One of the most prevalent design flaws in B2B websites is the use of carousels (or sliders) on the homepage. Carousels are an ineffective way to target user personas, which ends up hurting the site’s SEO and usability.

In fact, at the recent Conversion Conference in Chicago, about 25% of the speakers mentioned carousels — of those, 100% condemned them. Over the last three months, I have conducted extensive research to suggest that carousels are a bad option for B2B websites.

Research Methodology

I looked at 30 different B2B websites across various industries. Of those 30 sites, a shocking majority of them — 18, to be precise — contained carousels, which is what inspired this research.

After thoroughly evaluating those 18 websites, I was able to identify numerous recurring SEO and usability issues. I also looked at analytics data from three websites using homepage carousels. With B2B websites, carousels seem to only be used for one of three reasons: branding, thought leadership or product/service promotion. The sampling I took is representative of each of the three carousel uses.

SEO Issues

In my research, I found the following SEO problems with the use of carousels: multiple h1 headings, Flash usage, slow page load speed and shallow content.

Alternating Headings

Many of the carousels I looked at were built with jQuery, AJAX or HTML5. In most cases, the headings in the slider were wrapped in an h1 tag. Basic SEO best practices state that there should only be one h1 tag per page, and it should appear before any other heading tag. The problem with using h1 or any heading tag in the carousel is that every time the slide changes, the h1 tag changes. A page with five slides in the carousel will have 5 h1 tags, which greatly devalues the keyword relevance.

Flash Usage

It pains me to even have to bring up this point, but a few of the websites I looked at served up slider content using Flash. Avoiding Flash to serve up content is SEO 101; but apparently, some people are still doing it. Flash objects on a page should have been killed off with the blink and marquee tags, but some designers still think it looks cool. Flash content cannot be crawled by all search engines — so stop using it to display important website content.

Poor Performance

As with any website, the more you complicate and add things, the slower the page loading speed. I came across a few sites featuring full-width carousels packed with high resolution images, which greatly impacted the page load speed. Every second it takes to load a page past two seconds hurts the user experience, and has an impact on search performance. In fact, Matt Cutts recently announced an upcoming penalty for slow page load times for mobile pages.

Content Replacement

As stated earlier, carousels are used as an ineffective method of targeting user personas. Many websites I evaluated took this to an extreme by using shallow content on the page. Some had no content whatsoever. Content is a requirement for ranking for keywords. If you have little or no content, you cannot expect to rank well for any search terms.

Usability Issues

I also found the following usability issues with the use of carousels on the B2B sites I surveyed.

Nobody Clicks On The Carousels

chart of carousel clicks

Survey of B2B websites using carousels

The chart above is a data sampling of three sites for which event tracking has been set on carousels. The first site uses the carousel purely for branding purposes. The second site uses the carousel for promoting webinars and white papers. The third site uses their carousel for promoting their services. As you can see from the chart, barely anyone clicks on the carousel. In my next three usability points, you’ll see why those few clicks aren’t even worth the use of a carousel.

Content Is Pushed Below The Fold

Nothing irritates me more than landing on a page where I only see graphics and am forced to scroll down below the fold to locate the content. Content sells — images do not. Sadly, most websites using carousels push their lead-generating content below the fold, meaning that I can see their big, ugly carousel and not the information I was seeking. Forcing users to scroll is a major usability issue. A user should only be forced to scroll down after the page has grabbed their interest and enticed them to continue reading.

The Megaphone Effect

Perhaps the biggest usability issue carousels create is something I call “the megaphone effect.” When a user lands on a page, his or her attention is drawn to the carousel because it has revolving content, alternating text, color changes, and all sorts of other attention-stealing features.

It’s like grabbing a megaphone and telling users to look at the pretty images, but don’t pay any attention to the content below (even though this contains the information they want). Imagine yourself sitting on the couch trying to find something to watch with your significant other. He or she has the remote, and every time a new channel loads up and you try to figure out what’s playing, he/she changes the channel on you. Annoying, isn’t it?

carousel heatmap

Heatmap of a B2B website using a carousel

The heatmap above was taken from the website I identified above as the “thought leadership carousel” site. Most of the attention is drawn to the navigation first, followed by the carousel. Everything below the carousel has a few random dark blue streaks of attention, but otherwise is mostly barren.

The content below the carousel contains important information (like what the business does) and a few conversion elements. But, the user will rarely see any of that content because his or her attention is dedicated to the carousel. That’s a lot of attention to steal for something that only 0.22% of users click on.

Confusing Objectives

When a user lands on a page, they use the h1 tag before anything else to determine whether or not the page will contain the information they are seeking. When a carousel is used, the user will assume the page talks about whatever heading is used in the carousel. Every time the carousel changes slides, the assumed topic of the page is changed to whatever the new slide talks about. This is confusing and irritating for users. Don’t make them think so much!

