See Your Website Through Your Visitors Eyes

By Kim Roach (c) 2006

Every time a visitor comes to your site, they take a particular path. Their eyes move in quick motion, hopping from one hotspot to the next. If you don’t know how your visitors are traveling, your conversion rates will suffer dramatically. Fortunately, there is a company who has performed in-depth testing for you, revealing the common behaviors of people viewing web pages.

The company is known as Eyetrack and they began studying online behavior in 1999. Because of these studies they have been able to help web masters to improve their site designs, headlines, font sizes, navigation, article formats, and even their ads.

They track eye movements as a visitor travels through a website and how they scan any individual page. With this information, they have created heat maps to show where visitors focus most of their attention. On these heat maps, red areas are the most popular and blue areas are the least popular.

You can see some examples of heat maps at PoynterExtra.org.

You can also find a complete summary of the EyeTrack results at: http://www.poynterextra.org/eyetrack2004/index.htm.

However, since the results comprise over 300 pages, I’ve provided you with the golden nuggets that can be gleaned from this study below.

Article Formats

Your visitors are certainly not reading your website word for word. They are scanning and picking out relevant information that they feel is important. Fortunately, you can attract your visitors to certain content simply by placing it in the right spots.

These simple changes can increase your salës, subscriber sign-ups, and your return on investment.

The headline, for example, is often the first element that people see on your site. To draw people into an article, you must have a compelling headline that speaks directly to your visitors needs and wants.

In fact, a change in the headline on a salës page can produce a 1,900% increase in salës. This is certainly an element that should not be taken lightly.

You might also want to begin your articles with a boldface introductory paragraph. 95 percent of readers in the Eyetrack study viewed all or part of the introduction when presented with an article to read.

On the Internet, where information abounds and the majority of people are paralyzed by information overload, most appreciate the addition of an introductory paragraph that summarizes your article.

Once they have come to the actual content, however, how do you get them to continue reading? There are a few formatting issues to keep in mind when designing the layout of your article.

You will definitely need to use short, snappy paragraphs. Eyetrack III research found that shorter paragraphs received twice as many eye fixations as those with longer paragraphs.

Most people also seem to focus on the left side of the page and look for related words that might entice them to read closer. Therefore, you will want to include some important keywords on the left-hand side of the page so that readers can quickly see them out and be pulled further into the material.

You can also encourage your readers to continue reading by using bolding and enticing sub headings.

Font Size

The Eyetrack III research discovered that smaller type encourages focused reading rather than scanning. Very interesting. In general, their testing found that people spent more time focused on small type than large type. The largër type resulted in increased scanning of the page. Of course, you don’t want your visitors to be squinting to try and read your text. The key is to find the appropriate balance that will encourage readers to focus on your text more than they scan.

It was also found that underlined headlines discouraged readers from viewing the following text. Overall, visual breaks (such as a line or rule) discourage people from looking at items beyond the break.

Nöw, on to one of my favorite web design topics…

Navigation

Eyetracker found that navigation at the top of a homepage performed best, meaning that it was seen by the highest percentage of test subjects and looked at for the longest duration.

Your navigation is best placed on the top or left side of the page. Why? Simply because this is what people are used to. If you go along with the crowd, people are much more likely to effectively browse your website.

Advertising

So, what about ads? As you have probably heard, many people ignore ads. The online world has a massive case of banner blindness. However, good placement and design can often improve your results.

For example, ads in the top and left portions of a homepage receive the most attention.

Ads on the right side of the page don’t do as well.

In addition, ads that are placed next to important editorial content can really help attract attention to the ads. These ads perform best when they are truly integrated into the actual content of the page.

If you are using images within your advertising, keep the following in mind.

Images receive much more attention if they are largër. For example, one of the test pages in the Eyetrack III test found that a postage-stamp sized image was viewed by 10 percent of the participants while an average sized photo (about 230 pixels wide and deep) drew the attention of 70 percent of the people.

Their research also showed that clean, clear faces in images attract more eye attention on homepages. So, if you are using small images within your advertisements, you may want to enlärge them a bit if you want people to be drawn to them.

On the other hand, people seem to avoid ads when a visual barrier is placed between the ad and the content.

These breaks can consist of either white space or a border.

Ads that blend into the look and feel of the page draw the most attention. In addition, text ads were also found to receive the most response.

By nöw, you may be wondering what these studies have shown about search engines. Exactly what do people look at when they are presented with a list of search engine results? Well, that is an excellent question and one that has been studied extensively.

A joint eye tracking study performed by search marketing firms Enquiro and Did-it and eye tracking firm Eyetools has shown that the majority of eye activity during a search happens within a triangle at the top of the search results page.

This area of maximum interest has been referred to as the “golden triangle”. The study showed that the top 5 results (ones above the fold) received the most exposure.

Below is a chart showing the organic ranking visibility of the top 10 positions.

Rank 1 – 100%
Rank 2 – 100%
Rank 3 – 100%
Rank 4 – 85%
Rank 5 – 60%
Rank 6 – 50%
Rank 7 – 50%
Rank 8 – 30%
Rank 9 – 30%
Rank 10 – 20%

Side sponsored ads receive significantly less attention. See the overview below of the visibility of the side sponsored ads based on position:

1 – 50%
2 – 40%
3 – 30%
4 – 20%
5 – 10%
6 – 10%
7 – 10%
8 – 10%

This is largely due to an “F” shaped scan pattern in which the eye tends to travel vertically along the far left side of the results and then scan to the right occasionally if something catches its attention.

These statistics show the importance of ranking well and also of using relevant keywords within your title and description. With a relevant and interesting title and description, you can attract more eyeballs within the search engine results.

As always, keep in mind that the information gleaned from these studies are simply a guide. Nothing can beat your own testing. If you don’t have good content it doesn’t matter how good your layout is.

However, by using some simple layout techniques, you can influence the path your visitors take within your website.

About The Author
Kim Roach is a staff writer and editor for the SiteProNews and SEO-News newsletters. You can also find additional tips and news on webmaster and SEO topics by Kim at the SiteProNews blog. Kim’s email is: kim @ seo-news.com

Camilla Todd manages Search Engine Optimisation, PPC, social media campaigns and brand awareness for WNW Design SEO clients. You can follow her on Twitter @camilla_wnw, email her at camilla@wnwdigital.co.uk or phone on 01392 349580

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