Website designers use eye tracking to identify the areas of a web page a user’s eyes stop, linger, and even ignore. The results from visual-behavior studies have helped in the development of websites that are easier to understand and navigate. Eye tracking applications are used in fields as diverse as the automotive industry to the military and entertainment business.
What is Eye Tracking
Consider the ways we use our vision — from reading words on a page to judging distances in space. We rely on sight when driving, watching television, and gazing at pretty objects. When an eye tracking application traces eye movement, it maps the person’s gaze-shifting and gaze-stability. The data collected at the end of a study are used to help design better products, websites, ads, vehicles, weapons, signage, and more.
You can get a lot of information from eye tracking research. One of the most common applications it’s used for is web design. In this area, eye tracking is used to analyze a person’s visual path on a web page. According to Eyetracking.com, “Each eye data observation is translated into a set of pixel coordinates. From there, the presence or absence of eye data points in different screen areas can be examined.”
Eye Tracking Research
A lot of norms in website and product design have been established long ago, thanks in part to research on gaze stability and gaze shifting.
Keep reading to find out ways that eye tracking has already shaped the world we live in today.
F-Shaped Pattern – Eye tracking research by the Nielsen Norman Group in 2006, which documented more than 230 users and thousands and web pages, demonstrated that people typically read web pages in a pattern that looks like an F. Researchers also mapped out where on the page the eye starts, the direction it roams, stabilization points, and areas it avoids.
First, users scan horizontally across the top of the page, then vertically down the left side. About halfway down the page, the eye jumps to the right side of the screen again. The pattern then repeats on the bottom half of the page.
Here is a hotspot map of the F-shape pattern.
Knowing how people scan a web page validates a lot of important information. Like whether people read a webpage or just scan it, and how much of the page (or ad, instructions, or even signs in airports or office buildings) they actually scan. The Neilsen study helped develop certain standards of web design, like placing the most important information in the first two paragraphs. They also found that paragraphs or lists starting with active words were easier to find for users scanning down the left side of the page.
Column Scanning – People are more likely to read a web page with two columns compared to a one-column page, according to Usability.gov, a user experience (UX) website.
Advertising Banners – Not only do people avoid looking at banner ads, but they also avoid looking at anything resembling an ad.
Formatting & Design – Nielsen also found that formatting important information in large, red font will not get users attention any more than normal-format text, depending on where it’s located on the page. When users were asked to locate a number on a website, which happened to be formatted in oversized red font, only 14 percent found it even though it was at the top right corner of the page. While people did see the first part of the number, users only scanned the area and said they didn’t notice they were looking at the information researchers asked them to find.
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Apply Eye Tracking Research to your Business
Ads – You collect data on your users, identify trends, group potential customers into cohorts based on behavior patterns. From there, you can validate a lot of assumptions about your cohorts, but there’s still more information left to glean. Like whether potential customers are reading your online ads. Eye tracking research can tell you that people only briefly see animated ads. That doesn’t mean you can’t run flashy promos. But by knowing users’ average viewing time, you could edit the ad so that viewers see the primary message within the window of opportunity.
Message Testing – You identify users to target in an email campaign to drive KPIs. You can even A/B test messages based on user behaviors. And then sit back and track the results. There’s one more piece of the puzzle that past eye tracking research can help you with now, like which email layouts users are more likely to read versus those they’re more likely to scan or skip, and where in the email should you place your primary messages.
Usability Testing – Website redesigns can be a blessing — and a curse. On the one hand, an overhaul might be necessary for improving usability and performance. On the other hand, consumers don’t like change! It’s related to cognitive load, which has to do with the feeling that we can only recall so much information and reflexively resist learning new things we view as extraneous. Combining your usability data and visibility research, you can see what complications users are experiencing after the transition, including their inability to find buttons, confusion over labels, and trouble completing tasks. Eye tracking tools help identify a lot of problem areas (as well as the source of the problem), but it will also highlight successful elements.
Another benefit of eye tracking applications is that it can provide multiple actionable recommendations for improving functionality and appeal.
At this point, eye tracking applications reliably show how viewers internalize onscreen stimuli. It’s helped shape design concepts and entire industries. Now companies are looking to the technology for ways to improve marketing decisions.
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