sliders affect accessibility?
The simple fact is that sliders are bad for accessibility. They’re going to make your site harder for users to navigate.
Sliders and Mobile Devices
Did you know that mobile shopping grew by 21% in the 2013 holiday season in the US? Users are going to come to your site and shop via a mobile device of some sort.
First off we know that sliders are slow (see above) and of course fast internet speeds are not everywhere. LTE only become fairly common in my city in the last 6 months and there are still lots of spots that only give you 3G speeds.
Not only are they slow, you’ve got to load all those images. Few sliders actually provide smaller images to mobile devices. They usually just downsize the large image via CSS.
Sure gigabytes of bandwidth are cheap in some countries but in Canada I pay twice what it costs my US friends for 1GB of transfer in a month. Your big slider is just pushing me to my data cap (and extra cost).
Most mobile users actually just scroll past a slider on a site that is if they don’t get stuck in some hell where a swipe up is translated in to a slide change by the slider. Then they may just leave the site.
But ‘The Fold’
Okay here’s our last point of discussion, the fold.
The fold started as a newspaper term. You put your best content at the top of the page ‘above the fold’ since that is what people would see and would attract them to purchase the paper.
When it came to web ‘the fold’ started to mean the part of the page on your current screen and screens were around 600px tall. Oh and the internet was really, really, really slow. So it might take a minute to load a web page, each click was super precious.
When a user hit your page you wanted to make sure that the first content was so engaging that they’d look more on your site because a click was so precious to the user.
Did I mention that users didn’t really scroll either. They just looked at what was visible and decided if it was worth it.
If that was all true, maybe a slider would get more content in to that top portion of the screen that was so precious. Right?
Now the page fold is a myth. There is life below 600px. The myth of the fold has been busted.
So there is no fold and using a slider to get content above the fold is a waste of time.
One good time for sliders
At the beginning I said that all a slider really does is let you tell the marketing department or management that their latest idea is on the homepage. That is a valid reason for a slider.
I wouldn’t turn down a project that ‘had to have’ a slider at all. I’d work to educate them and if they had to have it I’d use the best option available which would be Envira.
Like this content? It’s part of an upcoming book I’m writing on getting started with eCommerce for WordPress. You can sign up for the email list for updates or order the book now to get all the content as it comes out and early release versions. That means purchase now for book + videos at $29.99 instead of $150.