On Carousels

Carousel of the horsey kind.

Carousel of the horsey kind.

For the past year or so, I’ve been following a conversation about website carousels, the oft-auto-rotating and recently oft-maligned images and stories atop many an academic webpage/website.

Last year, Erik Runyon, Director of Web Communications at Notre Dame, did something sort of revolutionary. He tracked and distributed analytics on Notre Dame’s website carousels, revealing what we’ve probably all suspected. People don’t interact with our carousels.

He found that only 1 -3% of Notre Dame’s home page traffic actually clicked through to the underlying stories. Of those folks, 40-60% clicked on the first story. Clicks through to the second, third, and fourth stories fell off precipitously.

Erik’s investigation came on the heels of some interesting research from Jakob Nielsen himself. (For those of you new to web communications, Jakob Nielsen is to the web what Julia Child was to French cuisine, pioneering efforts to make web content more accessible and usable).

In a usability study, he found that users often miss content in big auto-rotating carousels. It doesn’t stand still long enough for them to take it in, and users may just ignore it because moving content is associated with advertising.

This all being said, I still have a soft spot for carousels (at least those that stand still until the user chooses to forward them) and think they are a useful part of content strategy. (Full disclosure: the new Fordham website is going to have a big one).


They promote sharing, not of the social kind, but of the spotlight kind.

“Carousels are a way to keep everyone from beating the sh*t out of each other because everyone wants their stuff on the home page,” tweeted one attendee of HighEdWeb Michigan in May (perhaps quoting or paraphrasing one Erik Runyon).

The politics in higher education can make Congress look like a company picnic. Universities and colleges are hugely complex organizations with wildly different constituents, priorities, and agendas. Sometimes, you need a way to appease the players.

However, that doesn’t mean you don’t employ strategy as to what goes in a carousel because . . .

They are a highly-visible way to drive home your brand objectives and tell your story.

Not the only way of course, but I don’t see Times Square taking down their billboards. Carousels are eye-catching, attention-getting showcases for your messages. Carousels are in your face. Carousels are bling.

Be on guard however. Content strategy must be employed in order to make sure you protect your carousels. You may be able to appease some players by featuring their news, event, or profile because it fits into the story you’re telling about your university, but you won’t be able to appease all of them.

Be ready for faculty and staff who are going to want a piece of your carousel for stories that do not warrant this level of attention. Set some criteria and stick to your guns. This criteria should also focus on photography – high-interest, high-impact, high-resolution.

And so what if no one clicks through?

Do I click on carousels? Nope. But here’s the real question. Do I really have to? If an image speaks 1000 words, then perhaps a great image, headline, and teaser text is all you need.

Let’s just stop expecting users to click through and treat this space like the great big microcontent it is.

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