Eye tracking study reveals 12 website tactics

Eye Tracking StudiesEye tracking studies have revealed valuable information about how people read and interact with websites. One study, Eyetrack III, published a summary of their eye tracking results for news sites.

While this is just one eye tracking study focused on a particular type of site, I think there are instructive nuggets here for any informational website.

In no particular order, here are 12 results I found particularly interesting.

1.Headlines draw eyes before pictures. This might be surprising for some people since the trend has been to add photos and graphics specifically to draw the eye. Even I have been adding more photos to my blog to spice it up a bit.

But the participants in this study looked at headlines, especially in the upper left of the page, before they looked at photos when they landed on a page. So you can’t rely on eye candy to make up for poor headlines.

2. People scan the first couple words of a headline. Yes, long headlines can work. But this study suggests that people scan the first few words before deciding whether to continue reading.

This means you should front-load your headlines with the most interesting and provocative words. It’s also an argument for getting your keywords up front in headlines.

3. People scan the left side of a list of headlines. This is related to the previous point. When presented with a list of headlines or links, people will scan down the left side, looking at the first couple words, to find something they’re interested in. They don’t necessarily read each line beginning to end.

The implication is the same as before. Get your most mind catching words up front.

4. Your headline must grab attention in less than 1 second. Online readers are grazers. They move fast and nibble. If you want to hook them into spending time reading about something, you have to catch their attention very, very fast.

No nonsense. No meandering copy. No “throat clearing” to fill space. You have to get to the point instantly.

5. Smaller type promotes closer reading. This makes sense because smaller type is harder to read. So, to read it, you have to really focus. Larger type promotes scanning rather than reading.

Be careful with this one. No one is suggesting you shrink your web type to make it barely legible. I think the takeaway is to avoid making your type too big if you want close reading and avoid making it too small if you want to communicate rapidly.

6. Navigation at the top of the page works best. I find this interesting from a design point of view since many sites now use side navigation. I take this one with grain of salt, since the study also shows that side navigation can work fine.

The point may be that anything at the top of a page will be seen immediately. And since top navigation must be simple because of space limits, top navigation is probably much simpler to use.

7. Short paragraphs encourage reading. No surprise here. Even in print this is true. Big blocks of type look imposing and difficult, like reading a Faulkner novel where a paragraph goes on seemingly forever.

In online writing as in most ad writing, you have to forget normal paragraph development. Breaks should be logical, but they’re organized into a flow of ideas rather than distinct paragraphs.

8. Introductory paragraphs enjoy high readership. Just to be clear, an intro paragraph is a content summary that appears after the headline and before the main text. It’s common in some news writing. I’ve also used it in print ads which are designed in the form of an article, often called an “advertorial.”

The downside is that while intros get read, this study says they don’t affect readership of the main text. Maybe they help improve comprehension. The study doesn’t say.

9. Ad placement in the top and left positions works best. For anyone familiar with “heat maps,” this make sense. The eye tends to start in the upper left of a page. So an ad, or anything else, in that area will be noticed.

This is another one you have to be wary of. Ad blindness tends to happen when people get used to seeing ads in a particular place. So even the prime upper left area won’t work so well if you always put ads there.

10. People notice ads placed close to popular content. Obviously. This mimics the well-known idea in the offline world where ads are placed anywhere eyeballs point.

This is why ads right over a urinal work. Men look straight ahead, usually at a blank wall 12 inches from their face when standing at a urinal, so any reading material there will get read.

11. People read text ads more than graphic ads. Not everyone will agree with this one. But it makes sense if you consider that information is usually in the form of text. So people looking for information are looking for text, not pictures.

However, graphics can be useful for conveying information that is difficult to communicate in pure text, such as how something looks, mathematical information, before and after comparisons, etc. Which leads us to the last tactic.

12. Multimedia works better than text for unfamiliar or conceptual information. Reading relies on people having some understanding of the subject. The more familiar they are with the subject, the faster and easier reading is.

If you’re trying to describe a process, for example, a video or illustration conveys this information better than text.

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Comments

100 Responses to “Eye tracking study reveals 12 website tactics”

  1. S.Smith on May 6th, 2009 9:27 am

    Great ideas and summaries. What priority will my comment have in readers’ eyes?!

  2. Fred Schebesta on May 6th, 2009 9:48 am

    This is brilliant information! Really great tips for improving your sites conversion immediately. I am especially interested in the navigation accross the top part. I am keen to run some heat map tests with this split tested.

