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Mediative Blog: The Digital Results People

Keeping an Eye on Google – Eye Tracking SERPs Through The Years

It all started with a triangle. And since then, we’ve been keeping an eye (well, several eyes, actually) on the changes that Google makes and how they affect searcher behaviour.

A word of caution…

The heatmaps below show aggregated gaze data, which is assumed to be a proxy for attention. Basically, they show you what parts of the SERP people look at the most. I’ve purposefully left out other data like click through rate, user satisfaction, time to search, query length and variety, and so on, so that we can focus on the way searchers look at the page.

The heatmaps also don’t show the order that searchers look at things, merely the distribution of gaze over the entire duration of a search session.

Basically, the data has been narrowed down to show which results get the most attention.

With those words in mind, take a look at what’s happened to searchers’ gaze behaviour over the last 6 years.

2005

Our landmark research study shows the importance of the “Google Golden Triangle” – the top three or four results on the SERP are the place to be if you want to be seen by a good proportion of searchers.

Research into what makes people click informs us that this is because Google does a good job of surfacing the most relevant results. As pointed out in the report, “the Golden Triangle exists not because we are obsessed with position, but because we expect Google to do its job and put the best result at the top.”

The Google Golden Triangle

Download Eye Tracking Report I: Google.

2006

We couldn’t stop there. So we compared Google with Yahoo! and MSN. Despite being given identical tasks on all three engines, searchers covered a lot more real estate on Yahoo! and MSN SERPs than they did on Google.

Comparing eye tracking heat maps between Google, Yahoo! and MSN.

Download Eye Tracking Report II: Google, Yahoo! and MSN Compared.

2007

Along came universal and personalized search. What did this do to behaviour?

Universal search results in chunking and fencing of results – images create mental barriers that cause us to divide the results up into groups around the images and restrict eye movements around them.

Chunking
Google Universal Search Eye Tracking - Chunking

Fencing
Google Universal Search Eye Tracking - Fencing

Personalized results in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th organic positions (which we mocked up based on previous sites the searcher had been to) drew a lot of attention.

Eye Tracking Google - Personalization

Read Gord’s write-up.

2008

More barriers starting popping up in SERPs – local listings, more blended results. So we did some more eye tracking and wrote a white paper about how all of these things on the SERP cause us to do more chunking and fencing.

Eye Tracking Google - Barrier on the SERP

Download Barriers on a Search Results Page.

2010

Google really shook things up and introduced Google Instant. We put together a quick study that we presented at SMX East of searchers who had never used Google Instant before trying it out.

Brand new Instant users didn’t show much change in behaviour.

Eye Tracking Google Instant - September 2010

Read Ian’s write-up.

2011

So we checked again 7 months later with people who had used Google Instant for a while.

In general, still no big changes in eye tracking behaviour with Google Instant…

Eye Tracking Google Instant - April 2011

… although for particular types of searches (transactional searches shown below) it looked like searchers weren’t scanning as far down the page.

Eye Tracking Google Instant - April 2011 Transactional Searches

What’s Next?

Google is constantly innovating, and the question always comes up about how the changes they make potentially affect searcher behaviour. While we don’t know what the next changes will be, rest assured that we’ll be keeping some eyes on them.

You can catch our latest research any time at Mediative.ca/research

Comments /

  1. [...] the first steps when setting up your AdWords account, and as promised here’s the links to the Golden Triangle Research (2005 – 2011) And the new research that was just released! Do yourself a favor and READ IT! If you like this [...]

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Mediative: Scalable Digital Marketing Solutions

Experience
performance

Reach more buyers. Increase conversions. Turn insights into ROI. Monetize your digital properties. We can help you achieve the best return on your digital marketing investment.

What we can do for you

Take advantage of our areas of expertise to serve your specific needs.

  • Data

    Leverage our first party data and knowledge on how to deliver the right message to qualified audiences across all digital marketing channels.

  • Performance

    Find qualified audiences, capture their attention and convert them by ensuring a clear path to purchase and a maximum ROI.

  • Mediative Lab

    Combine the latest innovative technologies and data-driven research to drive digital performance.

  • Monetization

    Maximize the value of every visit to your digital properties, and discover new sources of revenue with our range of custom publisher solutions.

Gain insights to help you grow

Use our knowledge to improve your business: get our latest research, case studies, and insights sent straight to your inbox.

Our digital marketing solutions

Mediative Search Performance

Display network & digital media

Target millions of highly qualified consumers across all the right sites.

Search & performance

Leverage our thinking and solutions to deliver meaningful results.

Mediative Display Network and Digital Media
Mediative Location Based Mobile Marketing

Creative services

Influence online users with high-impact creative and persuasive content.

Location-based mobile marketing

Target online consumers locally to drive traffic to your stores.

Mediative Creative Services