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September 23, 2009

Bending the Golden Triangle

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I think it’s safe to say most of us are guilty of it, and I think it’s also safe to say a lot of the time we don’t even realise it. Humans are initially drawn to colourful images rather than text. It’s a part of our perception. It’s why brands invest in good looking logos, why Microsoft moved on from MS-DOS, and why I keep choosing a Penang curry cause the photo above the counter looks ‘so damn nice!’ (proof we do eat with our eyes). It’s an act we’re inclined to do.


search engine golden triangle

Photo by specialkrb via Creative Commons

But how is this inclination important to SEO?
In 2005, Enquiro Research released a study of people’s eye tracking patterns when viewing search results. They discovered a common trend, calling it the Golden Triangle. According to the Golden Triangle, there is a tendency to view the results is a similar way, beginning at the top left hand side of the page, moving down and then right, once a title catches your attention. The top three or four positions are likely to receive most eye time and moving further down the page the amount declines. This pattern creates a triangle. The top spot on the page gets the maximum exposure and majority of hits. The links further down and sponsored links on the left get little attention, giving credit to the theory that a position on top of the second page may have a better click through rate than at the bottom of the first (a discussion for another day).

In 2007, Enquiro Research released a study detailing the impact of blended search on the Golden Triangle. They concluded that blended search results (results including images, video and maps from the different search verticals) change the way people scan the page. Instead of forming a triangle from the top left hand side of the page, people briefly look to the left hand corner, then down to the first image (or images). Once the image has been processed, the eye will then continue on down the page. So for example, if a YouTube video was to return in second place, people would likely skip past the first result, view the video and move onto the lower results, leaving the top ranked site at a disadvantage. Heartbreaking, isn’t it!?

But let’s not get carried away here, let’s not send an email to Google HQ, or start a Facebook group called ‘Blended search, meh!’ (gotta love Facebook language). After all, blended search is on the way up. It is widely believed that Google’s increase in the amount of search variables, 120 to over 200, coincided with the introduction of Blended search. And Bruce Clay recently stated that “we’ve not yet seen even the tip of the iceberg” when asked about the importance of engagement objects on websites and within search results.

You start to get the idea that videos and images will become an integral part of SEO.
The bright side is that blended search is relatively uncompetitive at the moment, is going to increase in use and (as Enqurio discovered) offers a more eye catching option. If a site can begin to rank well for images and video, they can begin to take up more hot spots within the golden triangle and attract more hits. Optimising images and videos can give a website that elusive competitive edge.

So next time, I’ll stop and think about how the menu sells its products and the reasons why I chose one over the other. I may even move away the Penang, but probably to the Pad Thai because its image is slightly to the left.





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