Alternatives To Carousels

There are several creative alternatives to engage users in an SEO-friendly way without using carousels. I would recommend giving some of these a try.

  1. Remove carousels immediately!
  2. Implement behavioral content triggering to deliver personalized content based on previous site activity.
  3. Ask users to identify their persona — see Officite.com (not a client of mine) for an example of this.
  4. Use compelling images in conjunction with high-quality content to help communicate the message more effectively.
  5. Use feature areas to help users navigate to where they want to go.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: B2B Search Marketing Column | Channel: SEO | SEO: Flash | SEO: General

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About The Author: is the SEO and Web Analyst at The Mx Group — a Chicago-based full service B2B integrated marketing and sales upport agency. He specializes in SEO, paid search, analytics, usability analysis, information architecture, conversion optimization, and content marketing.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • romanUK

    I like the usability analysis, also agree with the SEO points..but to be honest, most jQuery sliders use to include the headers and/or images…don’t see the problem

  • munaazanjum

    @Harrison,

    Good observations! However, your post lacks sufficient ingredients to justify as why and how “the use of carousels” or “sliders” does hurt SEO and usability. Let me counter-argue each of the SEO and usability issues that you have mentioned.

    Not sure, if sliders are the only factors that cause page speed issue. There
    are multiple reasons for a slow page speed. So, quite disagree on this issue
    that you have noted down.

    As for multiple h1 tags, yes your observation is right. Every time a slider
    changes, H1 changes too. However, the change in H1 is for different page if you
    click on one of the sliders. Logically, there is no issue. If Google is smart,
    they will understand the usage of multiple H1 in the sliders.

    You mentioned “a page with 5 sliders followed by 5 H1 devalues the keyword relevance. Today, the industry stalwart is talking about ‘context’, you seem to have stuck with ‘keywords relevancy’. Again, nothing such happens. I can showcase hundreds of examples that Google ranks them highly even if they are using carousels. There is no official confirmation from Google that says ‘use
    of sliders followed by multiple H1’ on a website gets search engine
    devaluation.

    Flash or shockwave? Flash has been dead a long back. People are using shockwave now. In today’s html5 ERA, talking of Flash reminds me of the Jurassic age. Moreover, Google crawls flash if you still think that someone is using
    flash on their website.

    As for a low volume of content, I have never heard that Google does not rank a site if a site does not ‘text content’ if this is what how you define ‘content’. Context is a requirement for doing fairly good on search engines whereas content is just a supplementary to it. Today, you are talking about ranking as if a site with full of content gets higher rank on Google!

    Usability is such a vast area that cannot be judged with a simple heat
    map analysis or clicks. I would rather advice you to read Jacob Nielson’s book
    to better understand the usability. I’m sure once you understand this element;
    you’ll care for usability more than SEO.

    Content is pushed below the fold as the sliders are not treated as content. How do you define content? Just ‘text’ or anything which is ‘contained’ in a web!

    If a website fails to grab attention of users as soon as they arrive, the whole website needs to be redesigned. And if a website uses slider, and grabs the attention, you call it “megaphone effect’. LOL!!!

    In gist, thank God you have not studied SEJ, for the site also uses
    sliders on home page!!

  • http://www.wesst.org/ Nina Anthony

    Google just rolled out their Local Carousel at the end of June to promote local businesses. A Search Engine Watch article, mentioning a couple of studies around the user behavior of the new feature stated, ” Both studies showed the map and carousel results on the page were favorite areas for users to click in order to find what they were looking for.”

  • Thom Craver

    I have to agree with Scotty Mac.

    What was the control? 30 total sites? 18 with carousels, leaving 12 “control” home pages without. At the bare minimum, n should be greater than 30, not equal to it. Considering the number of industries with sites that use carousels, this can’t even be close to statistically significant.

    Analyzing data on three sites is really not a test. Without more data, I can’t agree with the conclusion.

  • http://www.send2press.com/ Christopher Simmons

    Thanks for this. It actually confirmed some of my own thoughts on the whole “slideshow” concept as we’re redoing our website for first time since 2009, and retiring some of the original elements started back in 1999/2000 when the site launched. I kept coming back to the “how annoying is that giant slideshow, really?” mindset. What is the primary call to action? If we want to draw the eyeball to one large topic… why not just have ONE large feature image, not a slider/slideshow. On our old site to retain “newness” we had five randomized messages on homepage, so a return visitor would have less design fatigue … but the slider is not a good replacement for that. Nice to get some valid input on this topic as it was very very, well, topical to what I was working on for UX at this time. THANKS!

 

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