Carousels Are Useless

Carousels are a lazy and ineffective way to surface content on the web. Stop using them.

— End of Post —

Earlier this year, Erik Runyon the director of web stuff at the prestigious University of Notre Dame, took a close look at how their users were interacting with carousel content.

He found that of the 1% of users even engaging with the carousel in the first place, 84% clicked on the first item in the carousel and PRACTICALLY NO ONE (~4% each equally) clicked on the remaining items.

To put it another way, you gaining practically nothing by putting content in a slider.

This data mirrors my recollection of the tracking we ran on hiphopdx.com when we were working on a redesign circa 2010.

This is not new information, yet carousels are more popular than ever.

If you absolutely must use a carousel, take a read through Brad Frosts post over here.

But seriously, find a better solution.

Update: Chris Noto asks a good question in the comments “why is hiphopdx.com still using a carousel.” While I can’t answer for certain, I tried.
TL;DR – the 0.04% of visitors who click through the last item in a carousel still generate real dollars in ad revenue.

  • Chris Noto

    I’m going to disagree with you, partially to play Devil’s advocate for conversation’s sake, but also because I am an advocate when it makes sense.
    (That might make me the sensible devil?)

    I think that if used properly they can be an effective means of bringing attention to ‘feature content’ – while acknowledging that the front tab is the only thing that’s going to get any real traffic in low numbers.

    Mostly I think that using traffic as the only argument is kind of narrow-sighted. There’s a bunch of articles out there repeating that stats are low so kill them and do better. I think people are forgetting that the function of a feature slider is the equivalent of previews before a movie. It’s neat that they’re there – but people didn’t come for the previews, they came for the main movie. The value is the fact that someone saw it, not the traffic it generates.

    That’s an ad-sales approach to them, but I think that a lot of carousels are acting like internal advertising for other things that your organization is doing so they should be compared to advertising stats (which is always low)

    Now I totally agree with them being overused and we could probably kill 75% of them and it would be an improvement, but I would argue that on the right style of site, they have earned their place as a functional tool.

  • ohryan

    Thanks for the comment.

    I think people are forgetting that the function of a feature slider is the equivalent of previews before a movie.

    You would have a point, if anyone ever used carousels like this! They are almost universally used in an attempt to surface more content – to jam more links into the top of the page – or present a call to action. It’s reasonable to measure the success of those goals with CTR. So for those two goals, carousels utterly fail.

    If you treat the space as an ad space, you might be right. But, when we worked on the hiphopdx redesign, we heatmapped mouse movements as well (there is a near 1:1 correlation between mouse and eye movement). In carousel presentations where we gave users navigation cues/thumbnails, those cues were largely ignored them.

    That’s an ad-sales approach to them, but I think that a lot of carousels are acting like internal advertising for other things that your organization is doing so they should be compared to advertising stats (which is always low)

    The stats are relative to the 1% engagement. So in the example, only 0.84% of total users click on the main carousel item, which would be poor even for a google ad. The 0.04% click-through on the subsequent items is pitiful.

  • Chris Noto

    No problem 🙂

    I enjoy the debate around this carousel function for some odd reason – I think it comes from years of physical advertising not being able to have real stats to back up what the claims are. And there’s probably a part of me that thinks that all the stats we rely heavily on (for good reason) aren’t the complete answer.

    The claims on mouse/eye movement are not consistent so I find them hard to trust. The companies that sell the software are making high claims (or highlighting key numbers) while independent sources are bringing numbers much, much lower. (Like 84% compared to 15% – that’s glossing over details obviously) Mouse/eye correlation is guaranteed to be true when looking to see where you’re going to click, not where your eyes actually go. Not everyone reads an article by moving their mouse left to right though, so it’s hard to prove whether or not someone actually read something.

    I guess I’m trying to make an argument that just because content isn’t clicked on it can still have value – but I am in no ways justifying the overuse of carousels on the internet.

    Also I’d like to think that a small piece of functionality that if used properly can be just fine. I’m lumping carousels in the same category as advertising when produced/used poorly it produces poor results.

    Also like any new technology I’m eager to see the new solutions that arise to replace them.

    As a side-note why does hiphopdx still have a carousel?
    (Not trying to stir the pot, curious on the decision)

  • ohryan

    As a side-note why does hiphopdx still have a carousel?

    We can continue the rest of this conversation in person. But I did want to respond to this, as it’s relevant to my post.

    High traffic, ad-revenue-funded sites, are a completely different animal than the mom and pop sites we all tend to work on regularly. When a site is getting millions of visitors per month, the 0.04% of visitors that click on the last slide in your carousel work out to 10s of thousands of impressions. Those impressions represent real money. You could also be running high priced ads on carousel destination pages, etc. High traffic sites are different animal.

    That said, the way The Verge (for example) displays all their feature stories at the top of the homepage is likely orders of magnitude more effective than a carousel.