Website optimization through eyetracking: latest findings

Just finished reading a fascinating article over at Basically, a group of researchers in San Francisco observed 46 people for one hour as their eyes followed mock news websites and real multimedia content. They tracked the movements their eyes made and made all kinds of cool graphs and charts and came to all kinds of provisional conclusions. Some of the most interesting patterns they observed (in terms of being useful for people developing websites) include the following:

  • The eyes most often fixated first in the upper left of the page, then hovered in that area before going left to right. Only after perusing the top portion of the page for some time did their eyes explore further down the page.
  • Dominant headlines most often draw the eye first upon entering the page — especially when they are in the upper left, and most often (but not always) when in the upper right.
  • Smaller type encourages focused viewing behavior (that is, reading the words), while larger type promotes lighter scanning.
  • Underlined headlines discouraged testers from viewing blurbs on the homepage.
  • On average, a headline has less than a second of a site visitor’s attention.
  • Navigation placed at the top of a homepage performed best.
  • Shorter paragraphs performed better than longer ones.
  • The standard one-column format performed better in terms of number of eye fixations — in other words, people viewed more.
  • Ads in the top and left portions of a homepage received the most eye fixations.
  • Close proximity to popular editorial content really helped ads get seen.
  • Text ads were viewed most intently, of all the types tested.
  • Size matters. Bigger ads had a better chance of being seen.
  • The bigger the image, the more time people took to look at it.
  • Clean, clear faces in images attract more eye fixations.
  • People were more likely to correctly recall facts, names, and places when they were presented with that information in a text fomat. However new, unfamiliar, conceptual information was more accurately recalled when participants received it in a multimedia graphic format.

What I found really interesting about these results is, if they’re valid, they mean that nearly all blog themes (including this one, argh!) are designed suboptimally in terms of drawing people’s attention to the commercial content (ads).

Two- and three-column themes nearly always have the posts aligned left and the ads aligned right. But on the other hand, perhaps if all commercial themes were designed so people felt they were spending more time looking at ads, they’d be turned off, feeling like the blogs looked too spammy? What do you guys think! Holla!

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14 Responses to “Website optimization through eyetracking: latest findings”

  1. Jared Says:

    I think what you need to do is have partial ads behind the content which doesn’t completely distract from your content. Ads that last about 2 to 5 seconds that pop up behind the article your reading and then move your eyes to a larger advertisement. Currently, ads pop up in front of content which just pisses you off. For example, say you had a blog about indigestion, you could have an add that had a Rolaids role off from the right down to the left and appear to “bounce” of letters until it reached the ad you wanted to have viewed.

    But, even still, it’s an ad. And, lets face it, blatant ads suck. So, your best bet is to do what all news shows do now. And that is to have articles and interesting “news” stories that are designed to look and feel like an informative tidbit but is really just a promotional advertising gimmick. The trick is to get the advertising money for it.


  2. Elcorin Says: to GoogleReader!
    Have a nice day


  3. Chuss Says:

    would of thought spotty faces would get more eye time.. like OMFG look at THAT@!#&$%!@#


  4. MLDina Says:

    These are great studies for a lot of online marketers. Sites such as CrazyEgg that allow you to track clicks, or views in this case, really can help improve campaign performance.


  5. Andy @ Stock charts Says:

    Interesting read. Thank you for sharing this information. I would like to note “Shorter paragraphs”. From my experience, yes it’s true. One thing that I don’t like in blogs are very long posts and then the main idea can only be found at the end. Many people get too tired reading very long posts and they want to see quickly the topic and main idea they are looking for. This post I can say is an ideal post length.


  6. flexmatrix Says:

    Yeah it’s a tough call–more ad eyetime versus “blog is spam” perception. I guess all you can do is test it. We usually launch sites ad-lite (or even absent!) and start introducing them once (if!) the site takes off.


  7. AVMode Says:

    I must say this really is an informative entry. Ive been developing websites for a couple of years and I can attest that these information were used as guidelines for developing such.


  8. Carla Says:

    I didn’t know about on the average, a headline has less than a second of a site visitor’s attention. Can you expound on this?


  9. Josh Zehtabchi Says:

    This is an amazing tool… It kind of reminds me of Predator
    .-= Josh Zehtabchi´s last blog ..V2interactive partner program due to launch =-.



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