Eye Tracking (2): Search Results

How do people navigate with their eyes on a webpage? Which parts of the screen are looked at, which ones are neglected? Are their rules, general habits? Knowing such habits we can take measures and optimize our content presentation.

Two Dutch Companies have made some research on visual attention to search engine results. They used a camera to track the eye movements while exploring the results of an online search. Some interesting patterns were detected:

Eye movements Search Results

Image: Eye movements of a person searching for information on a page with search results. The hills are the spots which the person has looked at. The higher the hills, the longer the person looked at the spot.

The results in the researchers words :

“Organic results (results in the left two thirds of the screen) viewed most often.
The sponsored results on the right side reached a relatively small number of respondents. 98% of the respondents viewed the organic results, 95% the sponsored results at the top and 31% the sponsored results on the right.

Number of viewed search results: 9
On average are 9,2 results were viewed before the first click was made. The average number of viewed organic search results is 6,6. Of the sponsored results at the top and on the right respectively 2,6 and 0,6 results were viewed.

Average viewing duration: 10 seconds
On average, consumers spent 10,4 seconds on a page to view the search results. Organic results were viewed 8,8 seconds on average. The sponsored results at the top and on the right were viewed less long; 2,0 and 0,2 seconds.

Average viewing duration per result: 1,1 second
Advertisers should communicate within the consumer in a very short period of time. The average viewing duration for a search result is 1,1 second. The average viewing duration for an organic result is 1,3 seconds and for a sponsored result at the top 0,8 second. The sponsored results on the right were viewed only short (average 0,2 seconds).

Transaction searchers view more results
Consumers searching for a transaction viewed more results than consumers searching for information. The total viewing duration is therefore also longer when one is searching for a transaction.”

After the eye tracking sessions people had to explain their reasons for clicking on a search result. There are seven motives why people click on a search result.
“An important reason to click is
(1) the familiarity with and reliability of the website or organization. Keywords which refer to a brand are therefore very important.
(2) A high position in the search results also creates trust and suggests to the respondents that the information is recent.
(3) A third important reason for clicking is the presence of the keyword in the search result.
(4) Consumers are also looking for certain website services such as the opportunity to read user experiences or to compare different products.
(5) (Indirect) price information is important: especially keywords which refer to ‘low costs’.
(6) The announcement that there is a large variety of products can also be a reason for respondents to click on the search result.
(7) Finally, consumers seem to avoid results with aggressive advertising. Preventing (too) many capital letters and exclamation marks can positively influence click behaviour.”

Some important messages for those who are going to make online ads!

Given the small number of people participating in the study (50) we have to be prudent in generalizing the results. But there is nevertheless a good (and probably quite robust) insight in user behaviour…. and something to learn!

Download the study: Visual attention to Online Search Engine Results. A study by Market research Agency De Vos & Jansen in cooperation with full service Search Engine Media Agency Checkit (no year): Visual attention to Online Search Engine Results.
Link to the authors website

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