Do you know what Usain Bolt, Snoop Dogg and Katy Perry have in common? Singing? Nope. They all run the 100m in less than 10 seconds? Still no. Come on, I'll help you out.
These 3 superstars all use a slider on the homepage of their official website (which also runs on WordPress)! (By the way, for those of you who thought this famous CMS was only meant to create blogs: nope.)
Let's get back to our business: sliders. They are also called slideshows. You will sometimes even hear them called carousels.
Sliders are still very popular and can be found on many sites. A slider here, a slider there. It's moving, it's dynamic. Seems awesome, right?
Here's the problem: sliders are not unanimously accepted by specialists (web designers, SEO, developers etc.) and users.
Take Stéphane, for example. That's what he explained to us on Facebook, after Alex asked for testimonies about sliders: “I use sliders, and I think a good slider with a good design attracts more.”
Behind his screen, Laurent must have pulled his hair out. He thinks that “it's a trend that proves to be unproductive […] The slider and the carousel are elements to please the developer, but not so functional from a user experience point of view.”
To try to untangle the real from the fake, I'm going to dig into the question and test 10 WordPress slider plugins. I'll even reveal the best one to you.
Is a slider that useful?
Sliders divide professional website builders
On the Internet, there are many negative opinions about sliders. The idea is not to discourage you from using them. This may be relevant, if you follow certain best practices. Our selection of 10 WordPress slider plugins will help you choose the best ones. Nevertheless, keep in mind some information before you decide:
- Sliders can slow down your site, due to unoptimized (too heavy) images. As a result, user experience is affected, as is your SEO… Yes, Google really doesn't like a page that loads slowly. So you might as well avoid penalizing your site.
- They can be miscoded and load lots of files for nothing.
- They are sometimes complicated to use.
- They are not always responsive: that is, they do not fit on all types of devices, such as smartphones or tablets.
Thanks to Bastien, who also gave us his opinion on Facebook (thanks Bastien!), I came across this very useful (French) website, that can translate to “Should I use it?” It points out that:
- “Only 1% of users click on an element (of the slider). Of these 1%, 89% will have clicked on the first element of the slideshow.”
- Sliders induce accessibility issues.
At WPMarmite, Alex explained on Facebook that he didn't find it “very relevant, because it hides information from visitors.”
A few years ago, he interviewed several specialists on this subject. Jonathan Boyer, blogger on Grafikart, said sliders “are useful if you have content to promote, but useless if they only consist in displaying the last 10/20 articles”.
Gaétan Weltzer, blogger on Design Spartan, pointed out that “sliders are useful if they are well used and properly set up […] Above all, it is important to keep in mind the ergonomic constraints that go altogether with sliders, such as showing the number of slides or allowing you to go back (or forward) manually using arrows, buttons or integrated links.”
And then there are anti-sliders. Peep Laja, creator of the excellent ConversionXL site, which specializes in conversion-related topics, published an article last summer with an evocative title: “Don't use sliders.”
For him, they are anti-conversion tools, i.e. they would prevent your visitors from taking action (e.g. downloading an ebook, buying a product, subscribing to a newsletter, etc.). Here are the main criticisms made to slideshows:
- They divert attention by making you focus on unnecessary things.
- They deliver too many messages at once.
- They look like banner ads, so people don't pay attention to them.
I see you asking yourself: “Should I throw away my super-slider?”
Should you use a WordPress slider?
Yes, as long as you respect certain best practices
Sliders have a lot of detractors, that's true. But not everything is necessarily to be thrown away. If you wish to use them, follow some best practices. Christophe Natolot, Digital Art Director at Canal-web, recommends using only “2-3 slides”, placing “the important slide in first position”, or disabling “the automatic slide”.
In his article “How to Make Sliders Not Suck“, webdesigner Andrew Searles recommends not to “put vital information in a slider”, to “keep it simple” (no more than 2 buttons, no complex transition effects etc.), and to use “only one type of content per slider”.
Some concrete cases
If you follow these rules, a WordPress slider could be used to:
- Display photos and/or videos to illustrate a photo gallery, portfolio etc.
- Present customer testimonials.
- Highlight offers/products.
- Unveil your latest articles.
- Display the logos of the companies with which you work.
From now on, discover which horse to bet on to best apply all these tips. Hint: it may not be the most popular.
10 WordPress slider plugins put to trial
After everything I just told you, are you still determined to install a slideshow on your site? Are you looking for a free and responsive WordPress slider?
