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Google eye tracking study shows top is best

A new study has added tangible evidence to the widely held view that top-ranking search results get the most attention from users, and that lower-ranking results are all but invisible to most people.

The joint eye tracking study conducted by search marketing firms Enquiro and Did-it and eye tracking firm Eyetools found that the majority of eye tracking activity during a search happens in a “golden triangle” at the top of search result pages. The triangle extends across the top natural search result, then angles back to the left of the page down to the bottom-most “above the fold” result, typically in the third or fourth position on the page.

This area was viewed by 100% of the 50 participants in the study.

Results show a “F” shaped scan pattern, with the eye travelling vertically along the far left side of the results looking for visual cues (relevant words, brands, etc) and then scanning to the right, as if something caught the participant’s attention.

With both organic and sponsored search results, higher ranking results were viewed more often. Here are results for organic results (percentages represent the number of study participants viewing the listing):

Organic Search Results Viewed:

Rank 1 – 100%

Rank 2 – 100%

Rank 3 – 100%

Rank 4 – 85%

Rank 5 – 60%

Rank 6 – 50%

Rank 7 – 50%

Rank 8 – 30%

Rank 9 – 30%

Rank 10 – 20%

A similar, though smaller triangle effect was also observed for the sponsored listings on the right side of Google search result pages. In aggregate, fewer people looked at the sponsored listings; the exception to this was then sponsored ads were served at the top of a search result page as well as on the right side of the page. Ads at the top of the page were viewed by 100% of study participants.

The findings of this eye tracking study lend further credibility to the notion that organic search engine optimization is still critical to the overall success of a search marketing campaign. Last December, Jupiter Research released a report stating that algorithmic listings in search indexes generate an estimated six of seven commercially natured search referrals.

The eye tracking study offers a major reason why: People continue to favour organic listings over paid search listings, unless the paid search listing is at the top of the page.

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