This following is an excerpt from my final paper for IMC-635 Visual Information Design. You can read the entire paper here.
Eye tracking is a great tool that provides more insight into consumer behavior. Online marketing guru Neil Patel in “8 Powerful Takeaways from Eye Tracking Studies” summarizes the findings for website design.
First up is to “put your most valuable content above the fold” but don’t try to cram in everything. “Make sure you are placing enticing information above your fold, but don’t try to make your sell”. Second, Patel says “put calls to action at the bottom of the page. People do scroll down, and when they do, they go straight to the bottom of the page, where the scrolling stops. That’s where you want to hit them with your call to action”.
Third, “people read big, bold headlines. The bigger and more obtrusive your headlines are, the more people are likely to read them. Various studies, including the popular F-shaped pattern study, demonstrate that headline size is important”.
Next, “chunks of information are best. We can’t absorb massive blocks of text. People look at the headings with strong visual elements – central positioning, strong colors, and well-thought-out spatial organization”.
Patel also notes that “you need a lot of white space. Eye tracking studies confirm that negative space is valuable because it facilitates movement through the rest of the page. The human eye wants a place to “rest,” as it were, from the various components of the page. The eye also needs to know where to go next. Negative space provides a way for this to happen”.
Patel’s 6th takeaway is that “the left side of the page is important”. Eye tracking studies indicate “that users spend most of their time with their eyes on the left half of the page”. He provides the following chart showing percent of viewing time in pixels from the left edge:
I know I’ll be paying more attention to the left edge armed with this data.
Patel also wisely advises us to “get rid of banners”, which he claims are ignored. “Dubbed ‘banner blindness,’ this was one of the first and most talked about usability phenomena in the early days of eye tracking studies. Jakob Nielsen started uncovering this data in 1997. Banner blindness is now accepted Internet wisdom and usability common sense”.
Lastly, Patel says that “pictures of people are good. A page that has pictures of a person’s face encourages interaction and viewing and decreases a bounce rate. Use them as design elements on your website, on the about page and in social media profiles”.
Patel ends his article with a succinct statement about eye tracking studies: “Where people look is incredibly important because it affects what they learn, what they do, and what they buy. A look precedes a click”.
That being said, other eye-tracking studies challenge some of these tried and true conventions.
EyeQuant’s recent study found some surprises when it comes to web design beliefs. The first insight is that faces DO NOT always draw attention, flying in the ‘face’ of one of the most universal assumptions about human attention we have. “We’re not saying faces don’t attract attention at all and are never looked at. Our data just shows that faces aren’t the powerful attention-grabbers one usually thinks they are”.
Another popular concept dispelled by EyeQuant’s study is that large text draws immediate attention. The studies show that in many cases big fonts seem to have a negative effect on attracting attention.
“What’s going on here? Our careful, explorative hypothesis is this: there may be an element of “banner blindness” involved. And, extremely large letters might be less readable for the human eye as well”.
Some of these differences may very well lie in the context within which they are being done. If a user is asked to simply view a website, I believe the data is going to be different than when a user is asked to buy something specific at a website. Their intentions are completely different. The same goes for when a user is new to a website vs. a frequent visitor. What we look at is going to be vastly different based on what we’re looking for and what our prior experience has been. So, how useful are these studies in reality? I think it is critical to understand the context they apply to.