Seems like everybody's using slide shows to present information online. From WebMD to Huffington Post, online slide shows are ascending in popularity. Somebody must think a slide show is a fun, pleasant, creative way to communicate ideas and convey images.
Online slide shows suck. Don't use them.
"But wait a minute!" you scream at me hysterically. "People like to interact with online content. A slide show lets them interact."
Wrong. Web users will interact with content, mainly in the form of posting comments or clicking "Like" buttons, only when they're extremely enthusiastic, or when they get some satisfaction from the interaction. They don't like interaction when it's slugging through something that's more complicated, or less usable, than it needs to be.
Amateur SEO hopefuls think slide shows are good "click bait," that all those slide show clicks will somehow increase their search engine rankings, and expose users to more banner ads, but slide shows merely annoy people and are very poor in distributing information.
Here's a Business Insider online slide show associated with the article "The Complete 2009 Bank Implosions".
The slide show is not mentioned, instead it is represented by the large type "Start". They are assuming you will click on "Start", without knowing what it is that is being started.
Their slide show contains 52 slides, each slide devoted to a bank that failed, with a big stupid image for each bank.
19 comments have been added to the post, and many are remarks about how ignorant the slide show is. Example: "Quit with the slideshows. I clicked on the article in interest but I will never click through 52 slides. That is awful."
Why Online Slide Shows Suck
(1) IMAGE OVER-EMPHASIS. You get a giant picture with a few sentences of text beneath them. You tend to gaze at the image and get no value from it. Your eyes eventually slide down to the wimpy caption, which is just a few sentences, generalized statements, not very meaty information-wise. Usually, the images are not that important, even distracting and counter-productive, and are only used ... why? ... because it's a slide show!
(2) BAD LINKING STRATEGY. Each slide does not have its own URL, so there's no way to link directly to a specific slide. You have to link to the page the online slide show is embedded on, and users have to click through each slide to find the one that's relevant, if only one slide is pertinent.
(3) POOR VISIBILITY. Online slide shows are generally prepared from lists, like "10 Foods to Help You Lose Weight". You cannot see the entire list when it's presented in a slide show. You have to trudge through the entire slide show, viewing slides that may not be of value or interest to you. In an article with images and captions, you can scroll down until you find what's relevant and you see the entire presentation at a glance.
(4) (FREQUENTLY) PURPOSELESS IMAGES. Often, there is no reason to even have an image, when a simple list is sufficient. Sometimes it seems the designer just plopped some photos into the slides to vaguely approximate some aspect of something. All this web real estate, and user time, wasted on images that sidetrack your message, not enhance it. Lists are easy and quick to read. Lists are quotable. Lists imply a logical order or natural sequence. I think more people will bookmark, link to, and Twitter an article with a list than an article with a slide show.
(5) WRONG VIEWING MODEL. Online slide shows assume that web users read online text the same way they read books: flipping from page 1 to the last page. Not true. Web users view web content like they watch TV: flipping channels, skimming, scanning, skipping what's not of interest, zeroing in on what they really want or what grabs their attention. Online slide shows expect users to violate web norms and patiently click each slide in a linear progression, from first to last.
(6) HALFWAY BETWEEN TEXT AND FILM. A slide show is straddling the fence of communication. It's partly text and partly moving (sliding) images, like a slowed down movie. These halfway measures are inadequate. If you want to convey information, use a text list or go all the way visually and do a video. If you need to show something working, moving, changing, or want to show different angles of something, do a video. If you cannot do a video, then just use photos or art with explanatory captions.
When could an online slide show be useful?
Only when you need to show a step by step progression, with explanatory remarks for each step. A tutorial or a presentation of how something changes or evolves or grows, where relevant images are needed.
Especially when your audience wants to focus on an image, really concentrate on it, soak it up, linger over details, inspect various aspects, fix the visual in their mind, mull over it, contemplate it, totally comprehend it. Then they can sit there and stare at it, as long as they want, before moving on to the next slide. This is the slide show's only advantage over a video.
When in doubt, toss it out. Don't use online slide shows to communicate or present information, unless there is a good reason and no other format will get the job done.
WebMD Dream Quiz Slideshow