Eye-Tracking In Google Maps: Study Shows Value Of No. 1 Ranking & Social Content

mediative-eye-trackingA new eye-tracking and click-tracking study from Mediative (formerly known as Enquiro) shows the value of having the top spot in Google’s local results, but also suggests that social content and signals can boost rankings further down the page.

Early last month, Mediative did eye tracking on 12 participants and online click tracking on another 90 people as they interacted with Google’s local search results as shown on Google Maps. (The number of test participants on the eye-tracking side seems low to me, but let’s soldier on.) Mediative had the entire group act as if they were on a four-stop trip across Canada, looking for a place to get tattoos in each city.

If I had to sum up the findings from this study, it’s that the famous “golden triangle” does exist when searchers scan Google’s local results, but it doesn’t necessarily apply when lower business listings have more content than top-ranked listings. (If you’re not familiar with the “golden triangle” concept, see the image in this article by Mediative’s Gord Hotchkiss.)

Golden Triangle In Google Maps Results

The first stage of the test involved looking for a place to get a tattoo in Hamilton, Ontario. The top result had one review, but no image. The second listing had an image, and the fourth result had a review with text snippets. Searchers looked at this search result in the classic F-shaped, “golden triangle” scheme.

google-eye-tracking-1

Mediative’s study of online click-tracking for the same query produced somewhat similar results: Most clicks went to the first listing, with the second and third businesses getting progressively fewer clicks. The fourth listing, the one with a review and text snippets, appears to have had more click activity than the third result.

google-eye-tracking-2

When Social Content/Signals Change Behavior

Things got more interesting in the next stage of the test. The participants did the same search, but for London, Ontario this time. In these search results, the first two listings were basic with nothing more than contact info and a website URL. The third listing had all that, plus a ratings indicator showing three red stars, an indicator that Google has eight reviews for this business, and a text snippet from one of those reviews. And in Mediative’s eye-tracking study, those social signals and content helped the third listing attract more attention.

google-eye-tracking-3

And the online click-tracking study for this query also showed the third listing getting a substantial amount of click actively — certainly more than the second business and a comparable amount of clicks as the top-ranked business.

google-eye-tracking-4

As the study participants reproduced these queries using two other Canadian cities, the results were similar: The top-ranked business always garnered attention and clicks, but listings further down the page did well when they had additional social content like star ratings, reviews and text snippets.

As I said above, it may be hard to draw any definite conclusions from a study with 12 eye-tracking participants. But Mediative makes two observations that seem relevant despite the small size:

1. When the top results have fewer social signals such as reviews (e.g. London), lower results get more visual attention.

2. If your website is listed in any position other than the top, and your listing does not include any social signals, it will be relatively ignored, especially if there are other listings that do have social signals.

The study also seems to reinforce past reports about the growing importance of reviews for local searchers, and perhaps also a different eye-tracking study that showed searchers do pay attention to snippets (although those were traditional organic snippets, not local search snippets).

Mediative’s whitepaper is available for download. You’ll need to provide contact information to get it.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Features: Analysis | Google: Maps & Local | Stats: Search Behavior | Top News

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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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