A darned rotating bannerThere are few things in the conversion world more reviled than rotating banners (Happy talk and faith-driven decisions are right up there).

UX expert Jakob Nielsen says they are anti-usability. Tim Ash likes to say they are flat out evil.
But take a quick look at Microsoft. Or, if you’re feeling down on old Borg because the media’s down on them of late, just ask Big Blue. And if you think that’s just for large technology companies, just ask Coke how they approach web design.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of web designers and digital marketers out there who are forced to insert a rotating banner for a variety of reasons (eg. the HiPPO thinks it’s a great idea or their clients want one because it’s en vogue). Fact is, you – the UX analyst, the digital marketer, the conversion expert, the SEO specialist – you do not always have control.

There are, of course, ways to approach top management and make them see the light on these issues. But what happens when, regardless of how many times you quote Steve Krug, the powers-that-be still insist on putting one on your website? Here are four tips to prevent rotating banners from potentially wrecking your website’s usability and conversion rates

When Life Gives You Lemonades … You Research Those Lemonades

So you have a rotating banner. That doesn’t mean you just let anyone from operations tell you what to stick in it. If you can’t keep the web site from using a banner, you might as well make it a good banner. And that starts with every marketer’s favorite topic – analytics research. Study the most common click-throughs from the home page and the rest of the web site. Find the outliers, and then match the visitor intent with the most common notable business goals for the banner.
If someone asks you to change it, make sure you don’t just debate topics – you should be debating about the math.

Go for the Jugular … Start Quoting Steve

Not Krug. Steve Jobs:

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.

The banner may be tragic for usability, but alas, not all tragedies are created equal. Make sure the tragedy is more “bad hair day,” and less, you know, “Macbeth.” Focus. Don’t display 10 topics, say no to the merely “good” ideas  – keep the number of items down, ideally to around 3. Make each one short. When you think it’s as short as it can get, cut it down by half. Say no to additional topics. If they insist, go back to the lemonades – make sure they run the math.

Microsoft Rotating Banner

Can you even read all that text on Microsoft’s banner at a glance? If you, the advanced web user type can’t, then what chance does the … oh, you CAN read it all? Okay, good. Carry on then.

It’s Not You, It’s M … well, Them

If you’re going to use those darned banners, they might as well be usable banners. Now, I know, I know. Most of you are hearing “If you’re going to ride horses, they may as well be unicorns.” Fine – this point doesn’t sound like a winner right off the gate. But let’s discuss this mythical beast – what would a usable banner even … be like?

1. It smells the roses. Well, for starters, this beast doesn’t have attention deficit disorder. It doesn’t switch messages every 5 seconds. It’s not about your company’s ability to push messages – it’s about the visitor’s ability to scan them. Minimize the motion, and make the messages take a while to flip- think upwards of 10 seconds, maybe more. Don’t do a Forever21 3-second-flip.

2. It gives the jockey the reins. You know how, in the off-chance the user actually takes a minute to grab the controls and actually read through your messages? You know what most sites do? They continue flipping through messages. Please, please, please – do not do that. Your user just signified intent directly – give them control, stop going through the normal banner rotation routine, and wait for them to make the next move.

Don’t Bet the Farm

Just because you’re forced to use a banner doesn’t mean you have to bet the farm on it. You need to use best practices. Follow the “F pattern” on the home page for text and hyperlinks. Make sure the banner is small enough that you can still see the home page navigation elements above the fold, not just the top navigation.

So that’s it. What lemons, Shakespeare, unicorns, ships, Steve Jobs, icebergs and maybe, maybe, even Microsoft will tell you is that rotating banners may be messed up, but if you absolutely need to make them work, then you can make them … if not work, then at least, not do as much damage.

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