February 9th, 2009

Search engine results through your visitors' eyes

by sage island

A recent study by the Google User Experience Research team (featured here at WebProNews) determined that searches have become so routine that users tend to make decisions about where to look and what to click unconsciously. But Google is clever. They’re using eye-tracking technology to gather valuable information about how users scan search results:

“Based on eye-tracking studies, we know that people tend to scan the search results in order. 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.”

google-eye-tracking

According to Google, adding images to a search results page does not affect the order in which users view results. Even if images appear below text links, users’ eyes are drawn to the top results first.

These results aren’t surprising. They prove what any SEO-savvy marketer already knows — one of the most effective ways of getting noticed on the Web is appearing in the top organic results for your strongest keywords. What does surprise me is how quickly users lose interest in a results page — many users don’t even look beyond the second result.

If you’re not at the top or close to it, now might be the time to revamp your search engine optimization strategy to make sure you’re capitalizing on the power of organic search.