Eyetracking and search results

By Steve Outing

Having managed an online eyetracking study before, I’m always fascinated when a new study comes out. As Search Insider reports, a new eyetracking study offered some insight into how people view search-engine results.

Where do people look first on a search results page? To the top “Sponsored Links” the vast majority of the time, for Google, MSN Search and Yahoo! OK, that may not seem particularly surprising, because most eyetracking studies find the first eye fixations high up on the page and to the left. But it is surprising, at least to me, because on Google, for example, the top sponsored ads are in a screened box, meant to differentiate these paid results from the pure search results below. We might expect to see some “blindness” to ads at the top of the page — that is, people ignoring them and never glancing at them because they know that’s ad space. (In eyetracking studies, you see banner-ad blindness consistently.)

An interesting related result was poorer performance on these top ads on MSN Search than on Google or Yahoo! The MSN results layout is nearly identical to Google’s, but perhaps it’s the coloring that makes those look like ads; thus they get ignored more. Among the top sponsored ad links, clickthroughs were much lower on MSN than the other search engines.

As I’m about to be spending some money on search ads, I’ll take this study as advice to stick with Google and Yahoo!

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!