To meet your needs, I tested 10 plugins. Five of them are among the most installed on the official directory.
I will also introduce five of the most popular paid ones available on Code Canyon.
Please note that all the plugins below work with shortcodes. Thanks to this, you can insert your sliders wherever you want (articles, pages, widgets, etc.).
For the sake of transparency, we would like to point out that the links to the paid extensions presented in this article are affiliate links. WPMarmite will earn a commission if you subscribe to a license through our links.
Active installations: 800,000+
4 million downloads, more than 800,000 active installations: Meta Slider is simply THE most popular WordPress slider plugin on the official directory.
Developed by Team Updraft, developer of the excellent UpdraftPlus backup extension, this plugin promises to create “an original slider, optimized for SEO, in a few seconds”.
Let's take a closer look.
The pros of Meta Slider
- Extremely easy to use. To implement a slider on your site, count about 30 seconds.
- A clear, refined menu with no unnecessary options.
- The possibility to manage each image's SEO (title, alt tag).
- The number of themes included, which multiplies the possibilities of customization.
- The design is particularly successful.
- The responsive. Meta Slider fits perfectly on tablets and smartphones.
What I didn't like so much
There's not much to blame him for. Perhaps it has a longer loading time than some of its competitors. See Part 3 of this post for our performance test.
The free version will already meet many needs. It can be used on an unlimited number of sites. Please note that there are also several paid versions. The first one starts at 39$/year, to use on 2 sites.
It allows you to integrate videos, incorporate thumbnail navigation (thumbnail images) and, above all, a WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) slide editor in real time.
I really appreciated this extension. A small drawback, however: if sliders are very important for you or your business, you will probably have to turn to the paid version to dazzle your readers.
Active installations: 100,000+
“The most popular WordPress touch slider.” What an explicit user-oriented slogan! With this plugin, we suspect that the use on smartphones and tablets will have something different, compared to the competition.
This touch-slider option – switching from one image to another with your fingers – is one of the nice features of this plugin (but Master Slider not the only one that offers it). There are a lot of others to discover, and also some things to say 😉 We're going now without further delay.
The pros of of Master Slider
- Pre-registered slides templates (8 in total) that save time in the process of creating your own WordPress slider.
- The possibility of incorporating thumbnails (miniature images) on his slides. Look below.
- The extension can be cached to increase loading speed.
- The many options: I liked the drag and drop to move his slides. Or touch navigation: on tablets and smartphones, a scan allows you to switch from one slide to another.
- The preview incorporated into the admin itself.
- The integration of a video on a slide, even if it doesn't start automatically (you have to press the play button to start playback).
What I didn't like so much
- A very extensive menu of settings, inside which you end up getting a little lost. This lacks intuitiveness and makes the plugin more difficult to use. In particular to create your own custom slider from scratch.
- A slight loading time when choosing a slider template (the plugin downloads about ten photos that serve as a canvas to create your own WordPress slider).
- On a small screen, especially a smartphone, the responsive is not that good. Pretty sad, for a touch slider.
Master Slider is available for free in the official directory. The pro version costs 24$/year. Its big advantage is the presence of more than 90 slides templates.
This plugin offers many freemium options, which is still a good thing. However, it is not always easy to use, which makes it less intuitive than Meta Slider, for example.
Smart Slider 3
Active installations: 500,000+
The first striking thing about this plugin is its rating: almost 5 complete stars. In the official directory, there's almost no bad comment about it. It's rare enough to be highlighted. And this gives a first indicator of its quality.
The graphic user interface on the presentation images is also mouth-watering.
Not to mention the presentation pitch: “Smart Slider 3 has all the features you would expect from a free slider plugin.”
Oh, really? Let's see about that.
The pros of of Smart Slider 3
- An intuitive and easy-to-use adjustment interface. The dashboard presents 2 major options: “New slideshow” and “Template library”. At least we're getting to the point.
- An 8-minute video tutorial to get the most out of the product.
- A 100% responsive plugin.
- An almost unlimited number of options, even on the free version. You can even integrate videos into the slides, modify the opacity of your slides, or even customize the placement and color of the small bubbles to change slides! And that's just the hidden part of the iceberg.
- A successful design.
- A library of 8 awesome ready-to-use templates.
- Not to mention the highlight of the show: a visual slide editor where you can add, in real time, a title, text, button, image, etc. Looking for a WordPress slider with text? Go for it!
What I didn't like so much
If I were to be picky, I would talk to you about the abundance of options. There are so many things you can do that it becomes almost disconcerting.
