Through display advertising’s history of consistently delivering irrelevant content and its design never aligning to its surroundings, consumers have nurtured a scanning reflex called ‘banner blindness’.   

This isn't a new condition, ‘banner blindness’ has been around for a very long time. 

The heat map below is one example of a study done to determine consumer eye movement when banner advertisements are displayed on a page. This study was completed back in 2007.  

 

The red and yellow areas indicate where the consumer's eye spent the most time.  The green boxes have been added after the study was completed to show where the banner advertisements were positioned on the page.

Due to the strong desire for consumers to remain in control of their content consumption this condition has grown stronger over time and is now spilling into ecommerce websites negatively affecting consumer experience.

The greatest impacts on ecommerce sites are highly trafficked landing pages using carousels, in particular, the home page.

Why are Carousels affected by this condition?

1.  Movement

Movement is part of the banner blindness condition. Consumers are now conditioned to understand most movement comes from advertisements and therefore assume the content is not important and/or irrelevant.  

From a retailers perspective, why temporarily display important content? If it’s important, it should be constantly on display. If the use of a carousel is used to placate multiple stakeholders, work through this internal barrier and think of the customer first. 

A carousel banner is similar to having a bricks and mortar feature window where large volumes of foot traffic pass by on a daily basis, and for every three to five seconds, throw a blanket over the top of your feature display.

Many consumer experience experts will say movement draws the eye, however if the consumer is conditioned to know this movement is irrelevant, no amount of movement will draw his/her attention. Banner blindness trumps movement every time.   

2.  Banner design resembles print advertisement 

If a carousel banner looks like a print advertisement the consumer will think it’s a print advertisement and ignore it.  

Any banner design sitting outside of the digital style guide will be ignored. 

Retailers need to acknowledge this condition and do two things: 

  1. Understand the impacts from this condition
  2. Learn what can be done to refocus a consumer’s eye to this prime content real estate

Banner blindness impacts consumer-buying journeys in three fundamental ways 

1.  Distraction 

The carousel occupies prime real-estate within the active window (active window defined as all the content elements of a page viewable without scrolling) pushing down important content and distracting the consumer away from key content and navigation elements.  

The carousel makes the next step in the consumer's journey more difficult.

2.  Disrupts the buying journey 

Retailers have a built in assumption around consumers being more prone to scroll due to the penetration of mobile devices.  

Think again and respect the fold. Consumers are less likely to scroll past the carousel and down the landing page if they are initially presented with irrelevant content. There is no incentive to keep going. 

Scrolling takes the same amount of effort as a click so think of scrolling as a click. 

The power of the fold is seen in a study done in February 2015 where approximately 60,000 eye fixations were measured on web pages (excluding search engine pages).  

The heat map below shows the bulk of the fixations above the first dark line representing the average screen resolution (desktop screen resolution) in the study.

  

This study plus Google’s recent statistics on display banner viewability paints a clear picture. Google confirmed banners above the fold had 73% viewability and those below had 44%. Google’s study merely looked at when a banner was presented on screen. 

3. Mobile   

The above two issues are heavily compounded on mobile devices.  

One example of this is commonly seen when carousel banners are deeper by design. Carousels would display on a desktop screen with a chance of other content elements being seen within the active window, however on tablets in the landscape view, a false bottom is commonly created.  

False bottoms provide consumers with the sense there is no other content below the fold. Tablet landscape view holds 60% of all screen views over the vertical view making this issue significant.    

Solving 'banner blindness' 

  1. Design the banner to visually fit within the digital style guide of the site. 
  2. Avoid movement, stick with a single banner to communicate a promotion/offer and make changes as often as is required to meet business needs.
  3. Infuse navigation and/or call to action elements into the banner design to prompt action.   

Have a look at these retailers who are aware of and battling the carousel banner blindness condition:   

Apple

The Apple home page has a single image with clear calls to action, however, it comes close to creating a false bottom on tablet. The two tiles below can just be seen on tablet landscape view (as shown below).  

 

Best Buy

Best Buy is a good example of a banner design falling within the digital style guide, being infused alongside navigation elements and not looking at all like a print advertisement.   

House of Fraser

House of Fraser delivers two separate banners side by side, a great idea for statically featuring two different themes and journey choices for consumers.  

The tile on the left titled "Different Event Different Outfit" has a 30% offer, but its small and not overpowering, preserving the look and feel of the page.   

Nordstrom

Nordstrom is gearing up for Mother's Day, a big event for many department store retailers. The banner is eye catching, static and nicely styled.  

It is also shallow enough for landscape tablet consumers to clearly see a large portion of the banners beneath it.

Please share below more examples of retailers overcoming 'carousel banner blindness'. The more examples we can delivery to retailers, the easier it is to make a change and improve the experience for consumers.

