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Homepage Carousels Are (Probably) a Bad Idea

A series of rotating messages may solve political problems, but… 2 comments

Every marketer knows that a well-positioned, differentiated offering has a distinct advantage over its competition. However, crafting a differentiated marketing message is easier said than done, especially for law firms.

Law firms often sell hundreds of services to dozens of industries. As a result, it is tremendously difficult to formulate a single meaningful marketing message that consensus can be built around. So, in order to avoid lots of pain and conflict, firms often implement a workaround: a message carousel. This feature, which often appears on the website’s home page, displays a series of different marketing messages.

A carousel might at first appear to be a silver bullet for a difficult political problem. However, I believe that it’s (probably) a bad idea for your firm.

The Message Carousel

First, a little about message carousels. They normally include 5–8 slides, each displaying a separate (and often unrelated) marketing message and associated graphics. Many professional service firms use them. For an example, check out the accounting firm Citrin Cooperman.

In my experience, if you task a committee with coming up with a firmwide marketing message, the result is often a carousel of rotating messages. The members will start by identifying several possible messages, ranging from “Innovative Thinking” to “Worldwide Reach” to “Diversity.” However, instead of doing the hard work of selecting the best single message, they will opt to use them all.

A Bad Compromise

The carousel approach is appealing because it avoids any difficult decisions around messaging. However, it’s not likely to help your firm’s marketing efforts. Study after study after study clearly indicate that carousels hurt the effectiveness of your website. Here are the key problems:

  • Too Many Messages – People remember only those marketing messages that they have seen (or heard) over and over again. This is why consumer brands hang on to good taglines for decades (e.g., “Breakfast of Champions” has been in use since 1927 and “Good to the last drop” has been around for over 100 years). The problem with carousels is that no single message is ever repeated often enough to be remembered.
     
  • Irrelevant Messaging – Homepage carousels solve a political problem by allowing you to say “yes” to squeaky-wheel stakeholders that want to see their particular niche message on the homepage. The problem is that a niche message is unlikely to be seen by its target audience. For example, if a message is aimed at only 5% of traffic and that message is displayed only to 1 out of 7 visitors – the chance that a given visitor will see and appreciate the message is less than 1%.
     
  • Rotating Content Is Ignored – Many message carousels are designed to auto-rotate, which is especially bad according to studies by website usability guru Jakob Nielsen. This is because a message will often rotate away as you are reading it, which annoys users and makes them feel like they aren’t in control. Additionally, neuroscience research suggests that when there is motion on a page, people are entranced by the motion and distracted from reading any associated text.
     
  • Looks Like an Advertisement – Usability research shows that many of your website visitors will perceive your homepage carousel to be an “advertisement.” The research also shows that users are conditioned to ignore anything that looks like an ad. This phenomenon is called “Banner Blindness.” 
     
  • A Variety of Technical Issues – Carousels are also bad for search engine optimization (SEO) because (1) they aren’t mobile-friendly, and (2) they increase load time. Additionally, they complicate efforts to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The Exception

There is one instance in which I think homepage carousels could work: when you have a clear "through-theme." For example, if the theme is “We Get Results,” then each slide could feature an example of your firm’s “Results.” If you choose this approach, here are some ways to avoid the pitfalls of carousels:

  • Prominently display your through-theme (e.g., “Results”) on each slide, so that people get exposed to your message over and over.
  • Design your carousel so that it doesn’t look like an advertisement.
  • Avoid auto-rotation. Instead, have one slide randomly display on page load—and then give users the ability to click to the next slide if they like.
     

An Alternative: Silent Positioning

Some firms will never be able to come to consensus on a single firmwide message. If a carousel isn’t a good workaround, what approach should they use for their homepage headline?

For these firms, I would consider “silent positioning.” As discussed in a previous post, silent positioning doesn’t use an explicit headline or tagline. Instead, the firm’s positioning is subtly expressed using design, imagery, and selected content. To read more about Silent Positioning, check out our recent blog post about marketing positioning for law firms.

Comments

2 comments... read them below or add one.
  1. Nancy Myrland says:

    “Homepage carousels solve a political problem by allowing you to say yes to squeaky-wheel stakeholders…if aimed at only 5% of traffic & that message is displayed to 1 out of 7 visitors–the chance that a given visitor will see the msg is less than 1%.”

    Thanks to Robert and Dion Algeri for their constant wisdom.

  2. Doug Stern says:

    So true! When sites try to be all things to all people, the danger is that NOTHING will engage the visitor. The metrics tell us that it would be much more productive to invest in brand-infused bios, yes? If someone is attached to the idea of a carousel, then consider populating it with bio content.

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