  3. ask josephsen on May 7th, 2009 5:29 am

    really great tips – keep ‘em comming :) could be interesting combined with the A/B-testing from GoogleWebsiteOptimizer

  4. Mark Andersen on May 7th, 2009 3:24 pm

    Fantastic.
    I think this proves to a large degree that the Books “Scientific Advertising” and Caples “Tested Advertising Methods” is still highly relevant even though they were written in a different age.

    I’d be interested to know what happens in Countries where the reading is primarily right to left rather than left to right.

    keep up the good work. Great Article

  5. Dean Rieck on May 7th, 2009 3:36 pm

    Mark:
    That’s an interesting question. In the West, we read left to right so anything upper left on a computer screen is usually seen first.

    I’ve seen Arabic sites where the type runs right to left, so I’d guess items that are upper right are probably seen first.

  6. @23Kazoos on May 7th, 2009 7:37 pm

    PR people read up! I was reading press releases today and noticed myself many of the points you so clearly articulated before I read your article!
    When pitching a journalist via email be aware that they are only reading subject lines. The first few words better be good!

    Thanks for the article!

  7. Eddings on May 12th, 2009 8:17 am

    This is a very refreshing informative post, thank you! I have to admit I like #7 the best because everyone gives me such a hard time for my typically short posts.

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  9. Eyetracking study reveals enlightening online tactics « Training Marketer on May 19th, 2009 4:29 pm

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  10. 11 Striking Findings From an Eye Tracking Study on May 19th, 2009 7:12 pm

    [...] If you’ve got a spare 10 minutes today check out Eyetrack III who have published some great findings in their latest eye tracking studies of news and multimedia content sites (found via Direct Creative Blog). [...]

  11. ArticleTastic » Blog Archive » 11 Striking Findings From an Eye Tracking Study on May 20th, 2009 8:07 am

    [...] If you’ve got a spare 10 minutes today check out Eyetrack III who have published some great findings in their latest eye tracking studies of news and multimedia content sites (found via Direct Creative Blog). [...]

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  13. Web Usability - Eye tracking study reveals 12 website tactics | ErnieDavis.me on May 21st, 2009 8:44 am
  14. Horia Dragomir on May 21st, 2009 9:08 am

    I’m planning on changing the layout of my blog and this post really helped make up my mind as to what template to choose.

    Keep up the good work!

  15. Patryk Zabicki on May 21st, 2009 10:25 am

    @Mark & Dean:
    I cannot give you reference to paper which covers it. But I remember from my work for IBiB PAN, that kids learned Hebrew as a first language had better reading skills in Hebrew and their eyes preferred reading from right to left.

    Eye takes picture of text and brain need to guess what was read. The way we learn to read determines how efficient brain will be in way of reading.

    Chinese with his top-down reading direction was the best solution. Three eyes muscles works best top-down, reading is counter-evolution :-) .

    There is massive amount of literature about it, few names:
    - Allusi
    - Fitts
    - Bahrick
    - Briggs
    - and my tutor Ober :-) .

  16. Gabe Harris on May 21st, 2009 10:35 am

    Can you forward this to my boss?

  17. Dean Rieck on May 21st, 2009 10:36 am

    Patryk:

    Your information confirms that in reading it’s largely about what you’re used to. There’s nothing magic about left to right. I suppose if you started out reading in any direction, it would work.

    And about the eye taking a picture, that’s correct. Once you know how to read, you don’t look at each letter or word individually, you take in whole phrases. The brain perceives words by their shape.

    Here’s some basic info on that:
    http://www.directcreative.com/a-primer-on-reading-legibility-and-effective-advertising-design.html

  18. Design freak on May 21st, 2009 1:06 pm

    wow….. very interesting article.

    thanks a lot

  19. Matt on May 21st, 2009 2:09 pm

    I find this sort of thing very interesting. I think the points here should always be taken into consideration but shouldn’t dominate a website if it effects the overall design or plan.

  20. BCWebMedia.com » Blog Archive » Neat study… on May 21st, 2009 2:21 pm

    [...] Check out the original article here. [...]

  21. 12 cosas que podemos aprender de un estudio “Eyectrack” | Kabytes on May 21st, 2009 2:22 pm

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  22. Son Nguyen on May 21st, 2009 3:28 pm

    Very useful summary for those who does not have a chance to read the full paper. Thank you.

