Eyetracking follows eye movements as a
viewer looks at some type of stimulus.
Search eyetracking online and you’ll
find that it’s been applied in cognitive
science, psychology, advertising, medical
research, and human-computer interaction (HCI).
For designers and marketers, eyetracking studies
provide fascinating information on what people see,
fixate on … or ignore. Eyetracking shows not only
the viewer’s overall eye movement but also:
Heat maps are hot
- entrance and exit points
- areas of intense interest
- dead zones (what viewers don’t see or attend to)
- specific elements that get the most attention
Eyetracking is in vogue in part because of its usefulness
in evaluating website usability and e-mail effectiveness.
For designers and marketers, the greatest
insight these studies offer has to do with the role of
graphics in marketing via the web and e-mail.
In looking at design’s role, heat maps are perhaps
the most revealing of all the elements of an
eyetracking study. Heat maps show the aggregate
gaze patterns of a set of viewers—warmer colors
show areas where most users looked; colder colors
show areas that few users noticed. Black areas are
dead zones where virtually no one’s gaze goes. (See
examples at blog.eyetools.net/
Z or reverse S and now the F
Eyetracking studies reveal that in print ad and
newspaper viewing, the gaze pattern is usually a Z
or backwards S—the eye enters at the upper left,
sweeps across right, moves down diagonally or in a
lazy curve, and exits lower right.
For websites, the gaze pattern is described as
an F, also known as the “golden triangle.” In a joint
study by Enquiro and Did-it and eyetracking firm
Eyetools on the eye movement of people viewing
Google search result pages, most viewers looked at
results in an F-shaped scan pattern. The eye scans
vertically along the left, then right apparently only
if something catches the eye or is deemed relevant.
The golden triangle, then, is across the top, angling
back to the left of the page down to the bottommost
“above the fold” point, typically in the third or
fourth position on the page. The right mid-section
and right-most side of the page get little attention.
Usability expert Jakob Nielsen’s recent eyetracking
studies on different types of web pages also show
that the F pattern predominates. Nielsen describes it
as two horizontal stripes followed by a vertical stripe.
Look me in the eye
Eyetracking studies of print advertising have shown
that photographs, especially faces, get the first fixations.
In particular, eyes in photos of people attract
The power of text
The Stanford Poynter project (Eyetracking III) initial
study on online news website reading found that
viewers focused first on text, especially headlines,
and tended to ignore graphics and photos. The
study caused quite a stir, as it supported the views
of many HCI experts that photographs and other
graphics are often distractions and represent nonvalue-
Many designers questioned the study’s methodology
because it upended traditional thinking that
graphics are the entry point. In an update to the
study at www.poynterextra.org/et/i.htm, the authors
state, “The next round of analysis is in, and text
remains the preferred point of entry over graphics
among online news readers studied. …”
It may seem at odds with the preceding findings,
but among readers whose first glances on a page
do include graphics, the most recent analysis shows
they’re more likely to fixate on banner ads or photographs
than on information graphics or other art.
The truth about banners
“Banner blindness” is the term that emerged to
describe results of older studies that showed users
of websites tend to ignore banner ads. The Stanford
Poynter study, however, found that banner ads do
catch some online readers’ attention: “For the 45
percent of banner ads looked at, our subjects’ eyes
fixated on them for an average one second. That is
long enough to perceive the ad.”
Overall, the studies suggest that people often do not
“see” ads—text or graphic—located in the right side
of pages … or perhaps anywhere else if the ads have
no relevance to the viewer. Ads on search pages are
something of an exception, in that search ads placed
on the right side of a page, and especially at the top,
do get some user attention. That could be the result
of relevance to the search or of expectation or habit.
Giving images a chance
According to an article posted by Dan Farber
at www.answers.com/topic/eye-tracking, which
includes an interview with Jakob Nielsen:
- Image quality is also a factor in drawing attention.
When people do look at graphics, crisp images fare
better than small, fuzzy stuff. What a relief!
- People in pictures facing forward are more inviting
and approachable … the same as in print.
- People who look like models (perfect human specimens,
according to popular culture) are less likely
to draw attention than “normal” people.
Watch for further eyetracking studies on photos
of faces, specifically on websites as related to task
(goal-directed and non-goal directed) and familiarity
with the site (first time visit vs. returning visits,
etc.). And we’ll be seeing more on how product
pages are viewed vs. content-focused pages.
But wait! Now for e-mail ads
Marketing Sherpa’s E-mail Marketing Benchmark
2006 reported that text-only e-mails did not result
in more words being read. Instead, the presence of
an image in an e-mail ad increased the amount of
time that people spent with the text.
The study’s authors stated that “eye candy”—
decorating à la print advertising—detracts from
effectiveness in e-mail ads. They stressed that design
and layout of e-mail ads are, nevertheless, all-important.
The heads have the eyes
In print ad and newspaper studies, headlines are
viewed after photos. It’s now common to run a
headline below a photo it references because when
the headline was above the photo, many readers
missed it or paid little attention.
On websites, headlines—particularly the initial
few words—are often scanned first and quickly …
and get the most attention. It’s safe to say headlines
are your best chance to catch a reader’s attention.
SIDEBAR: Caveat emptor
As you look at
keep in mind the type
of media and applications
to. And remember,
tell us everything
going on in the
viewer’s brain. As the
Poynter people put
it in their update: “In
from the research, it
should be noted that
has shown that some
beyond the area considered
within an eye
fixation-cluster. So it is
possible that artwork
is perceived even if
there is no direct fixation
F-Shaped Pattern For
Reading Web Content
Project on News
“Goodbye Z-pattern; Hello F-pattern?” by Geoff Hart
“Projects Too Much
from Too Little,” by Alan Jacobson