Eye-Tracking: Analysis of User Behavior in Websites and Search Engines

October 31st, 2006 - Filed under Contextual Advertising,Internet Marketing & SEO by Cristian Mezei
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Eye TrackingHow do users interact with the list of ranked results of WWW search engines? Do they read the abstracts sequentially from top to bottom, or do they skip links? How many of the results do users evaluate before clicking on a link or reformulating the search? The answer to all these questions was found by a team of Cornell University’s Human-Computer Interaction and Computer Science Groups on an Eye-Tracking research paper.

Below, you will find a heatmap of Google’s search results pages most clicked and wanted sections:

Google click distribution graph

What these guys did with the research, is to seek to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of what the searcher is doing and reading before actually selecting an online document. And they managed that using data that consists of 397 queries from 26 searchers (participants). They analyzed all behavior before a user clicks on the first link, or exits the page otherwise.

Number of abstracts viewed above and below

To better understand the above graph, I’ll explain:

  • If a user clicked on the 5th result in a search engine results page, then he already “scanned” (but didn’t thought it would help him, so he didn’t clicked) 2-3 results (SERP positions 2-5) above the 5th result and close to none or rarely one below.
  • If a user clicked on the 7th result in a search engine results page, then he already “scanned” (but didn’t thought it would help him, so he didn’t clicked) 6 results (SERP positions 1-6) above the 7th result and 3 results below the 7th result.

The numbers in the graph above have decimal separators, because only 26 participants and 397 queries were tested, so an average number was calculated. You can round the numbers yourself, aproximating a 3,4 position to either a 3 or a 4.

One cannot consider this study as a highly relevant research paper, mainly because they only tested 26 participants, altough it’s a start and it shows us some basic usage and patterns of searchers.

Here is the original Cornell paper via SeoResearcher (thanks Krumel).

Enquiro also published a research paper on Eye-Tracking and their data is:

Organic Listings:

  • Rank 1 – 100%
  • Rank 2 – 100%
  • Rank 3 – 100%
  • Rank 4 – 85%
  • Rank 5 – 60%
  • Rank 6 – 50%
  • Rank 7 – 50%
  • Rank 8 – 30%
  • Rank 9 – 30%
  • Rank 10 – 20%

Paid Listings (PPC – Sponsored Ads):

  • Rank 1 – 50%
  • Rank 2 – 40%
  • Rank 3 – 30%
  • Rank 4 – 20%
  • Rank 5 – 10%
  • Rank 6 – 10%
  • Rank 7 – 10%
  • Rank 8 – 10%

So if your Adwords ad resides in the 5th place, you get 10 times less click exposure than the one residing in the 1st place on the sponsored ads section (Google’s right sponsored ads sidebar).

There are a few companies that offer eye-tracking services and analytics:

  1. Eye Tracking
  2. EyeTrack III
  3. Etre
  4. Applied Science Laboratories
  5. Arrington Research
  6. Eye Tools

Jakob Nielsen, Chris Sherman from Searchenginewatch, Seth Godin and Dan Farber from ZDnet also have a few words on the Eye-Tracking technology, which is best used as an extra usability service to websites.

Don’t forget about MarketingSherpa’s Search Marketing Benchmark Guide 2007: 185 charts & 18 eyetracking maps (no aff.) bookwhich gives you:

  • Eyetracking lab study results: how consumers view your search ads
  • 3,944 real-life marketers’ search budgets & results
  • PPC paid search advertising data
  • SEO – search engine optimization stats

Alternative/complementary solutions to eye-tracking could be heat map tracking solution like CrazyEgg’s.

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8 Comments so far

Mitch T said:
November 1st, 2006

This is great stuff for web marketing types but misses the key point of both organic and PPC results – relevance. I haven’t read the details of the study but it would be most interesting to see how the click ratios change as you measure one word vs 4 word key phrases, or industry to industry.

Lee Odden said:
November 9th, 2006

Enquiro just released a new report today comparing Google, Yahoo and MSN search results. It’s interesting how users perceive relevancy differently based on the design attributes of the search results pages.

November 9th, 2006

Lee, do you have a link ? I can’t find the report on their website.

Lee Odden said:
November 9th, 2006

Here’s a rundown plus links to the old Google report, a summary of the new report and where to buy the new report. http://www.toprankblog.com/2006/11/new-google-yahoo-msn-eye-tracking-report/

November 9th, 2006

Cool. Thanks Lee.

Mike said:
November 29th, 2006

what about eye tracking on regular websites, not on search engines? what about eye tracking in blogs?

Arnie said:
January 5th, 2007

Mike, my understanding is that the golden triangle applies to both websites and search engines. People are tend to look & click on the top left of almost any page.

By the way, we are an SEO & link building services company and we incorporated the info into a basic video on our site and the feedback has been very good. Enough so that we might even make a new, more professional video:-)

ChiCityJoe said:
June 15th, 2008

There’s a site that I use called SEOGroup.com to track my Google SERP positions. You can submit up to 3 keywords per report. The site link is http://seogroup.com/evaluation/ … Its definitly free to use and once it generate the report for you, there’s some helpful hints as well too. Hope this help anyone out there who’s looking for a free seo tool to use.

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