Eye Tracking Research Update: SES San Francisco 2010, Day 3

Aug 20, 2010 | 1,810 views | by Navneet Kaushal
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The first session on Day 3, that we covered was on “Eye Tracking Research Update”. The agenda of the session was about “How Eye Tracking and Information Scent can influence search engines and landing pages.”


  • Anne F. Kennedy, SES Advisory Board, International Search Strategist, Beyond Ink USA


  • Shari Thurow, Founder & SEO Director, Omni Marketing Interactive

Shari Thurow began the session by quoting a line from the book by Jacob Neilson on Eyetracking Web Usability – “ the way we present page design, menus and text affects much of what people look at first, keep looking at and ultimately select.”

Shari talked about how eye tracking shows, how the eye moves during the scanning and reading process. She got into the scientific details about the eye and how eye tracking works. She pointed out that, eye tracking results differ depending on the country it is taken in. For example, U.S. has the basic F pattern, where text is read from top to bottom and left to right. Whereas some Asian countries read right to left. Thus, the F pattern does not exist in that case.

Some of the potential problems with eye tracking studies:

  • The eye movements determine where the participant looked but fails to determine why.
  • Also, eye fixation during engagement can be both positive or negative. For example, someone might spend a decent amount of time reading the text but it cannot be determined whether, the person is actually read it or got confused with the content.

Shari also spoke about some basic site design elements. She specially mentioned that, if the desire is to make the site visitor to perform some type of action on a form given, then is not wise to do any type of auto-fill there. Most people ignore or just click on the search button. Another great bit of information that, she shared was of having a button that says SEARCH along with the image of magnifying glass. A lot of people do not usually comprehend the image but by looking at the text, they would understand, what they are supposed do. Something more that Shari shared was that putting the navigation in black text on a white background page generally confuses people because of its alikeness to the body text.

Shari then moved to the topic of pogo-sticking. She said, that a study done by Jared Spool ascertained that conversions go down with pogo-sticking. If people are forced to bounce back and forth between, say a category page and product page, then there is very less chance that they would do the purchase. Analyzing what causes it (unclear navigation or confusing page setup) and fixing it becomes a necessity.

Talking about peripheral vision, Shari said that it depends, what people will choose to give attention to and what to skip. Things like navigation elements catch their attention while other items like ads or big images with top stories get screened-out. It is hard to tell, where people look at and where their attention is. Also, there is a possibility that a visitor might notice something but not necessarily see it with full attention.

Moving forward she went on to the topic of Peter Pirolli’s Information Foraging Theory – Scent of Information. The Scent of Information comprise of textual cues that help to determine where one is and how to reach, where one wants to go. In case of search engines, it begins with the search box, then goes to the SERP page with text links with bold words. And finally, images help to complete a visitor’s Scent of Information and validate what they are doing. Search engines display results page are based on what they believe the searcher is looking for – images, information, video,etc. This affects the eye tracking of a visitor.

Types of queries that according to Shari, that generally takes place:

  • Navigational queries – This happens when the user knows the name of the site but rather than typing the URL does a search.
  • Informational queries – This takes place, when searches are done with specific keyword or question.
  • Transactional queries – This type of query is quite similar to when the user downloads, listens to music or watches a video through search.

Tip by Shari: put Add to Cart in a warm color, above the fold for better activity.

Shari also emphasized on the fact that by putting images to text, eye movement during a reading task can be greatly influenced. It basically, depends on the number of colors present in the image.

When people look at Facebook, they look more at the top of the page, ignoring images, said Shari. Instead, their focus is on the text present in the page. Similarly, there is a F shape on Twitter, but the intensity is more in the right column and the text. On YouTube, people focus on navigation, search fields and captions and not just the thumbnails. The key is to make thumbnails attractive because people look at them, even if not as much as the textual elements on the page.

Talking about landing pages, Shari spoke about how the graphic images should be of high contrast and high quality. They are not meant to excessively detailed and must not be related to the content on the page. Fake photographs are turn-offs. Visitors like smiling images of real people, especially when it comes to websites of doctors and service business. The most attractive features that people respond to are – smiling faces, sexy anatomy, people looking at the camera, appetizing food, clear instructions or information.

Dr. Susan Weinshenck – Eyetracking Studies – 7 things to Avoid, is a book that Shari highly recommends to understand this topic more.

If the user does a navigation query, the focus is at the top 3 results. When it comes to informational query, they look at the same number of higher ranked results like they do with navigational queries but click less often. Mostly, people just click on number 1 just because it is there, not necessarily because it is the best fit.


  • Better understanding of user goals and motivations is important before implementing eye tracking
  • Necessary that Information Scent matches searcher goals and behaviors
  • Need to keep eye tracking data in perspective
  • Landing pages with high-quality appealing images
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4.thumbnail  Eye Tracking Research Update: SES San Francisco 2010, Day 3

Navneet Kaushal

Navneet Kaushal is the founder and CEO of PageTraffic, an SEO Agency in India with offices in Chicago, Mumbai and London. A leading search strategist, Navneet helps clients maintain an edge in search engines and the online media. Navneet's expertise has established PageTraffic as one of the most awarded and successful search marketing agencies.
4.thumbnail  Eye Tracking Research Update: SES San Francisco 2010, Day 3
4.thumbnail  Eye Tracking Research Update: SES San Francisco 2010, Day 3