Ditching the Homepage Slider

August 24, 2014

Filed Under: Front-End Design | Site Speed

It’s common knowledge that carousels are a total nightmare and should be avoided, yet 99% (rough estimate) of college websites have them. As I see it, here are the big reasons colleges and other folks still use carousels:

  1. There’s internal pressure to be able to say you’re highlighting more than one thing on the homepage (even if you know no one’s clicking on it).
  2. There’s (yet again) internal pressure to make the site look fancy.
  3. Everyone else is doing it.
  4. They’re using their site more as a promotional magazine than as a conversion-oriented website. (Which you can do if you’re Stanford and people are beating down your doors to enroll or give you money.)

For us at Clover Park Technical College, (1) and (2) are true and valid, (3) is true but ignorable, and (4) is quite false. Yet what’s also true is that we need to focus on our main goals (enrollment and student retention) and more than 30% of our users are on mobile devices and will likely prefer a fast site.

So how do you highlight more than one thing on your homepage and make the site look fancy while making your site conversion-oriented and lightweight? The option we went with is a large hero image with two smaller hero images. This gives us space two promote three things at once, and everything is visible on page load, which greatly pleases the parties whose thing is being promoted. It also reduces our page weight by about 100kb, and that’s with large not-picturefilled images.

But Does It Look Fancy?

My vote is yes, and I’m also betting that our audience will see it as fancy. But there’s no sliding! There’s no star-fade animations! There’s no arrow buttons and image counters!

Here’s my (data-based) opinion: Our average student age is 31, and if you’re 31 you’ve grown up looking at sliders. You’ve seen them on your friend’s blog about composting. You’ve seen them on the site for every news and media site ever. You may have even plugged one into your own site. And so you know on some level that they are so common that they’re not fancy at all.

Also: our site’s mobile visits are also well over 30%. And if you’re on a mobile device, the fanciest thing a site can do is load fast. So if a site opts out of having all the javascript and (probably) bloated plugin CSS and heavy images and instead just gives you the exact same content much faster, you’ll be like: hey, fancy.

Aside from those two things, the most important thing here is that solid design fundamentals are always going to be fancier than just dropping some plugin into your site.

The site will launch in late September, at which point I hope to start getting some data proving that I’m totally right about all of this or else showing that nope, sliders are fancier and better. I’m betting on option one.