Greg Randall

Published 28 April, 2015 by Greg Randall

Greg Randall is a senior digital consultant with Comma Consulting and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can connect with Greg on LinkedIn or Twitter

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James Hogan, Account Director at Momentum ABM

Interesting that the Apple Watch marketing email has a 'buy now' button linking to a website with a static carousel button if you elect to open the link in the Apple Store app there is a six page horizontal carousel - although it needs a swipe rather than automatically sliding through.

over 2 years ago

Caroline Beckett

Caroline Beckett, Website Editor at John Lewis Partnership

Very interesting feature, but why an apostrophe in the plural of Carousels in the first section?!

over 2 years ago

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Sacha Rose, Personal at Personal

I follow your argument under the 'Why are Carousels affected by this condition?' heading, and what you say is persuasive. But do you have any data showing that this is the case? At the moment, you say that banner blindness trumps movement, but is that just your opinion?

over 2 years ago

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Adam Le Dieu, Web Content Manager at British Gas Consumer

I actively dislike carousels. They're the digital equivalent of a noisy fruit machine in a country pub. Awful UX. Multiple studies tell us this but they persist. I think it's a practical thing - they're an effective catch all for people demanding space on the homepage. I use them to stop stakeholders coming up with 'innovative' ideas to promote their latest project.

over 2 years ago

Greg Randall

Greg Randall, Director at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

@ Sacha

My statement regarding banner blindness trumping movement comes from many sources: studies, usability best practice, and my own experience testing carousel banners.

Study. There are studies to support this. One such study asked a user to determine if a retailer had a special on whiteware. The feature carousel banner clearly stated a whiteware special, but was not seen by the user.

Usability. When customers undertake a buying/information gathering journey they take steps to move forward. Each step takes effort: clicking takes effort, scrolling takes effort, and dealing with moving banners takes effort. Consumers avoid banners to avoid the effort required to determine if there is a relevant offer. Consumers will not work hard to find relevant content.

My experience. I have worked with many large retailers who have high volumes of traffic (200,000 to 500,000 sessions per month) being sent to key landing pages. To convince them change is needed, the first thing I do is load heat mapping software on to these pages. Every single heat map review delivers the same result; carousels perform poorly.

By far the poorest performers are the ones which have the following characteristics:

Banners designed like print ads
Banner movement is too fast
Banners with too much copy
Banners with small or no calls to action

Hope this helps.

over 2 years ago

Greg Randall

Greg Randall, Director at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

@Adam

I really like your analogy "noisy fruit machine". Brilliant. You are right, carousels often become a vehicle to satisfy multiple stakeholders. This approach becomes a symbol of companies who are ultimately NOT customer centric. They may say it in the boardroom, but it does not translate to the experience delivered.

Thanks for sharing.

over 2 years ago

Greg Randall

Greg Randall, Director at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

@Everyone

I recently had a colleague forward this article to a senior designer who had valuable comments on this topic. I think its important to share because many designers/creatives could be thinking the same thing:

Comments from the Designer:

I agree with the author of this article’s opinion, however it does depend on the context in which a carousel is used.

This article is referring to ecommerce sites, specially that offers on a ecommerce website displayed in a carousel is not an effect way to display them are generally the click rate on the first is high, however the rest have a very small click through rate, as majority of users do not scroll through them. In this respect, I completely agree with the authors opinion.

However, carousels used to showcase images eg a furniture store using a carousel space with images showcasing the product that scroll through, but not requiring a call to action for each slide, is a great idea.

Again, on a brochure style website specific calls to action within a carousel are also sometimes lost and not seen by the user. However, if you had a space with 1 call to action but the images behind the message carousels, this can still result in a good user experience. I quickly found an example where the user experience is not compromised by using a carousel, http://expeditionbroker.com/.

Just wanted to clarify that not all carousels are evil and in the right context can work really well J

My response to the above comments:

A truly positive user experience comes in two equal parts:

1 part emotional attachment between the consumer and the retailer, delivered through the strategic use of relevant content, and

1 part ease of use. This is best practice usability with the tactical use of hyperlinks and call to actions placed at the right time in the right places.

Carousels damage both, by delivering irrelevant content, taking up prime active window real estate, delivers a distraction, and takes the consumer's attention away from key navigation options to further the consumer's next step in their journey.

It's also important to remember the purpose of the home page is not for the consumer to sit back and admire the creative genius, it is meant to efficiently and effectively move the consumer through to the next step of their journey. To achieve this, the consumer must have numerous clear options to select from (remembering they have landed on the home page).

For a business that has many product ranges or service options, if the active window is crowded with a carousel, the consumer is forced to look elsewhere.

The example provided does not help the designer's argument. Aside from the very slow page load speed from the images (over 30 seconds for this page to load) the moving images make it difficult to concentrate on the wording and the call to action on the page.

My message RE carousels is for all sites, lead generation, finance, travel, and retail. The commercial focus of the site is irrelevant, its all about the journey and the devices used to achieve that journey.

over 2 years ago

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Dara Singh, Senior Front End Developer at Intelligaia

Instead of carousel, Implement behavioural content triggering to deliver personalized content or high-quality content to help communicate the message more effectively

over 2 years ago

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