Eye Tracking: How Users Scan Search Results
In November 2006 a test was carried out that measured the eye movements of users performing a search on Google. The results showed that most users focused on the top-left hand side of the page. This can be seen in the image below:
This illustration just goes to show how little attention the results get towards the bottom of the search page but also how little attention Google’s paid ads are getting on the right hand side.
What isn’t displayed in the image are the eye “series of movements” when scanning the page. These results showed that users tended to create an “F-Shaped” pattern with their eye movements, focusing first and longest on the upper-lefthand corner of the screen; moving down vertically through the first two or three results; moving across the page to the first paid page result; moving down another few vertical results; and then moving across again to the second paid result.
In May 2008 Google introduced the notion of Universal Search. This was the move that Google made from just showing 10 “blue links” to showing other types of media such as images, videos, news results and so on. Although Google were the first to introduce this type of search, the other search engines soon caught on and Google’s ‘Universal Search’ is now referred to in the industry as “Blended Search”.
Now, the results for the blended search were, as expected, very different. The results showed more of a chunking effect, where the bulk the chunks were around the rich media such as images or video. Understandably, users focus on the image first. Then they look at the text beside it to see whether it corresponds to the image or video thumbnail.
This study is a big reminder to just how important the search engine result pages really are. Google are always going to be changing how they lay these results out on their quest to be the ONE search engine that everybody uses. Therefore, it’s extremely important to be prepared for this.