The prices of the paid versions (from 35$ to 250$).
The free version allows a lot of things to be done. In pro mode, prices start at $35, for a single domain name, but the options are huge (e.g. a library of more than 100 ready-to-use slideshows).
In freemium, this extension offers a number of options never seen before by its competitors. For me, this is the best WordPress slider of this selection. Even some paid plugins cannot claim to be so complete!
In addition, the extension is very easy to handle and allows beautiful results.
Slider by WD
Active installations: 60,000+
Web Dorado, the developer of Slider by WD, had left me a good memory. A few months ago, I appreciated one of their Instagram plugins. So I was eager to discover their creation dedicated to sliders.
This time, it didn't go so well. Let me explain to you why, by bringing you back to high school.
At that time, I bet you hated having to speak in front of everyone, didn't you? Especially after the best of the class. You know, the one who fills the atmosphere because he knows everything and gets praise from the teacher.
Well, Slider by WD had the misfortune to experience this tragic moment. I tested it right after Smart Slider 3… No luck. Once you've tasted caviar, it's hard to eat lumpfish eggs afterwards.
However, this does not make this plugin a dunce. Let's see why.
The pros of of Slider by WD
- The timer bar: a loading bar on your image shows you how much time is left before the next slide. A gadget that others don't have.
- An easy-to-understand adjustment menu. But this is partly due to the lack of options.
- A perfectly responsive extension.
- Its loading time.
- The ability to import pre-designed layouts. The idea is good, but not available in the free version…
What I didn't like so much
- Compared to its “free” competitors, a clearly limited number of options. I clicked on a lot of buttons to often get the following answer: “This functionality is disabled in free version”. Subliminal message: switch to the pro version.
Several professional versions are available. They range from $20/year for use on a domain name to $40/year for unlimited use.
Obviously, given the meagre options available in the free version, you'll find more customization options by putting a price on it (adding videos, parallax effects, adding transitions etc.).
But knowing that Smart Slider 3 does, with a few details, as well for 0 dollars… it's up to you to decide if you want to get your hands on the wallet.
If you want to set up a simple slider, without having to think about the options, why not turn to Slider by WD. Especially since, in terms of speed, it's a very good one. Otherwise, very clearly, choose one of its free competitors, which are much more complete.
Active installations: 30,000+
This plugin does not compete, in terms of installations, with mastodons like Meta Slider or Revolution Slider. At the time of the test, Nivo had 30,000 active installations.
I included it in this article because it came out quite well during my research, in a positive way. By the way, know that this plugin still has more than 3 million downloads!
It also intrigued me by its positioning. Themeisle, its developer, says that Nivo “is not the plugin that has the most options (like Revolution Slider or Layer Slider), but if you just need a responsive slider that works, test it!” Let's do it!
The pros of Nivo Slider
- Ease of use: a menu with 19 basic settings, a shortcode, and that's it!
- Quick to set up.
- A responsive extension.
- A sober design.
- The fastest slider in this test.
What I didn't like so much
- The lack of options, even if it is a positioning assumed by the developers from the beginning. For example, you will not be able to precisely define the size of your slideshow (the size of the slides is based on the format of your WordPress images). If you want more equipment, you'll have to switch to the paid version. Or go elsewhere.
You will find the “Lite” version of Nivo Plugin free of charge in the WordPress directory.
If you are in a hurry and want a slider right away, without thinking too much about customization, Nivo Slider is for you.
Horrible to use, slow, overrated: ah, how many negative comments have I heard about it! When I asked him about Slider Revolution, Florian, a developer and colleague at WPMarmite, said to me, “I hate using it.”
How promising! With nearly 350,000 sales on CodeCanyon, Slider Revolution remains the most purchased plugin. It is so famous that it's bundled in many themes. Does he deserve so much mistrust?
It must be said that in 2014, this plugin suffered from a flaw that made thousands of sites vulnerable.
In addition, it was very complicated to update all these sites because Revolution Slider was often included in themes sold on Themeforest. However, these themes did not include updates for the slider plugins they were integrating.
Anyway, it was a big mess back then. So beware of themes that include plugins “for free”. It is better to buy them and fill in their licenses to benefit from updates.
The pros of Slider Revolution
- Multiple options: if you want to animate your slides, you won't be disappointed: a hundred effects (parallax, fade, scan, Ken Burns, zoom, etc.) are available.
- Video integration possible.
- A slide editor with an integrated timeline to manage your animations.
- The gallery of ready to use templates. There are nearly 40 of them: quite practical to find inspiration.
