Google posted an update about its eye tracking usability studies today. Most of the results are not exactly groundbreaking. It is, for example, no surprise that most users only scan the first couple of search results. Indeed, most Google users don’t seem to scan much further than the second result. There are, however, some interesting nuggets of information in this post about how Google uses this data to study every aspect of its search results page.
More interestingly, though, is that Google was apparently concerned that adding thumbnails into the ‘universal search‘ interface would distract users. According to Anne Aula and Kerry Rodden, the two user experience researchers at Google who wrote the post, thumbnails did not make a big difference for how users scanned their search results. Instead, it apparently made it easer for users to skip over results with thumbnails when these weren’t relevant to their searches.
As Google also points out, scanning the search results page and deciding where to look at and what to click on seems to be an almost completely subconscious process.
Overall, users on Google’s search page follow the familar F-shaped pattern that was also apparent in earlier eye-tracking studies .
What About Google’s Ads?
Google’s researchers don’t mention advertising in this post at all. Neither the video, nor most of the images in the post include any advertising. Given how important these ads are for Google, we can only asume that Google regularly uses these studies to test how its users perceive the advertising on the search results pages.
Judging from the only images that show ads, most users only look at them after they have scanned through at least the first three or four search results.
Chances are that Google didn’t want to give away too much of its secret sauce, though it would have been nice to see a bit more information about how users perceive and react to these ads.