Google Looks At Itself Through Your Eyes

    February 6, 2009
    Chris Crum

What captures a user’s attention on their screen can play a large part in whether or not they click through to a search engine result. Naturally, that makes finding out where eyeballs go on a SERP vital to their overall search experience, and hence, vital to Google’s strategy.

Google of course obtains this knowledge through extensive eye tracking research. The company has a post up today revealing some findings from their latest efforts in this area.

"Based on eye-tracking studies, we know that people tend to scan the search results in order," says the post written by User Experience Researchers Anne Aula and Kerry Rodden. "They start from the first result and continue down the list until they find a result they consider helpful and click it — or until they decide to refine their query. The heatmap below shows the activity of 34 usability study participants scanning a typical Google results page. The darker the pattern, the more time they spent looking at that part of the page. This pattern suggests that the order in which Google returned the results was successful; most users found what they were looking for among the first two results and they never needed to go further down the page."

Eye tracking google SERP heatmap

One interesting finding, which Google’s Universal Search Team considers a success is that even on results pages where there are images embedded further down the page (such as in the example below), people still generally look at the results in order. There was concern that perhaps the images would capture users’ attention first. I believe I looked at the images first myself though, so I don’t know, maybe I’m a weirdo. Their findings would suggest that I’m not in the majority either way.

"For the Universal Search team, this was a successful outcome. It showed that we had managed to design a subtle user interface that gives people helpful information without getting in the way of their primary task: finding relevant information," the post says.

They note that Google is conducting similar eye tracking tests with image search and Google News. They have discussed such testing with different features in the past as well. Overall, such tests theoretically lead to enhanced usability of products. The results found for SERPs, will make people strive to get that number 1 ranking all the more.