Five reasons why carousels have no place on your intranet

Carousels are great news for the stressed out intranet manager who wants to keep their stakeholders happy by telling them their story or campaign is on the front page.

What they’re not very good for is communicating a message to users.  Here are five reasons why you should ditch your homepage carousel and focus on giving users information they can actually find and read.

1. Everyone ignores them

Users are great at quickly scanning pages to find the information they need. This means filtering out anything perceived as an advert – and that means your carousel. Eyetracking studies show people will scan over these in search of content.

1a. They definitely ignore the second and subsequent items

In Erik Runyon’s study on carousels, of the 1% of users who clicked the carousel at all, 89% clicked the first item. The second item in the carousel got just 3% of what was already a tiny proportion of site traffic, with third, fourth and fifth items getting even less traffic than that. If something is in the third spot on an intranet’s homepage carousel, it might as well not be on the homepage at all.

2. They’re not accessible

Accessibility expert Jared Smith commented: “Carousels pose accessibility issues for keyboard and screen reader users that simply cannot be adequately addressed by markup or hacks. Carousels are this decade’s <blink> tag.”

3. They slow down your site

They need a bunch of jQuery script to work, and most will load all of the content that is to be displayed in the slider on the initial page load. That means that the page will have to load up three or four 600px by 800 px images before your user sees anything at all. You’re wasting your users’ time. And if they’re accessing via a slow VPN connection or on a phone, that could be quite a wait.

What happens when users find a page takes a long time to load? They leave without looking at anything at all. Well done.

4. They’re only as good as the content on them

…which, lets face it, means they’re just not very good. Great imagery can be an exceptionally powerful way to boost engagement, but too often intranet carousels feature frequently-reused pictures of their CEO, the outside of their building and some children holding a giant cheque, with a sprinkle of cheap stock photography thrown in the mix.

5.  Movement is an overrated quality of content that’s designed to be viewed or read

If you must use a carousel – and I’d hope by now that I’ve convinced you not to – then for God’s sake make it one that doesn’t auto-rotate. As Neilsen Norman concluded, these annoy users and reduce content visibility. Users get annoyed when they’re not in control.

Lee Duddell concluded “Carousels are effective at being able to tell people in Marketing/Senior Management that their latest idea is on the Home Page. Use them to put content that users will ignore on your Home Page. Or, if you prefer, don’t use them. Ever.”

Do you use a homepage carousel and find it effective? Do you think they’re great? Let us know in the comments below.

There are 18 comments

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  1. John BK

    Personally I don’t understand all the carousel hate. On the site I manage we have had really good results with carousels. Typically we see a 300-400% uptick in visits for sections that are featured on the homepage carousel. The client likes it sure, but I personally like them on sites I visit. Also some of the best designed and highly optimised sites feature carousels prominently on their homepages.

    Surely or have pretty solid data for featuring carousels in such key points on their websites ??

    ps all our carousels feature fantastic content (so maybe that’s the difference?)

    • @DigitalJonathan

      Great content wins through. I’d like to see the comparison in stats for non-carousel and carousel pages with the the same content. Hard to do. I wonder if anyone has that understanding?

      • @sharonodea

        I think NNg have done some testing along those very lines, Jon.

        One interesting part to note from it is that while we as site managers think about the full set of images, most users will see only one of them, which gives a skewed or misleading impression of the overall messaging (that is, we believe people will see and absorb all four messages, but in truth they only get one).

  2. Vonnie

    I like carousels so I’m finding the blanket ‘just don’t do it’ a bit over the top – I think it’s use is dependent on content & context like most things.

    That said, I think we seem to be in a fairly exceptional position where all our intranets generally have great content – and make carousels a worthwhile tool/feature. If our sites were like the one you quoted where the carousels “feature frequently-reused pictures of their CEO, the outside of their building and some children holding a giant cheque, with a sprinkle of cheap stock photography thrown in the mix” then we might also see carousels as deeply offensive pointless faddy whizzy things. ..

    • @lukemepham

      If the content is so great -then why make everyone have to wait to see it by putting it in a carousel?

      Shouldn’t high quality content should have space on the page – not hidden behind an animation?

  3. Matt Hamilton

    We have one client that insists on them on their intranet homepage. They have 4 of them in total, taking up most of the initial viewport. They each rotate at different times to different news stories or information.

