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Eye tracking research into website usage

An interesting study was published in 2005 on how web users view the rankings appearing on a search engine results page. The US based company Eyetools, used 'eye tracking' software to monitor the way that 50 users viewed a set of Google search results.

The result of this research, shown in this screen shot, found that 100% of users looked at the top 3 listings on the page with only 20% of users looking at the 10th ranked website. It also showed that people tend to view the 'organic listings' on the left of the screen more than the pay-per-click listings to the right.

The research highlights the benefits of achieving a much prized top 3 ranking. It also indicated that getting a pay-per-click listing at the top left of the page - which is often allocated to the top two advertisers for popular terms - can allow for significantly more traffic than further down the page. However, whether this increased volume of traffic is as cost-effective is another matter that needs to be measured!

A press release on the findings can be found here.

Although not entirely surprising, this research adds another level of understanding on search engine usage and the balance of traffic between 'natural' and PPC traffic, at least on Google. The results would also indicate that on Overture's partners, where in most cases the top sponsored results are displayed on the left above the main 'natural' listings, the clickthrough rates are likely to be higher.

The use of eye tracking software to identify the 'hot spots' on a web page are one thing for search results. It could also be used to assess how well your website performs in getting visitors to view the important content on your site and follow links or take action. To view a case study of this type of work, view the PDF document here

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