Search Engine Optimization Meets Eyeball Tracking
User Centric, Inc., a global user experience research and design firm, performed research in 2009 using eye-tracking technologies to offer a
glimpse into interactions users had with Bing versus Google.
Microsoft's Bing began to gain a more significant percentage of online users, much ado to their partnership with Yahoo! - through which Bing powered Yahoo!'s searches. Needless to say, Google is still the most popular search engine today.
The goals of the research were (1) to compare the distribution of attention on equivalent areas of Bing and Google and (2) to assess how much attention is captured by elements that are unique to Bing.
21 participants' eye movements were analyzed during four different search tasks - two informational(e.g. "Learning the difference between crocodiles and alligators") and two transaction(e.g. "Purchasing a shirt) searches - in each engine.
- All participants looked at the organic search results, spending an average of 7 seconds in that area.
- Over 90% of participants looked in the sponsored links area located above the organic results. Participants looked at this area for longer on transaction searches (~2.5 seconds) than they did on informational searches (~1.5 seconds).
The study overall concluded the disuse of Bing's flyout feature as well as mentioning that Bing's "related searches" received more attention than Google. Participants in this study were familiar with Google, and not with Bing, being that it had been released a couple of days before the test.
In 2011, the study was repeated, this time, instead there were 24 participants. The process was the same, except that each trail was doubled. So there were a total of 8 searches per participant, 4 informational and 4 transaction searches. The order of search terms and the order of the engines were counterbalanced across participants.
Five areas of the search results interface were of interest: (1) sponsored results at the top, (2) sponsored results to the right of the organic search results, (3) organic search results, (4) left pane, and (5) on-hover flyouts (on Bing only).
- Google's Top Sponsored Results Get More Attention (2.8 seconds per search task, on average) than Bing's (1.9 seconds).
-No Difference in Attention on Sponsored Results on the Right (28% on Google, 21% on Bing). This result was different from the previous study, (42% compared to 21%) because the participants in the original study were unfamiliar with the Bing interface.
- Users spend more time viewing Google's organic search results (14.7 seconds) than they did with Bing's (10.7 seconds).
-Bing's Left Pane looked at longer(2.9 seconds) than Google's(1.2 seconds).
- Flyouts on Bing Still unnoticed and underutilized (only 25% of participants reported ever using them).
A trend can be seen with the use of eye-tracking technology in science and business. Researchers attempt to find how exactly it is that humans interact with computational interfaces. This translates to a business motive when you incoorporate creating usable, useful, and accessible websites.
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