The homepage slider has been a design staple in the political and public affairs space for the last half decade, at least.
For those not familiar with the concept, a slider is an area of a website that allows visitors to scroll through different options like they would a Powerpoint deck. In the politech space, these sliders are commonly used as the central element of a site’s homepage. Here is an example from the current www.greenpeace.org. The Greenpeace site allows you to scroll through the slides using the little arrows and dots in the bottom left.
Sliders have become popular because they solve a common problem. Organizations want their site to make a strong visual impact while at the same time they want to feature a gazillion different pieces of content. Sliders allow you to have things both ways.
The concept was all the rage in 2008, with both the Barack Obama and John McCain sites featuring similar tab based sliders. Here are screengrabs of both sites at this time around four years ago.
In 2012, both the Obama and Romney campaigns have abandoned the slider and gone with a simpler, more streamlined approach. Screenshots below.
As I’ve watched some large sites abandon the slider approach, I’ve started to look at the data and think about whether sliders are the best approach in our own work. From my perspective, there are three main reasons I see organizations moving away from sliders.
- The dirty little secret of sliders is that visitors rarely see any content beyond the first slide. Very few people will click through your slideshow. Even if your slider auto scrolls, most people aren’t going to be on the page long enough to see that great content hidden in the third or fourth slide. This issue is made worse by sliders like the one used by Greenpeace, where the user has no idea what the content of the next slide is. The McCain and Obama 2008 examples at least let visitors know what content they were clicking to access.
- Sliders don’t really work that well on smartphones or tablets. Try using the Greenpeace slider on your mobile phone. Sure, you can make touch friendly sliders, but I’d much rather scroll up and down on my smartphone than try to navigate a touch friendly slider.
- Sliders are often in a misguided attempt to get critical content “above the fold.” I think most people now understand that users are willing to scroll. Longer pages are the norm now, so people don’t feel the need to cram all their content into a single slider that appears on screen when you first hit the site.
So should organizations abandon the homepage slider?
I would not go that far.
But I do think most organizations are using them in the wrong way.
Too many are burying critical site information in the third or fourth slide of their homepage slider, insuring that the majority of visitors will never see the content. If you use a slider, think of the information presented on slides 2-5 as bonus content for visitors that take the time to explore your site. Think of the slider as a way to add a little interactivity to your site as opposed to as a critical part of your content delivery strategy. Don’t use the slider as an excuse not to make editorial decisions about the content on your site.
If you do implement a slider and want people to actually see your content, don’t use little dots and arrows as the only navigation tools. Give people a hint as to what they are getting into. The charity:water site has a great, usable slider on their homepage. It works because they don’t surround it with clutter and the headlines/thumbnails below give users a clear idea of what they will get when they click.
In the end, I think sliders can still be used effectively. They just need to be thought through strategically, and designers and content creators need to understand their limitations.