Rotating Banners: Why Image Sliders Kill Conversions

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.

A 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 designer 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.


Related Article

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

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Conversion Rate Optimization | Design, Usability & Conversion Column


About The Author: is the author of the bestselling book "Landing Page Optimization," CEO of and chairperson of the international Conversion Conference event series.


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  • Nathan Grimm

    We’ve seen banner blindness affect design elements perceived as ads. How do we know it applies to image sliders? Do we know how often they are perceived to be ads? Wouldn’t that depend on how it’s designed, how large it is, and where it is placed?

  • Maurice Bernier

    Tim, I never put much though into this before but I can definitely understand the pitfalls you’ve pointed out here with relation to rotating banners. you kind of had me worried near the end of your post since I do have an amazon carousel on my index page. After giving it further though, I realized that it only rotates when the visitor wants it to by clicking the arrows.

    Guess I’m safe on this one. lol

    Thanks for sharing with best wishes for a great day to you and yours! :)


  • Mark @ Make Them Click

    But they look so dammed cool (lol).

    But seriously is there ever a case for using them?

    Your article points out that they are effective in getting people’s attention through movement but then goes on to say that people ignore them.

    So there must be something with them that we can work with and improve on to make them more effective?

  • Rick Lomas

    I hate them, I have a slow(ish) internet connection so that puts me off to start with. If I have to try and ‘catch’ something as it goes by, that’s a #1 reason to leave the site.

  • William

    Great article, thanks for sharing Tim. I never gave much thought to this, I literally see them everywhere. You have me rethinking the one currently residing on my website! =) I’ve been looking at video recently as a way of converting some of the traffic on my site.

    @ Mark, it seems to me that video advertising is a great way to not only grab the attention, but also boost conversions. I found this pretty helpful when looking at how to increase conversions on the site.

  • mybirthdaye

    Rotating banners are very famous in PTC websites and the websites providing bot traffic via frames. This proves the point, why those sites fail to attract readers.

    I guess sliding banner is not bad, just the rotating one as sometimes it may happen that one needs to read something and then it goes off.

    Also if something is always in motion, one may find it very hard to focus on static article. Once again, a great find for the bloggers. Now, I know what I can skip to experiment.

    Thanks for this piece of information. Anyway, I found this on Kingged and I kingged it.

  • Christopher Laird Simmons

    And ironically there is a content slider at the bottom of this page :-) I actually like them on some sites like service offering portals as they can put more information in one place for people who are looking for info, and perhaps are tired of having to scroll, click and swipe to move about. I stop and look at info when presented in the proper context. I agree the big slider on a home page can have mixed success. We have always used randomized elements to keep it looking fresh. However, again on some of our news publishing sites the slider allows us to “feature” some info in one place, larger and with a news photo, without having to put it all below the fold. As always it comes back to UX and knowing your audience.


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