A Google eye tracking study examined the eye movements of 53 people using desktop computers to conduct various Google searches. The study comes in light of Google receiving criticism for providing answers to search questions that may end the need for searchers to click through to the websites that the search engine indexes. Direct Google resources like maps, photo carousels, and even comparisons between common topics are alarming businesses due to the way users interact with search results. The findings discovered that user eye movements varied significantly from those discovered in a 2005 eye-tracking study.
The Eye Tracking Heat Map For A Google Search Result
Image Sources:Google Golden Triangle Research: Eye Tracking Study; The Evolution of Google’s Search Results Pages & Effects on User Bahaviour
A “golden triangle” of movement indicated that user attention focused almost exclusively on the upper left side of the search results page, where the top few search results are located. Gord Hotchkiss, president of Giro Vacations and a leader in the 2005 study, explained that participants glanced down the left side to examine the URLs available. In a heat map comparison, nearly all participants examined the top four results as a batch. And 80 percent clicked on one of those four URLs before doing anything else. Most users avoided the Google ads on the right side of the page and interacted more with the Google ads on the top left of the page.
In the new study, participants scanned the upper left of the page as well but the similarities to the responses in the first study end here. The eye tracking demonstrated that people scanned the entire page quickly down the left side to examine Google’s updated categories. There was significantly less horizontal scanning compared to the 2005 study. In fact, the amount of time it took participants to find a desirable result decreased from the 05’s study average 14-15 seconds to the new study average 8-9 seconds. While study leaders suggest that decreased search time is a testament to Google’s improved search results, the benefits or drawbacks to professionals who rely on search engine marketing are less clear.
Finding that users tend to avoid scrolling horizontally or looking at the right side of the page has some interesting implications for mobile users. Study leaders theorized that people who are used to having everything available in a vertical layout on mobile devices were less likely to scroll to the right even on a desktop device.
What Does It Mean For SEO?
Since users in the new study scanned the top few Google results before selecting one, fighting for the number one spot might be less important. Google listings that organize results into categories, such as local restaurants, maps and profiles are prioritizing results based on relevance. While these changes are significant, savvy businesses can use them to their advantage. Image campaigns are another way to draw attention without requiring users to click to be effective. The exposure often causes users to consider the brand when making a purchase decision later on. This hybrid strategy of direct marketing and brand advertising is an increasingly effective one in the new world of search engine prioritization.
While the top 4 results might be less important today than a decade ago, the study shows that achieving the top spot in organic search results is still highly beneficial. Click-through rates on the top promoted results were between 12 and 14 percent, an impressive figure for any online marketing strategy. Such numbers prove that SEO is still the name of the game when it comes to a strong online marketing campaign. But with SEO practices being so competitive it’s more important for marketers to keep up with changing search engine trends than ever before.
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