Study: Reviews & Images Drive Clicks In Mobile

Last November Canadian digital agency Mediative (owned by Canada’s Yellow Pages Group) released an eye- and click-tracking study focused on Google Places and Google Maps on the PC. We wrote up the results when they were published. Mediative then followed up that study with a similar one focused on the Google Places app on the iPhone.

For the iPhone-app study, just published yesterday, Mediative monitored eye- and click-tracking with 12 people in Canada. They ranged in age from 21 to 45. The participants were asked to find places to get a tattoo in each of several Canadian cities. Here’s the task as described by Mediative:

Every participant in the study was given the same scenario as in the previous Google Places study – an imaginary road trip with stops in Hamilton, London, Winnipeg and Edmonton, with the task of choosing a place for a friend to get a tattoo in each of those cities based on the Google Places search results. From the participants in the eye tracking part of our study, we recorded each individual session, and then compiled the sessions to create heat maps that represent aggregate gaze data and supplement the qualitative findings.

Screen size was a critical difference between the PC and iPhone studies. Beyond this Mediative found that images and reviews were very important in capturing users’ eye movements and clicks.

The image on the left shows yellow bubbles of various sizes. The larger the size of the bubble, the more time the eye spent in that area of the screen. The numbers represent the progression of movement of the eye across the screen during the first several seconds. In other words the eye spent the most time on an image on the right, which was nearly the last thing considered in this sequence.

On the right screen above, red indicates more time spent and green less time spent. The second image in this case got the most attention among the three images. Mediative explains: “It’s the only image on this screen of a tattoo; both the other images are of storefronts.” Thus the image was directly relevant to the searcher’s objective: find a tattoo vendor.

As a general matter, people on the iPhone app scanned left to right and then down the page, not unlike eye-tracking patterns on the desktop. According to Mediative, reviews were an especially significant factor in eye-tracking patterns in the iPhone test:

People typically start looking in the upper left part of the screen, scan from left to right, then move down to the next result, and scan from left to right again. However, given the small space of the iPhone screen, some people will have their attention pulled to the right to look at an image, and may continue a scan down to the next image, before resuming a left-to-right scan pattern. If they start scrolling down, then their gaze will stay on the left side until they hit a listing of interest. In the examples we used in this study, in almost every case it meant that they would scroll down until they hit a listing with a better than 3-star review.

What Mediative observed is that where there were fewer “social signals” (e.g., reviews) among the top results users went further down the page to find places that had not only reviews but at least three stars. According to the report, “This presents an opportunity for businesses whose websites are not listed at the top; they can be more competitive by adding positive reviews.”

Mediative offered the following conclusions and recommendations:

  • Reviews and other social signals grab attention: “If a business website is listed in any position other than the top three, and the listing does not include any social signals, it will be relatively ignored, especially if there are other listings that do have social signals.”
  • Reviews drive clicks: “Positive reviews on the Google Places iPhone app were the biggest single factor we observed that determine which listings got clicks and which did not.”
  • Volume of reviews matter:  Mediative found “that 29 of the 47 clicks went to listings that had at least four reviews.”
  • Images matter too: “People . . . look at the images to see if the business looks trustworthy.” The type of image may matter as well: “We recommend giving the image that accompanies a listing some special consideration, and remember that an image that might work on a desktop might not work so well when reduced to a phone.”

You can download the entire report here (registration required).

Related Entries

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


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • rbrandzen

    Great stuff… I am part owner of a wireless phone franchise location and also President of an internet marketing firm… It is cool to see how closely related the two really are.

  • Shari Thurow

    Um…not so great stuff. As usual, another eye-tracking study that was not conducted properly. Therefore, the data is likely to be inaccurate and maybe even false.

    Thanks for citing my eye-tracking article, Greg. Here’s the link again:

    (1) Not enough participants
    (2) Characteristics of participants do not seem to fit a specific persona (too broad)
    (3) DUH that westerners read from left to right, top to bottom (I’ll give my 4-year-old niece a Nobel prize because even she knows that)
    (4) Tattoos? Another DUH because anyone who wishes to get a tattoo is going to want to see what they look like. Scenario is not applicable to majority of web searches.

    People people people…if you are going to conduct usability tests, then at least conduct them properly. Use personas, scenarios, the RIGHT usability test. Understand when the mind-eye hypothesis applies…and when it doesn’t.


  • Greg Sterling

    Thanks Shari.

Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide