Eye Tracking Research Update — SES San Francisco


Anne F. Kennedy, SES Advisory Board, International Search Strategist, Beyond Ink USA


Shari Thurow, Founder & SEO Director, Omni Marketing Interactive

It’s the 3rd day of sessions here at SES. I’m lucky to get to sit in on one of my favorite speaker’s sessions – Shari Thurow.  I’ve filled up on coffee and it’s kicking in so with any luck I’ll be able to get you all some decent information on this topic.

After some technical difficulties, looks like the show will go on.

She’s going to do a quick review of eye tracking, then go into the information scent and search engines. After that is eye tracking and SERPs and landing pages. Sounds juicy.

Shari highly recommends a book by Jacob Neilson, Eyetracking Web Usability.  A quote from the book, “the way we present page design, menus and text affects much of what people look at first, keep looking at and ultimately select”.

Eye tracking reveals how the eye moves during the scanning and reading process. Shari continues to go into some very scientific info about the eye and how eye tracking works. But a fascinating piece of data, eye tracking results differ depending on the country it’s taken in. For example, U.S. has the basic F pattern because we read top to bottom, left to right, whereas Asian countries read right to left… therefore the F pattern isn’t going to necessarily exist.

Potential issues with eye tracking studies are that eye movements show the experimenter where the participant looked but not why.  Also, fixation during engagement can be positive or negative. For example, someone may spend a lot of time reading a paragraph but we aren’t sure if they are reading it, or are just confused by what’s written and thinking WTF.

As Shari goes into some basic site design elements, she mentions that if you want someone to perform some type of action on a form that’s on your site, don’t do any type of auto-fill in that box. Many people will ignore it or just click the search button.  Another bit of info, have a button that says SEARCH, not only an image of a magnifying glass, because not everyone understands what that means but they will understand the text. Something else Shari shares, is that simple oversights like putting your navigation in black text on a white background page can confuse people because it’ll look too similar to body text. This may cause them to overlook the navigation.

Jared Spool did a study that found with pogo-sticking visitors, conversions will go down.  If people are bouncing back and forth between, say a category page and product page, they may not end up purchasing. If you have visitors doing some pogo-sticking on your site, look for ways to solve the issue.  Analyze what is causing it (unclear navigation or confusing page setup) and work on a solution.

As for peripheral vision, people can choose what to give attention to and what to screen out. Big things like navigation elements and other things they recognize will grab their attention while other items may be screened out like ads and big images with top stories. You can’t always assume that where people are looking is what they are paying attention to. It’s possible for people to be looking at one thing but not really see it. [how many of us are guilty of that? I know I am]

Moving into Scent of Information. It’s from Peter Pirolli’s Information Foraging Theory.  The Scent of Info consists of textual cues that help you know where you are and how to get to where you want to go.  For search engines it begins with the search box, then the SERP page with text links with bolded words. Images can help to complete a visitor’s Scent of Information and validate what they are doing.

Search engines will display a results page based on what they feel the searcher is looking for (images, information, video).  This will affect the eyetracking of a visitor.

There are a few types of queries that Shari defines. Navigational queries are when someone knows where they want to go, they know the name of the site but do a search on the name rather than type in the URL. Informational queries are searches done with specific keyword or question.  Transactional queries are similar to downloads, listen to music, looking at pictures or watch a video.

Tip by Shari: put Add to Cart in a warm color, above the fold for better activity.

Images placed next to text influence eye movement during a reading task. They found significant influences on fixation placement and duration. They depend on how many colors are in the image or other influences.

Facebook Heat Map

When people look at Facebook, they are looking more at the top of the page, and ignoring images. They are instead looking at text on the page.

On Twitter, there is the similar F shape, but intensity is more in the right column and the text.

YouTube people are looking at navigation, search fields and captions – not just the thumbnails. So for all you video folks, be sure to put those captions on your videos. People are reading them. You do need to make sure your thumbnail is captivating because people are looking at them, even if not as much as the textual elements on the page.

Shari mentions that there is some more information is available on OneUpWeb.

When it comes to landing pages on your site, your graphic images should be high contrast and high quality. They shouldn’t be excessively detailed and related to the content on the page. Don’t make them look like an ad. Avoid stock photography, because if visitors feel the image is a ‘fake’ they will ignore it. Visitors want to see smiling images of real people, especially in a trust industry like doctors and service business.  Some of the most magnetic features people respond to are, smiling faces, sexy anatomy, people looking at the camera, appetizing food, clear instructions or information (not all in the same image necessarily).

Some heat maps have shown where visitors completely ignored stock photos and instead looked at the text on the page. Shari shows many examples of sites with stock photo images on index pages and contact pages where people ignored the large photos on the page and instead concentrated on the text.  [So news flash to designers, pretty pictures, large pictures may look great but it’s quite possible that visitors aren’t even paying attention to it because they are ‘screening’ it out with their peripheral vision. Instead they are looking for information.  Even on Neiman Marcus, they are looking at the top nav, completely ignoring the large image in the middle of the page.]

Dr. Susan Weinshenck – Eyetracking Studies – 7 things to Avoid, is a book that Shari highly recommends to understand this topic more.

If a person is doing a navigation query, people are looking at positions 1, 2 and 3.  For informational task they are looking at the same number of lower ranked results as they did before with navigational queries but clicking less often. People often lingered on listing for informational searches even though they didn’t click on them, and then sometimes people will just click on number 1 just because it’s there, not necessarily because it was the best fit.

Things to remember:

  • Before you implement eye tracking, understand your users goals and motivations.
  • Make sure the Information Scent matches searcher goals and behaviors.
  • Review the appearance of the search listings – are they effective.
  • In order to accurately interpret eye tracking data you much understand how and why.
  • Make sure the firm you hire is qualified to measure and interpret data.
  • Keep eye tracking data in perspective.

Some bonus info on gender differences. When women are doing a task like looking at a page selling shirts, women looked at the product, not the model faces. Men looked at the face.  On full body shots, women looked at faces. Men looked at faces and ummm… yea, straight men even looked at the crotch.

[Another great presentation by Shari. Definitely look at the books she recommends to understand this topic more thoroughly.  It’s more than just the F shape on SERPs.  It’s important to know how people are reacting to your site design once they reach your site. If you want them to effectively browse your site, make sure you are including elements that allow for that.]

Once a hard working corporate type, Jayme traded in her office and business attire for cowboy boots and the Sierra Nevada mountains. At one time Jayme was the director of SEO for Bruce Clay Inc., then senior SEO analyst for WebMetro. She now spends her time out in the country. As a busy mom, soccer coach, weekly volleyball player, weekend hiker and hobbyist photographer she does manage to find a few hours a week to stay connected to the Internet Marketing world plus she is still doing SEO on a handful of clients. You won't find her active on Twitter or her own blog, because when she does have spare time she's usually away from her computer enjoying what life has to offer, away from the computer monitor. In fact her own website is sinfully neglected. Even though she has grand plans to one day put some energy into her own blog that day still hasn't arrived, possibly after her kids are both in school.

See Jayme's author page for links to connect on social media.

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