Statistics Denmark has a good tradition in usability tests of its website. In 2006 they pioneered eye tracking. Annegrete Wulff of Statistics Denmark explained this method in the 2006 International Marketing and Output Database Conference (imaodbc) in Avila and got the Bo Sundgren Award for her presentation.
Just some days ago the paper describing this approach has been published in The International Journal of Public Information Systems.

Some informations presented in this study:
“Eye tracking is a tool used to analyse “human – computer” interaction. The user’s eye movements and fixation time are both registered in this technique. However, whether the person actually perceives what the eyes are fixated on is not documented. It is up for discussion whether the method is able to be used independently.”

“The move from paper products to the Internet will consequently place the users in a new situation: where once only rather limited and previously processed data existed in paper format they now find themselves in the middle of the overwhelming information society.
In this “jungle” the users are left to their own devices to search, find, select, retrieve, comprehend and evaluate the information. To facilitate such a process it is of importance to create a logical information structure and use understandable terminology. However, what is logical and understandable for one user is not necessarily the same for someone else. The idea is, nevertheless, to build on some commonly used standard.
The intention of our experiment was to follow up on this idea: do the users more easily find functions and information placed in a similar manner to many other sites? Will more help information on the page improve the understanding of the structure? Which parts of the site are most likely to be read?”

“The people tested were 10 library students – 4 men and 6 women – with only very limited experience in the use of Statistics Denmark’s website. They were asked to find some information and carry out specific, defined tasks on Statistics Denmark’s web site.”

Eye Tracking Heatmap

A red spot indicates that 10 fixations have been counted in this position. The number of fixations decreases through orange and yellow. A light green spot indicates 1-2 fixations. The red crosses mark mouse clicks.
“In this example the task is to find the number of Swedish citizens in Denmark. In this case the navigation is by topic using the left side column. This appeared to be evident to everyone … However, when selecting tables in the following step, the text lines were long and apparently difficult to understand and it proved difficult to determine the difference
between them. This was also stated by the testers in the follow up interview.”

Lessons learnt:
“Lesson 2 learnt concerns the length of text lines. It is evident when search results are presented and where StatBank table titles are presented in a list that only the first few results are observed and approximately one third of the line. In the case of StatBank table titles, however, the last third of the title is crucial in order to distinguish one table from another. The search results should be presented in such a way that the content is obvious from the very start of the line.”

Another lesson learnt (number 4 out of 5):
“In general the left side column appears to be frequented, particularly the upper section. In the mid column the focus appears to be on the upper left section and partly down to the lower right. The right column is not often in focus.”

“Some of our results were quite persuasive and supported the comments from other users. However, we suggest that eye tracking should not be the only method employed, but be used in combination with more traditional usability methods like, “think aloud”. ”

Download the study: Annegrete Wulff, Eyes Wide Shut – or using eye tracking technique to test a website, International Journal of Public Information Systems. ijpis, vol 2007:1.

More information from Annegrete Wulff, Statistics Denmark
E-Mail: awu followed by @ and then (Annegrete by this I hope to protect you from spam ;)).

Some remarks about The International Journal of Public Information Systems:
“The International Journal of Public Information Systems wants to link researchers and other professionals who share an interest in the process, nature, significance and implications of public information systems design. The journal is a forum for analytical and comparative articles, essays, case-studies, and book reviews on such topics as innovation and research, intellectual property, entrepreneurship, and products. The journal publishes insightful pieces intended for general readers as well as specialists. To illuminate important debates and draw attention to specific topics, the journal occasionally publishes thematic issues.” Published by Mid Sweden University. ISSN 1653-4360. Editor in Chief: Bo Sundgren. Link: