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Is Your Website Design Killing Conversions?

A beautifully designed website can create a professional experience that puts you far above your competition because your website design is the foundation of how your business is perceived online.

Many businesses along with their web designers put a great deal of focus on how they can best utilize the space they’re given to maximize their marketing message and to increase visitor engagement in order to pull prospects deeper into their website.

I mean it seems to make sense, right? Why wouldn’t you make the most of the space you have available and why wouldn’t you attempt to get visitors to engage deeper with your site?

Well, because sometimes commonly used design principles can actually be killing your conversions.

Here are a few examples that show how maximizing website space and using standard design principles have actually been shown to negatively affect conversions.

Picture Sliders Look Great But Have Been Shown to Reduce Conversions

You’ve probably seen many examples of rotating picture sliders that are ever so frequently used on website homepages. They typically rotate different marketing messages and offerings so visitors can immediately see everything you have to offer in one space.

They’re something like a rotating billboard.  That should be great for your business, right?

I have to admit, I used to like them.  Until research revealed how ineffective they are. And that they actually kill conversions.

That’s right. Those slick rotating picture sliders you thought would create a sense of action don’t actually get your visitors to take action. In fact, research is showing that visitors seldom engage with sliders.

Proof comes from a study conducted by Notre Dame University. The study revealed that only about 1% of website visitors engaged with their picture slider. Those are horrible numbers. Especially considering that engagement is what you want to occur with your visitors.

The study goes on to reveal that of the 1% that engage with the slider, the greater majority only engage with the first slide. The graph below shows the low percentage of engagement with the slides that follow the first slide.

Notre Dame Slider Useability Study


As you can see, of the only 1% of visitors who engaged with the slide in the first place, nearly 90% engaged with the first slide and very few engaged with the four slides that followed.

What’s the point of having all of those sliders if your visitors aren’t even engaging with them?

This study destroys the theory that you can successfully compact all of your different marketing messages into one space.

In fact, here are some specific reasons why it’s believed that rotating picture sliders don’t work.

  1. Sliders offer too many marketing messages at once. When you offer so many messages at the same time you’re really offering no message at all.
  2. Because of the movement of picture sliders, the human eye is more focused on the movement than the actual messages displayed.
  3. Banner blindness occurs due to the fact that visitors have become so accustomed to ad banners being displayed at the top of web pages, causing them to largely ignore these banners. The same effect seems to be occurring with rotating picture sliders.
  4. Picture sliders tend to move too fast for visitors to be able to absorb the messages being displayed. In addition, visitors like to have a sense of control. When you remove that control by zipping through the slider they are trying to read, you risk frustrating your visitors.
  5. When Jakob Nielsen conducted a study on picture sliders, he found that participants had a difficult time answering even simple questions pertaining to the slider. Why? Because they didn’t have enough time to absorb what they were viewing.

Some of these issues can be remedied if you’re unwilling to part with your rotating picture slider.

For example, you can slow down the speed so that visitors can absorb the message on each slide. You can also give visitors control with a slider that only rotates when they click a prompt to move to the next slide.

This remedies some of the problems associated with sliders, but in most cases, you’re better off removing them entirely and focusing the top portion of your website on the most important offer from your brand.

Lefthand Menu Bars Are Largely Ignored

Adding a lefthand menu bar seems like a good idea to help your visitors get around your site in addition to your main menu bar.  Right?

It would seem that supplementing an additional menu bar vertically along the lefthand side would be a good idea to add additional navigation to help visitors navigate their way around and to click deeper into your website.

Well that theory is also wrong in many cases.

Take a look at this heat map that indicates that much of the visitor’s eye focus in red is on the content.  As you can see, very little attention is given to the lefthand menu bar.

Left Sidebar Heatmap


You can also see areas of red where concentration is given to the main menu which shows the main menu is much more effective here in getting visitors attention.

Consider using a main menu bar that also has drop down buttons for deeper engagement into the site instead of using a lefthand menu.

Columns Can Break Up the Left to Right Reading Flow

Strangely enough, even dividing your web page into columns has been shown to create issues. You would think that dividing sections of your site into separate sections would help to organize the page. But some studies are showing that it can confuse visitors and hamper conversions.

Most people read from left to right across a page. So it makes sense that columns containing separate copy and information would impair the fluidity of getting a strong marketing message across.

Not only is text in separate columns a problem, but UX Matters found another example where columned information affected conversions.

They conducted a study exploring how the placement of form field labels affected conversions.

When form field labels are placed to the left of the field a column effect is created. Since readers fill out forms from top to bottom, this placement to the left of the field tended to slow down the reading process.

Placing form field labels above the field helped with the top to bottom filling out of forms keeping the process more fluid.

Form Field Labels UX Matters

This may seem like a very small change, but a few small changes spread across an entire website begin to add up and make a big difference.

Another study revealed that when shopping carts divided form fields into two separate columns requesting information, it tended to confuse shoppers.

So rather than break up the reading flow or confuse visitors, consider eliminating columns when possible.

Avoid Stock Photography

In an effort to make their websites look more professional and create a sense that they are a bigger company than what they really are, many businesses resort to stock photography on their website.

Now, not all stock photography is bad, and you are buying an image of high photographic quality. However, most stock photography has a staged feel to it that can have a negative effect on your website.

Take for example the stock image of the operator below. Have you seen this woman before? I have. On quite a few sites.

Stock Operator

There’s a good chance that your visitors have seen this same operator on other sites as well. Do you think they believe this woman is one of your own operators? Do you think they’ll view your company as well-resourced and well-run if you’re using the exact same image as hundreds of other websites?

They may begin to second guess how successful your business is which can hurt your credibility.

If you can avoid using stock photography, do so. It’s better to present real images of your actual business and photos of the real people who work at your business.

Of course, make sure those images you use are of the highest photographic quality and are taken by a professional photographer.


As mentioned previously, your website design is the foundation of how you present your business to the world online.

Many web designers have the best intentions of using space wisely to get messages across and deeper navigation with picture sliders and lefthand menu bars. But often squeezing those things into one space has the opposite effect of the desired intention.

And as you’ve read, it can affect engagement and conversions.

Consider the research revealed above when designing your website and design tests accordingly. The research might not apply to every website, but it’s a good idea to reconsider using these types of elements and an even better idea to split test different variations to see for yourself which direction to take to gain maximum conversions.

Sometimes maximizing space is a good thing. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes standard design principles work. And as you’ve read, sometimes they can be improved upon.


Marie Marie Dean is the Innovation Director at ConversionLifters and has worked in the field of conversion optimization for over 10 years. She helps clients lift their website conversion rates and revenue with in-depth audits, heat mapping, user tests, and split testing. Interested in free conversion optimization recommendations that pertain to your website? Sign up for a Free Conversion Lift Strategy Session at