    Apart from being nauseous, our (and many of their remote employees) access to this intranet is via a Remote Desktop session. The time it takes for each panel to repaint every time it is updated (every few seconds) causes the entire thing to grind to a sluggish hell.


    • @DigitalJonathan

      Oh my word Matt. Even the description sounds horrible and I don’t imagine it’s any better on screen.

  4. Luke Oatham

    Nice post, Sharon.

    They are also bad for the environment as the extra processing power requires extra energy consumption!

    When I worked on the Justice intranet, we gave a grace period of 10 secs before the carousel moved, giving staff the chance to actually do what they wanted to do without being distracted. Interestingly, it made image 2 of the carousel the top slot for clicks – because the movement, after 10 seconds of tranquil browsing, pulled people’s attention.

    For the record: carousels on an intranet homepage = thumbs down

  5. Peter Richards

    Great post Sharon and one that immediately prompted me to chip in. We are all
    pretty familiar with the use of carousels on Newspaper sites though I do notice
    that the use on those sites has reduced noticeably. I can only assure that their
    click through stats mimic those in
    Runyon’s study
    . I would be really interested in what Intranet homepage
    method is regarded as the most effective for engagement. Great static imagery?
    Great content? Combination of both? Is there a sure-fire winner or is it a case
    of tailoring the delivery to suit your specific audience?

    • @sharonodea

      It’s quite telling that few UK newspaper sites now use a carousel. They remain in use on many retail sites, although it’s worth noting the most successful ones (eg Amazon) have removed the auto-rotate element so they remain on the suggested item unless you actively move it forward.

      News sites are becoming increasingly data-driven in their content prioritisation; the Daily Mail, for example, promotes and demotes stories from minute to minute depending on user interaction and popularity.

      The experience of news sites proves that it’s compelling content that will out, in the end (and imagery IS content). While no intranet is going to have the resource to curate their content as actively as the Mail does, it’s clear that changing the prominence of content on the page based on analytics and news value can be highly successful. Equally, the act of putting a dull story or campaign into the top carousel won’t by itself make it something your audience wants to read.

      A more successful approach would be more active curation of content (which does mean telling stakeholders they can’t have the top spot, yes), use of better and stronger imagery (I’ll do a post on that soon). Increasingly we’re seeing this coupled with better content targeting based on role or location, or (on social intranets) on the user’s social graph.

      • Peter Richards

        Its interesting to see that the two major Fairfax newspaper sites in Australia, The Age in Melbourne and The Sydney Morning Herald in Sydney no longer use carousels however the two from News Corp,The Telegraph in Sydney and the Herald Sun in Melbourne continue to present in prime position. A fellow member of the Intranet Leadership Forum in Sydney is the Group Technology Manager – Collaboration for News Corp and they enjoy the luxury of having immense content and image resources for their Intranet. I will be interested to learn if they use the carousel internally as well.

  6. 5 Practices That Date Your Intranet -

    […] A carousel is a rotating placeholder for content, usually images. It was popular in websites about a decade ago, to highlight specific content and entice readers to click on images. Carousels started losing popularity, though, now that we have many other ways of accomplishing the same thing. Intranetizen recently wrote about why a carousel does not belong in an intranet. […]

  7. Paul Brereton

    Firstly – great debate and one that is very timely for me with an upgrade to SP2013 looming in the New Year and the chance to evolve our homepage experience.

    I can see both sides of this debate – and I have to admit I am perched on the fence at the moment! I am on the fence because on one side we have a carousel full of generic content that may only be relevant to a small percentage of the audience (but is there as a vanity plug to fulfill needs of a tricky stakeholder) and on the other side… and it is here that I get stuck… what is the alternative that I offer to my tricky stakeholders (and we all have them!)?

    We could get clever with audience targeted content but then that will only allow us to push a single message to an individual colleague so if we do have a need to promote a couple of key messages on the homepage to that individual then how do we do that? Would it be via a ‘Carousel’ of targeted messages?!

    Perhaps that is the solution that keeps our colleagues happy as well as (some) stakeholders but what about the other issues of banner blindness, accessibility etc? Those will remain unchecked.

    And for that reason – I remain perched on the fence, racking my brain for a silver bullet….

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