With the ability to make it easy to optimize conversion rate, eye tracking software and heatmaps can provide some amazing insights into increasing conversions (and avoiding revenue killers) that can benefit any business.
Here are 7 essential eye tracking studies that offer a glimpse into common browsing patterns and elements of human behavior that all marketers need to know.
1. Eye tracking shows that we need to avoid “dead weight” visuals
You don’t have to be a user experience (UX) expert to understand the importance of Fitts Law.
While this may seem complicated at first, one of the basic tenets of Fitts’s Law is that the “weight” of the object (in the visual hierarchy) is a big determinant of what attracts eyes and mouse clicks.
Consider this recent TechWyse case study examining a trucking service’s home page with a heat map:
As you can see from the first test, the non-clickable “NO FEES” button has gotten a lot of attention, but is not a call to action and its information is not the most important on the page.
This is not good.
Plus, it’s right next to one of the key CTAs on the page (the phone number), and it’s so noticeable that it actually distracts people from other more important elements.
Check out the changes they made to fix this problem.
The “Call Now” button clearly gets a lot of attention in every other section of the page. This is great as it is a way for customers to get in touch with the company!
Lesson Learned: When putting together a compelling landing page, make sure that the elements that are “pop” are important and that you don’t place too much emphasis on visuals that don’t encourage customers to act.
2. Eye tracking shows the impact of videos on search results
Most marketers have seen these SERP heatmaps (search engine results page) where the top 3 rankings influence all of the action. But what role do visual elements play in attracting visitors’ attention?
An interesting heatmap study published on Moz showed that videos are particularly powerful at capturing eyeballs through eye tracking, even if they weren’t the best result.
As you can see below, both direct video results (e.g. a hosted YouTube video) and embedded video results (videos embedded on a webpage) attracted more attention than a regular search list, especially if they were at the top of the results.
Video is usually interpreted as product video. However, instead of assuming that this will affect your top keyword search traffic, test instead.
Lesson Learned: If you want to stand out from some competitive search results, you may want to test an embedded video rather than product page authorship.
3. The power of gaze-tracking directional cues
Using visual cues to guide visitors to key areas of your website is nothing new, but how effective is it?
Studies like the aptly named Eye Gaze cannot be ignored, it is incredibly effective. People are naturally inclined to follow the gaze of others, and we were trained from birth to follow arrows that lead us where we should look and go.
Consider the following example of an eye-tracking heat map that has a page with a baby and a compelling headline for caring for the baby’s skin.
It is obvious that the baby’s face is attracting a lot of attention. (In fact, faces of babies and pretty women draw the longest glances of any visitor.)
Unfortunately, this is a problem from a marketing point of view as the copy is not getting enough attention.
Now look at the surf patterns when a picture was used of the baby facing the text.
As you can see on the eye tracking heat map, the users again focused (from the side) on the baby’s face and directly followed the baby’s line of sight to the headline and the opening copy. Even the area of text that the baby’s chin pointed to was read more!
Lesson Learned: Visuals are an important part of the overall design of a site. Most pages, however, can be tweaked by including images that serve as visual cues of where visitors should look next.
4. Eye-tracking studies show that the F-pattern works across the board
According to this study by the Nielsen Group, people almost always browse articles, e-commerce websites, and search engine results in an F-shaped pattern that heavily favors the left side of the screen.
This coincides with additional research showing that overall, people see the left side of the screen far more than the right.
It is important to note that all of these studies were conducted with English-speaking (and reading) participants. The opposite was the case with users whose languages read right to left.
Is it any wonder that some of the most tested websites in the world (like Amazon) have given the left pages of their home pages a clear priority?
Lesson Learned: Web users tend to browse websites based on their reading habits. For English speakers (and languages with similar reading patterns), the left side of the screen is highly preferred, and all websites are typically searched in an F-pattern.
5. Eye tracking shows that “The Fold” is not that important
Relying on the screen over “the fold” to do all the heavy lifting is one of the biggest usability mistakes you can make. The idea that this is the only place web users surf is a complete myth.
Several tests (including this and this other) have shown that users have no problem scrolling under the crease. Surprisingly, browse even further down when the length of the page is longer.
KISSmetrics ran an interesting A / B test on their homepage and found that a page with 1,292 words outperformed a page with 488 words by 7.6%. And it didn’t end there. The leads from the long form version of the page were of higher quality than the leads from the variation.
Another great test from the ContentVerve staff showed that moving the call to action way below the crease actually increased conversions by 304 percent.
Lesson learned: While this depends on the page you are testing, don’t be afraid to place (and test) critical items under the fold as it gives users time to read your copy before taking action.
6. Eye tracking proves that newsletters should be short and sweet
Who would have thought eye tracking and email marketing could be best friends?
According to this eye-tracking study conducted by the Nielsen Group, people scan email very quickly, and the only areas they even give any significant time are the first copy and headings.
From the study:
Users can quickly edit their inboxes as well as read newsletters. The average time allocated to a newsletter after opening was only 51 seconds.
This means you have to get to the point in your emails in less than a minute. The message should be as compelling as an online article, but you don’t have as much time to get attention as you could in an article.
This is in line with a study by MarketingSherpa that shows that people prefer short, clear, and uncreative headlines for their emails. (Creative headlines can seem mysterious, and mystery in an inbox can be synonymous with spam.)
Really a situation in which the KISS principle applies!
Lesson learned: If you have the right to appear in a prospect’s inbox, keep that privilege by creating emails that are clear and get to the point quickly. You don’t have as much time to send your message as you would in an online article.
7. Eye tracking proves the power of advance booking prices
If you’ve ever seen this video by Dan Ariely, you know that sometimes seemingly “useless” price points are actually very important in driving conversions.
A common price element that fits the bill here is the advance booking price. It is not literally used by customers because they are not paying that price. But is it still “used” to evaluate the new price?
To answer this question, THiNK Eye Tracking’s Robert Stevens conducted a test that looked at how people view prices and products on shelves.
In the first test, the results weren’t too surprising. Most of the people have dealt with pricing and product packaging.
But if the presale price was included, would people be watching this?
Better still, Stevens also tested the perception of the sale price to see if the advance sale price display played a role.
These were his findings:
After consumers selected the smoothie of their choice, I asked them if their purchase was good value for money on a 7-point like scale (where 1 is very good value and 7 is not very good Represents value for money).
Consumers who only saw the promotional item gave an average score of 2.4. Consumers who saw the promotional item alongside a premium offer at full price gave it 1.7 despite purchasing the same item!
Basically, people are pretty bad at evaluating price without contextual cues (as argued by Ariely in this TED talk). We find it much easier to make decisions when we have something to base them on.
This is why people often see a sale price as a better value when they can see what they are really saving. Without this contextual note, the selling price is difficult to evaluate because you don’t know what the product is usually being sold for.
Lesson Learned: Sometimes customers can use “useless” prices, such as pre-sale prices, to assess the value of a potential purchase.
About the author: Gregory Ciotti is the marketing strategist for Help Scout, a Zendesk alternative for small businesses that want help desk software with a personal touch. Get more data-driven content from Greg by downloading his free guide to converting more clients (with psychology).