  23. Dean Rieck on May 21st, 2009 3:56 pm

    Matt:

    I’d have to disagree. All of these points are about making your site work. Design is irrelevant if your site doesn’t work. Form follows function.

  24. Tyler Hayes on May 21st, 2009 3:58 pm

    None of this is new, though it is kind of nice to have it all hashed into one article.

    That said, the “F Rule” should be in here, and seems to be causing a lot of confusion.

    For more in-depth looks at all of the points made in the article, Jakob Nielsen probably has the best site available on the topic: http://www.useit.com/

    That’s where I learned all this stuff anyway. His newsletter is invaluable. Thanks for putting this article together!

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  30. Kareeza on May 23rd, 2009 6:27 am

    Thanks for your great post.

  31. Sean on May 23rd, 2009 9:26 am

    A very generic study i left. If you are going after audience who matters, I think it is best to analyse your own audience.

    Such studies are only good to a certain extent. Eventually, I think you should work closely with your own reader to improve the site.

  32. Dean Rieck on May 23rd, 2009 7:58 pm

    Sean:
    Analyzing your own audience is a smart thing to do. But this study and the conclusions would still apply to any website regardless of your audience.

  33. Dana Todd on June 1st, 2009 7:45 pm

    One interesting thing to note about the headline scanning – our eye tracking study definitely supports this (http://www.enquiroresearch.com/newsforce-index-page.aspx scroll to the bottom link to download the full ppt) – BUT! what we found is that once someone has already read the headline on the index and clicks it, they almost never read it again on the article page itself. Isn’t that weird?

    Dana Todd, CMO
    Newsforce Network

  34. Business Oceans SEO Copywriting Marketing Services on June 10th, 2009 9:39 am

    I just discovered this article through Delicious bookmarking. Bookmarking is new for our seo service we offer and I see its value.

    To find a copywriting eyetracking article with this detail was a gift. It confirms a number of consulting tips we offer our business clients when they build their web pages….build from the left out with emphasis on keyword copywriting being on the first few words a user will read.

    Excellent.

    Gabriel D.
    CEO

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  36. eye tracking blog on June 21st, 2009 4:17 am

    I looked this eye tracking study on other pages too.

  37. Karthi on June 30th, 2009 3:12 am

    These are really good thoughts. This something which we keep debating day-in day-out. But I think this pattern would change between different user groups. Help if there is any analysis available over the net.

  38. Vic of BusinessAccent on July 23rd, 2009 9:12 am

    I agree, headlines draws attention in the first impression. If you have an uninteresting headlines, visitors will just leave your site without even spending a few more seconds to explore you site.

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  40. Alex on August 16th, 2009 11:06 am

    I agree with all above mentioned facts but also have to say that most of this stuff is common sense in my opinion. Still, great post….

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  42. James on October 8th, 2009 10:28 pm

    That is very interesting. I always spend a lot of time on my headings. It is nice to know it is not a total waste with these findings.
    .-= James’s last blog … Your Source for Vinyl Safety Skirts =-.

  43. Ryan Crusher on November 22nd, 2009 8:44 am

    James,

    I too spend a lot of time on my headers. You have to remember that this is one of the first things your visitor see’s not to mention the SEO benefits of having it properly setup.
    .-= Ryan Crusher’s last blog … Light Bulb Crusher Machine =-.

  44. Trontastic on November 23rd, 2009 3:25 pm

    Did anyone else notice that this data was from 2004?

  45. Links « DesignerExtraordinaire's Blog on December 18th, 2009 10:04 am

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  46. Ivan Golemdzhiyski on January 17th, 2010 4:16 pm

    This post was very helpful for me. I’ll impliment these advises in my marketing blog. Thanks
    Ivan Golemdzhiyski aka “Web Traffic Guy”
    .-= Ivan Golemdzhiyski’s last blog … Free Cloak and Dagger Affiliate Secrets Report – Cloak your links – how and why =-.

  47. chicago web design on January 21st, 2010 11:44 am

    great post, This is a great evolution from the ‘f shaped reading pattern’ conversational often brought about in web design.
    .-= chicago web design’s last blog … The Future of Mobile Apps: Flash CS5 =-.

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  49. Clientwell Online Marketing on February 27th, 2010 10:36 am

    Great read. Smaller text encouraging closer reading is an especially good call, never thought of that.

