Google Offers A Peek Into Its Internal Eye-Tracking Studies

There’s an interesting post today on the Official Google Blog that gives a glimpse inside the company’s usability and eye-tracking studies — tests that help Google determine what their search results pages should look like.

Google eye-tracking

The image above, for example, shows how users interact with a standard results page with 10 links. The deeper colors up top, Google says, show that most people found what they were looking for in the first two results on the page.

No surprise there, but in May, 2007, when Google introduced Universal Search to its interface, marketers began to wonder how the addition of videos, image thumbnails, and other visual cues would affect searcher behavior. Says Google:

We ran a series of eye-tracking studies where we compared how users scan the search results pages with and without thumbnail images. Our studies showed that the thumbnails did not strongly affect the order of scanning the results and seemed to make it easier for the participants to find the result they wanted.

The thumbnail image seemed to make results with thumbnails easy to notice when the users wanted them … and the thumbnails also seemed to make it easy for people to skip over the results with thumbnails when those results were not relevant to their search.

(There’s an image in Google’s blog post that goes along with that explanation.)

Overall, it’s not the most groundbreaking or in-depth thing you’ll read, but it does provide an interesting peek into how Google tests its search results pages and how we interact with them.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: Universal Search | Google: User Interface | Google: Web Search


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • chiropractic

    That one screenshot in the Google post w/an image in it looks like same results that were discussed on SEL in the past where an image creates a virtual stop sign. Don’t know what the studies say but it looks as though an image in position #4 has little effect on numbers 1,2 and 3 but does effect 5,6 and below.

  • Mark Hodson

    I’m surprised that Google’s researchers jump to the following conclusion:

    “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.”

    This smacks of bad science.

    Some users may click on the first or second result regardless of its relevance, either out of habit or laziness, or because they “trust” Google to come up with the right results.

    Studies of user behaviour, including one well-documented experiment at Cornell University where the first and second results were switched, support this.

    Imagine a study of 100 people asking a policeman for directions. If a high proportion of the people follow his directions, does that show they are accurate? I don’t think so.

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