Automatic carousels have come under increasing fire this year from this blog, and UX experts like Jacob Nielsen and conversion pros like Peep Laja

The conclusion, which all three of us share, is that unadulterated carousels are bad for business!

In this post I’ll show you three ways to improve the relevancy of content that occupies your carousel ‘hero’ locations and the contribution it makes to your conversion rate.

Carousels say ‘We couldn’t figure out or agree on exactly what you need so we decided to show you a few options instead’.

In my experience there are three main reasons why carousels find their way into production:

  1. Stakeholders can’t agree on the purpose of a page and the content that is best suited to support the most valuable user action on that page.
  2. Stakeholders believe that it doesn’t matter where their content is displayed just so long as it’s there somewhere.
  3. They are an out-dated technological fashion that has been left unchallenged for too long and (wrongly) have become a ‘landing page standard’. 

Your carousel is likely to be hurting, hindering or not contributing to your conversion rate

Qualitative research conducted by Norman Nielsen Group revealed that auto-forwarding carousels present a number of barriers to conversion such as:

  • Poor accessibility. 
  • Banner blindness.
  • Distraction.
  • Lack of control. 
  • Lack of relevancy. 

If you don’t believe these findings then take a look at your analytics data. My guess is you will quickly discover that the vast majority of users click on the first slide (if at all) as described in this report by Erik Runyon.

Ultimately, this means that the vast majority of people ignore your carousel. If they do click on it it’s likely that they will click on the first slide just because it is the first slide, not because it represents a considered selection of all available options. 

This phenomenon is the ‘carousel version’ of what Herbert Simon defined as ‘satisficing‘. This mashup of ‘to satisfy’ and ‘to suffice’ describes a cognitive process with which we expedite the process of choice by forgoing consideration of all available options and rapidly selecting the first thing we see which looks reasonable.

Start by deciding what the primary goal of the page is

The first step towards rationalizing the contribution your carousel makes to conversions is to decide exactly what your users are trying to achieve on the page and how you can aide them in moving to the next stage in your conversion funnel.

This means you need to understand your users’ problems, needs, barriers and persuaders.  What goals do they have? What questions do they need answered?  What will help them arrive at the decision to take action?

It is likely that you’ll discover there are a range of actions you want your visitors to perform on your landing pages. The trick here is to prioritise all actions based on the impact each action has on your conversion funnel and the value that goal represents to your business.

Using your new conversion hierarchy take a moment to consider how focused the page is on persuading users to perform Action #1.

Three ideas for improving your carousel conversion rates 

Idea #1: test removing it!

Before optimizing something you should first establish a benchmark of current performance. What contribution does the page or piece of content make to your conversion rate at the moment? 

In the case of your carousel, the easiest way to find this out is by running a simple inclusion/exclusion test.

Earlier this year I performed a test like this for a financial services client.  The test proved that removing the carousel increased sales by 23%.

Example exclusion ab test

I concluded that removing the carousel reduced distraction while increasing the visibility and clarity of content that was required to support the core conversion task.

In another experiment (this time for BSkyB) my carousel inclusion/exclusion test proved that the conversion rate was the same whether the carousel was present or not.

This test provided a business case for bold ideas to replace the carousel entirely.

BSkyB Carousel Test

Idea #2: replace your carousel with a targeted static banner

The purpose of using targeting is to improve the relevance of content displayed to individual users.

By making inferences about what a user needs or is likely to be interested in you can improve your chances of increasing conversions by removing generic content and displaying more relevant content instead.

Another Adobe Target client (Tui Travel PLC) uses this technique on the homepage of firstchoice.co.uk.

When a visitor lands on the site, Adobe Target checks if they have previously viewed the SplashWorld or Holiday Villages pages.  If not, then the hero location displays generic content relating to summer holidays for 2014.

If the behavioural profile on the visitor’s cookie shows they have previously visited pages relating to SplashWorld or Holiday Villages then the homepage displays targeted hero content instead: 

Last touch targeting example

Idea #3: Use imagery to reinforce visual clues

Visual clues include imagery and design elements which aide in communicating meaning, purpose and the hierarchical flow through a digital experience.

They can help answer the following critical questions held by all new visitors:

  • Is this page what I was expecting?
  • Does it look like it will help me attain my goal on this visit?

Imagine you’re searching for a new laptop.  You land on site A and see a carousel displaying deals on printer cartridges, a click and collect promotion and a call to action relating to the latest type of wifi router. 

How sure are you that this site sells laptops? Is it worth spending any more time on this site or should you hit the back button?

Imagine now that you land on site B to continue your search for a new laptop. This time you see a static banner with an image of a laptop (possibly even the one you searched for). 

The products displayed beneath the hero banner are all laptops and the primary call to action label says ‘View all laptop deals’.  How would you feel now?  Would you feel more confident that you’re in the right place to attain your goal?

You can create the experience delivered by site B through the use of targeting.  Here are some sources you can use to infer user intent:

  • Search keywords: you can dynamically assemble a customized experience for visitors in response to specific search terms which lead them to your site.
  • PPC terms: use targeting to display content that relates specifically to each individual ad or ad group.
  • Display and Affiliate ads: use targeting to display content on your landing pages that matches and reinforces the content in specific offsite advertising campaigns.

Conclusion

Unadulterated carousels can be a waste of screen real estate that distracts users from completing the most valuable conversion action on a page.

You will likely improve your conversion rate by displaying imagery, headline copy and call to actions which match the inferred intent of your visitors.

Follow these steps to discover the contribution your carousels are making to your conversion rate:

  1. Review your analytics to see how people are currently interacting with your carousel.
  2. Perform and inclusion/exclusion test to challenge the contribution your carousel makes to your conversion rate. 

Finally, give some consideration to how targeting can be used to improve content relevancy on your landing pages.

Think about the example from First Choice and imagine how content in other areas of your website could be dynamically adjusted to strengthen visual clues, help users attain their goals and ultimately improve your conversion rate. 

Beamish Steam gallopers image credit: ralph&dot via Flickr