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Rotating Banners: Why Image Sliders Kill Conversions.

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Digital marketers and web designers love rotating banners, which allow multiple pieces of content to occupy a single prominent space on a web page. (Synonymous terms include image sliders, carousels and animated sliders.)

On the surface, the idea seems like a great way to keep several competing departments happy, giving them all a piece of prime real estate on the page. But there’s just one problem: your visitors probably won’t consciously pay attention to them. The evil truth of rotating banners is that they do the opposite of what’s intended, distracting users away from your most important content.

If you’re still using an image slider on your homepage or landing page, here’s a quick roundup of research that may help you better understand how this popular design solution could be killing your conversions.

Motion Wins The Attention Contest

Stanford University neuroscience researchers found that when people follow motion with their eyes, it activates systems and pathways in the brain that evolved long before the ones that process written words and make executive decisions.

study published by the Association for Psychological Science (APS) points out that this “exquisite sensitivity to animate motion” arose from the primal need of early humans to detect predators and prey. These instinctual processes happen without any conscious effort, which could be distracting your visitors and making it more difficult for them to complete the task they came to accomplish.

The Onset Of Motion Attracts Attention

The whole idea behind image sliders is that a message or image is displayed for a brief while — maybe a few seconds — and then is replaced by another message. But this type of stopping and starting pattern is the most compelling form of movement, because of our evolutionary need to be aware of hidden dangers lurking nearby.

Simply put, the human brain is hard-wired to notice the onset of motion, which makes rotating banners especially distracting. We literally cannot tune them out.

“Banner Blindness” Is Proven By Eye-Tracking Maps

Since anyone browsing online is constantly besieged with advertising, users develop filters, attempting to avoid anything that resembles an ad. Movement that distracts them from the content they’re trying to access comes across as an ad, and they consciously try to ignore it.

Researchers have labeled this phenomenon “banner blindness,” and it’s a pretty interesting response.

Neilsen Norman Group did some eye-tracking experiments that show where on a web page a user is looking. They found that users seeking a particular piece of information literally couldn’t see it when it was placed in a big, promotional-looking banner. They would scroll right past the moving banner and search every other place on the page trying to locate the exact piece of information.

So, while the movement of the banner may attract the attention of the subconscious, the conscious brain works hard to ignore it.

Controllability Creates Trust (And Vice-Versa)

People seek control in their environments, which includes having a sense of certainty, understanding how things work, being able to predict what will happen and trusting that things are consistent.

Rotating banners undermine this need for control because the messages advance from one to the next whether the visitor wants them to or not, leaving visitors to wonder what other unwanted surprises might lie in store.

The take-home message is clear: let your visitors control their web experience and they’ll trust you more.

Rotating Banners Decrease Readability

In two completely different ways, a rotating carousel of promotions will make it hard for people to read the call-to-action that you most want them to notice:

  • First, some of your site’s viewers may not read as fast as you thought. This could be due to a lower literacy level, or because English is not their native language. But whatever the reason, when the Nielsen Norman Group tested a rotating accordion-type carousel banner on their focus group, they got comments like this: “I didn’t have time to read it. It keeps flashing too quickly.”
  • Second, your banner is occupying premium real estate. You’ll have less space left for your other useful content if you let that “above the fold” space be handed over to your spiffy moving banner.

Banners Aren’t Nearly As Effective As Designers Think

Most designers who incorporate a rotating banner into their web design think of it as a collection of images and messages. In fact, the carousel is often used as a way of showcasing the breadth of an organization or its offerings. But an individual visitor may only stay on the page long enough to see a single image, giving them a fractured view of the company.

Getting Off The Bandwagon

Rotating carousels and auto-advancing slideshows are still pretty popular, but it’s a positive sign that web design blogs are starting to cover strategies for avoiding them. Conversion optimization is about making it easier for websites visitors to complete their task. It’s not about being clever or winning design awards.

Instead of spending your web development resources on me-too design elements, wow your visitors with solid relevance and great offers — ones that stay in one place while the user thinks about them and then converts.

Originally published on Marketing Land by Tim Ash.

Oleksiy Kuryliak

Founder of Rioks. Marketing Strategist & Auditor. Advising startups and enterprises on digital transformation, marketing operations and go-to-market strategies.