What I didn't like so much
- An enormous menu. You can do anything and that's the problem. We no longer know where to look, so many tabs are there.
- It is not an easy plugin, especially for the slide editor. The tool is almost like a video editor, but you'll need to have a quick look at the documentation to understand it.
- Very mixed performance. In terms of speed, Slider Revolution was the second-to-last in our test.
This paid extension costs $25. The offer contains future updates and 6 months of support.
Slider Revolution triggers 2 feelings. Satisfaction first, because it offers a lot of options. We tell ourselves that we are ready to create the slider of the year.
On the other hand, it generates frustration because it lacks intuitiveness. Creating a slider must remain simple, and this plugin makes the process quite complex.
However, once you have taken it in hand, this plugin can be effective. Personally, I prefer Smart Slider 3, Meta Slider or Nivo Slider, which are free.
Slider by Soliloquy
Active installations: 80,000+
A must-have. It is presented as “the fastest WordPress slideshow extension on the market”.
If you have read the recommendations at the beginning of the article carefully, you know that a fast loading time is important for user experience and SEO.
Soliloquy has put most of its efforts into these two areas. In 2015, Chris Lema, a leading American WordPress specialist had tested the performance of several sliders. Verdict: Soliloquy had come out on top.
You will discover in Part 3 that our own test, conducted on one of the paid versions of the extension, did not give the same results at all! We can already tell you that Soliloquy pulled out its tongue 😉
The pros of Soliloquy
- The user interface. The settings menu is simple and visual. The options are not as important as for some competitors, but the most essential ones are there.
- Drag and drop function: you can drag and drop your photos directly onto your slider.
- The speed and ease of creating a slideshow: 2 minutes are enough, counting the settings.
- 100% responsive.
- Possibility to customize the CSS code.
What I didn't like so much
- Impossible to preview the slider after creating it.
- The lack of options. For example, there are only 2 themes in the first paid version. This is very low compared to some competitors. If you want to customize your slideshow, you will need to buy some expensive add-ons (see below).
- The first paid version (19$). It offers very few improvements (support, a Soliloquy widget etc.) compared to the free version. The investment is not necessarily worth it.
- Its loading time. Renowned for its performance, Soliloquy ranked 7th (out of 10) in our test.
You can download the free version from the official directory. For a more advanced and personalized optimization, it will be necessary to add add-ons (extensions), included in the pro versions.
If you have to invest, at least turn to the $49 solution. The best compromise is the $99 version, which includes all add-ons (all themes, possibility to add a carousel, a lightbox, thumbnails etc.). Be sure to check this link before making a decision.
Despite the list of disadvantages – not prohibitive, in my opinion – Soliloquy is an effective plugin. If you want a nice visual appearance, minimalist options, it will be perfect. Even in the free version. On the other hand, we regret having to pay at least $99 to take advantage of all its customization possibilities.
Land Rover & Coca-Cola: here are two brands that use a customised version of Royal Slider on their website.
So I thought that the quality should be amazing. Royal Slider is still one of the best-selling plugins on CodeCanyon in its category (more than 33,000 sales).
The pros of Royal Slider
- A streamlined interface. The plugin doesn't overwhelm us with a ton of options. The menu seems austere and a little disconcerting at first, but navigation remains easy thanks to the positioning of the settings on the right column. In the end, it's easy to get by.
- The many tutorials that help you familiarize with the plugin.
- The preview mode inside the WordPress admin.
- The ability to create slides with your own HTML code, edit them with text and link YouTube or Vimeo videos to them.
- The responsive.
- A full screen mode to view your slideshow.
What I didn't like so much
- The absence of a “save” button, when you start creating a slideshow. Remember to click on “Create slider” quickly, so that you can then have the possibility to save. Otherwise, you risk losing all your work.
- It is possible to modify the skins (template background), provided you know a little bit about CSS and PHP code.
Royal Slider costs $23. Pricing includes future updates and 6 months support.
I was expecting a terribly complicated plugin, Revolution Slider type. It must be said that its use is easier. I regret the lack of intuitiveness of the plugin compared to some of its competitors (Meta Slider, Smart Slider 3, Soliloquy). But 23$ for a paid version remains a good value for money.
When it comes to introducing yourself, you always try to look good. This principle is available for WordPress plugins too. When you read their description, before downloading or buying them, they tend to promise you the moon, or present themselves as the “ultimate WordPress plugin”.
