Wow! What an awesome weekend. Thank you to everyone who made WordCamp San Diego 2017 possible, and to all who saw my presentation. For those missed it, here is the full video, along with my slides and a full write-up.
PDF slide download: Spare Me From Your Stupid Slideshow
A personal confession
First off, you should know that I’ve made some really terrible slideshows/sliders/carousels in my long and storied career. I’m not proud of it, but I’m always striving to get better at what I do. That driving ambition is what has let me to critically examine the role of slideshows in my work, and after some deep soul-searching, I’ve come to the conclusion that most slideshows just totally suck.
The benefits of going slideshow-free
If you drop that stupid slideshow from your homepage, I guarantee you that your website will be:
- Easier for people to use and to navigate
- Better. It will just plain suck less. I’ll explain.
- Faster loading (which is so, so important!)
- Stronger. Your website will morph into a powerhouse that is more effective at accomplishing your intended goals.
Why Slideshows Suck
Slideshows are frustrating to use
Ever try to engage with a slider only to have the slide change before you’re finished reading it? Me too. It happens to me frequently because I’m a slow reader. No one reads at the same pace, yet we program our slideshows to run at a perfectly automated rate that only works for robots – not humans. When then happens we need to locate and familiarize ourselves with the slideshow navigation in order to go back to the slide we were reading, and often times that navigation itself is difficult to use.
Slideshows confuse visitors and weaken your message
Slideshows confuse and overwhelm your audience by throwing too much information at them at once. As a result, any message that you are trying to communicate becomes diluted and less effective. A far better approach would be to take your single, most important message and hammer that home without the use of a slideshow.
Slideshows distract users engaging with content elsewhere on your page
Our eyes naturally look toward motion. Studies confirm this. When you have an animated slideshow on your homepage, the eyes of your visitors will look towards this animation even when you don’t want them to. Like say, when they’re reading a paragraph of text below the slideshow that contains a call-to-action link. Breaking the focus and concentration of your users is pretty much the worst thing you can be doing as a website owner. The attention spans of these users last mere seconds to being with, and if you’re throwing distractions at them, you can bet they won’t stick around for long.
Slideshows slow your website down
Slideshows are ignored
Many studies back this up, but slideshows are flat out ignored by most visitors. I like to call it “slideshow fatigue.” We’ve just been hit on the head so many times by these stupid slideshows that we tune them out. We treat them like banner ads, or “fluff” that certainly won’t contain anything important.
Slideshows are ineffective
If slideshows are ignored, then we can rightfully conclude that they are ineffective. Again, research backs this up. The engagement rate with links within slideshows is pathetically low, and you can be virtually certain that everything beyond slide 1 is never going to be seen by the vast majority of your audience.
Slideshows are lazy & generic
Slideshows are a lazy solution. We do them because it’s easy, and because everyone else does it. But success doesn’t come to the people who look like everyone else. Instead of a slideshow, try asking yourself a few questions like:
- What will my visitors find most helpful when they first land on my website?
- What goals do my visitors have in mind?
- What is the emotional state of my audience?
These questions do not have easy answers, but challenging yourself to dig deeper and answer them will almost certainly result in a better, more effective website that does not contain a slideshow.
Slideshows are time consuming to create
Creating slideshows takes time. At a minimum that involves installing and configuring a WordPress slideshow plugin, sourcing images for the slides, and writing text. Instead of investing your time in creating slideshows, try investing your time in a creative alternative.
A unique, well-crafted headline will trump a crappy slideshow with poor content any day in my book. WordPress.org does it well.
Static image and text
I like to think of this as a “single slide” approach. It’s kind of like a slideshow that has only 1 slide. But that’s a wonderful thing. Here we see that despite having a very robust information architecture, the Starbucks homepage has a clear and obvious focus. There is no distracting animation and no additional assets that need to be loaded. This is effective.
If you’re unlucky enough to be a Padres fan like myself then you may have come across gaslampball.com. Pretty much all websites in the SB Nation group use this layout. It’s so immediately obvious and intuitive that it almost doesn’t need an explanation. Most importantly, it’s a far better approach than a slideshow because it allows visitors to immediately see a variety of interesting content. If these featured posts were in a slideshow, most of these stories would be missed.
Click to play
Here we have the Blue Apron homepage which uses a static image and text header, a-la Starbucks, but with a twist: there is also a “play” button that launches a video when clicked. This is a great way to allow interested visitors to find out more about your product or service without being obtrusive. I have used this approach on a number of websites with good results.
What makes a good slideshow?
- Slideshows should be an enhancement of the user experience, not a critical component of the user experience. (Remember, most slides are not going to be seen.)
- Slideshows should not autoplay. User initiated animation is always best.
- Slides should have a similar theme, both in content and in style.
- Slideshows should have obvious and intuitive navigation components.
- Slideshows should only load your most critical content.
Here are links to a couple of websites with good slideshows (as of 3/27/17. If you’re visiting this website at a later date these websites may appear different.)
If you really need to use a slideshow
We all know that life isn’t perfect and we’re all going to need to make another slideshow at some point. So when that time comes, consider the following:
- Do you really need one?
- Show similar items
- For the love of God, don’t have it auto-play!
- Make the navigation obvious
- Only load what you absolutely need
- Track slideshow engagement metrics to evaluate its effectiveness