  50. 11 Striking Findings From an Eye Tracking Study « Web Usability on February 28th, 2010 4:55 pm

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  54. Aliera on April 1st, 2010 9:39 am

    I definitely agree that this is an interesting study that does provide some fascinating insights.

    However, I too wondered about the sample that was pulled for this research as I think inviting individuals of other nationalities to participate might make a difference in the location of “hot spots” and areas of preference for critical content.

    As the western world reads from left to right, it’s no surprise that our attention begins at the top left. If one were to invite someone from a country the reads right to left, I wonder how different the results would be…

    Thanks for sharing such great information!
    .-= Aliera’s last blog … Driving Change or Adding to the Noise? =-.

  55. Philippe Alves on April 1st, 2010 11:01 am

    @Trontastic Well, yea, that’s true! So, Dean, will you have the same results today? Have the users changed their behaviour today?

    One more question about #10. I didn’t quite get what you meant with your urinal example and how it applies or illustrates how people notice ads placed close to popular content. What is popular content? The most popular posts on the sidebar (like this one you pulled up from may 2009)?

    Thanks for your input.

  56. Dean Rieck on April 1st, 2010 11:47 am

    Philippe,
    What I meant was that advertisers put ads where they know people will see it, such as over a urinal where eyes will be directed for half a minute or so. On a site there are places the eye naturally goes, such as top left or to a post headline.

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  59. Chattanooga Pc Repair on April 2nd, 2010 3:40 pm

    Wow, It all makes sense. I am gonna have to try and work that into my next design. I am also gonna try to pay more attention to where i look on website. Thanks

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  62. du hoc uc on April 7th, 2010 5:04 am

    Great read.

  63. chicago web design on April 9th, 2010 12:15 pm

    Well these tactics are the facts for sure for catching attention of the visitor to your website. I will be trying them for sure.

    Thanks

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    just discovered this article through Delicious bookmarking. Bookmarking is new for our seo service we offer and I see its value.

    To find a copywriting eyetracking article with this detail was a gift. It confirms a number of consulting tips we offer our business clients when they build their web pages….build from the left out with emphasis on keyword copywriting being on the first few words a user will read.

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  74. Susan on September 8th, 2010 6:05 pm

    I would love to know of any web design companies utilizing these theories and ideas please!

  75. trisstan on September 22nd, 2010 5:20 pm

    Really good information here…. thanks

  76. Alexander Zagoumenov on October 9th, 2010 5:50 pm

    This is an awesome list! Thanks for putting together!

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  81. πανελληνιες 2010 θεματα on April 2nd, 2011 4:14 am

    “Short paragraphs encourage reading”… Hmmm I think I am going to be using that a lot in the future!

  82. Victor SILICEO on April 27th, 2011 1:49 am

    The way I design is going to change. Thanks.

  83. Writing for the Web on May 19th, 2011 5:18 am
  84. Greg Zobel on May 31st, 2011 5:14 pm

    It will be great when everyone can afford to do their own eye tracking research and test out their designs before launching their product or site.

  85. Dean Rieck on May 31st, 2011 6:28 pm

    Greg: Google provides tools for click tracking and lets you see an overlay of the click stats right on your page. Not exactly eye tracking, but quite helpful.

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  87. Charleen Larson on July 5th, 2011 9:14 pm

    You mention that video works better than text for difficult concepts but what about placement of the video?

    Heatmap-wise, where’s the best place to put a video?

  88. shell on July 30th, 2011 11:53 am

    I have been in this business for many years, if you make the text too small people will not read it and the best placement for ads on the printed page is on the right side not the left. check the font size used in this article, it’s actually slightly larger than average, wonder why the author doesn’t practice what they preach?

  89. Software Development on August 22nd, 2011 12:14 am

    great tactics though eye tracking………..

  90. barbie cooking games on October 4th, 2011 2:28 am

    Just wanted to say that I enjoy reading your site quite often and I’m always impressed at some of the stuff other mates post here. But keep up the good work, it’s always interesting.

  91. Liam Duffy on October 9th, 2011 9:09 pm

    nice guide, will be useful as i plan my website. thanks.

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  100. Rogelio on September 26th, 2012 6:18 am

    Great article! I must say that it contradicts some things, specially about the images vs headlines. I will take a careful look at that from now on.

    Regards



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