So when I came across the Slider Pro sales hook (“For elegant and professional WordPress sliders”), I was just waiting to be seduced. So, scam or good surprise?
The pros of Slider Pro
- The design and elegance of the sliders, very successful graphically speaking.
- The possibility to import ready-made examples by copying and pasting a text file (in a plugin installation folder).
- An intuitive setup interface with prominent buttons to work with slides.
- Clear and precise documentation, with explanatory videos very useful to get to grips with the extension.
- A responsive plugin.
What I didn't like so much
Not much to report here, to be honest.
Slider Pro costs 29$. The price includes future updates and support for 6 months.
Slider Pro is very pleasant to use thanks to its easy-to-use interface. The slide editor remains very complete (many effects available, drag-and-drop system), and the customization options are numerous, without the menu being too overloaded.
Clearly, the elegance and professional aspect promised at the beginning is respected. Among the ones I tested on Code Canyon, it's my favorite.
On CodeCanyon, there is the world champion of sales: Revolution Slider (more than 350,000 sales). Behind him, you'll find Layer Slider. At the time of writing, the developer of this extension was claiming more than 100,000 sales.
These two plugins are quite similar. They offer a lot of customization options and a very advanced slides editor.
Before discovering this plugin, a little confidence: I found Layer Slider easier to use than Revolution Slider.
The pros of Layer Slider
- The programming tool for publishing your slider.
- The possibility to switch to full screen on each slide.
- The skins editor (background, arrows) to customize the appearance of your slideshow with CSS.
- The library of 12 models very successful in design, and ready to be imported.
- The slide editor, and its many options (transitions, effects, texts etc.), offers the possibility to configure each slide separately.
- The interface of the plugin is pleasant to use.
What I didn't like so much
- There is no global overview of the slider before publication, if desired.
- The slides editor is very complete but you have to get used to it, and even use the documentation, to get the most out of it.
- The design of some skins is not that awesome.
- The performance of the plugin. It ranked last in our speed test.
Layer Slider costs $23. The price includes future updates and 6 months of support.
Layer Slider allows you to create advanced WordPress slideshows with many effects and animations. If you want to customize your WordPress slider, this responsive extension will please you. Nevertheless, you will probably need to allow a little time to use it properly.
III – Performance test
To test the performance of each extension, I took into account the following criteria:
- Test service used: WebPageTest (using French city Strasbourg as the location each time). Consideration of the “fully loaded” criterion (when the site is fully loaded, including external scripts and applications).
- Test site hosted on a shared o2switch server.
- WordPress theme used: Twenty Seventeen.
- No extensions enabled, except the one tested.
- The slider has a size of 1200 px/600 px and has the default settings enabled.
- Image weight: 53K, 45K, 37K.
- Each slider was tested on a page with 3 paragraphs of text.
- Nivo Slider (loading time: 1.148s)
- Slider by WD (loading time: 1,277s)
- Smart Slider 3 (loading time: 1,400s)
- Royal Slider (loading time: 1.755s)
- Master Slider (loading time: 1.994s)
- Slider Pro (loading time: 2.039s)
- Soliloquy (loading time: 2.252s)
- Meta Slider (loading time: 2.317s)
- Slider Revolution (loading time: 2.715s)
- Layer Slider (loading time: 3.458s)
These results provide a first overview, but cannot be considered as a final and definitive judgment. You could have different data at home, depending on your theme, your hosting, or the plugins you use.
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And the winner is….
I hope you have understood my point correctly and that you can see more clearly.
At the end of this test, two large families of slider extensions can be detached:
- The “basic” plugins, which remain easy to use: Soliloquy, Nivo Slider, Slider by WD or Meta Slider. They are easy to use, and can be installed very quickly, but can be limited in terms of customization (in particular in their free version).
- The more “complete” plugins, with a lot of options but also a more complex handling (Layer Slider, Smart Slider 3, Royal Slider), even very complex (Slider Revolution). They will allow you more creativity but will take you (much) more time to master.
As a gift, I deliver my podiums to you:
For “basic” extensions
- Meta Slider
- Nivo Slider
For “complete” extensions:
- Smart Slider 3
- Slider Pro
- Royal Slider
And if I had to choose only one: Smart Slider 3.
When making your choice, think about the intuitiveness and options available. If you attach great importance to loading time (and you're right!) Nivo Slider is also an excellent compromise.
To conclude, I would like to ask you two last questions: do you see any interest in using a WordPress slider plugin? If so, which one did you choose for your site?
Explain to me why in the comments, and feel free to share your findings and feedback with me.
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