The past few weeks have been a blur – at least my kids still remember me.

It started by going to Toronto to speak at the Search Engine Strategies conference. I decided to attend a few of the sessions that I had missed at the prior conference and hopefully pick up a few new ideas. Fortunately, I attended Gord Hotchkiss’ session where he shared further results of his eye tracking study on search results.

Last year, Gord shared the first part of the study which focused on Google and how users viewed and chose results. There was some great information, such as the “F” pattern and the semantic map (love that stuff!).

Semantic Map
If you can get the semantic map, you’ll be well on your way to taking advantage of the “long tail” of search terms to your site. In a nutshell, if a user types in MP3 Player, that is the distilled term they are using to generalize all of the data and key words in their mind. However, once they type in the phrase, “mp3 player” the rest of the terms, such as iPod, 30 gig, 60 gig, flash drive, hard drive, pricing, Rio, etc. don’t go away. Instead, they watch for those related terms in the search results. Search results that contain additional terms beyond the ones types into the search query, can garner more attention, thus more clicks than even higher ranking sites.

Golden Triangle
This year, Gord’s study expanded beyond Google to include the other search engines. The pattern was essentially the same, however people spent more time on the Yahoo and MSN search results page. The conclusion was that the Google’s results were higher quality, as people were clicking through to results faster than on Yahoo, and much faster than MSN. The interesting factor was the “Golden Triangle” in the search results, that extended to an “F” shape on all of the search engines.

I got to see this again when Gord presented the same information at The Catalog Conference for the DMA in Chicago, only two weeks later. I was speaking in a session before his, so I didn’t have to go far. What they say about hearing things more than once is true . . .
Jakob’s Study
Very shortly after the conference, I saw Jakob Neilson’s eye tracking study. Nielsen study included a search result page (from Google), a typical “About Us” page, and an ecommerce product page. Amazingly, the same ”F” pattern is seen on all three types of pages. This supports Nielsen’s earlier studies that users scan pages, they don’t read them. This is something that I have been hammering away at recent SES conferences – using this study to help site owners make their content “scannable”.

(Click for larger image) 

What can you do?

  • Make your content scannable – over 80% of users will only scan the page.
  • Place the most important information first.
  • Use action-oriented headlines, paragraph headers and bullet points (Don’t waste words).
  • Be clear with your purpose – let visitors know quickly and easily what you want them to do.

In journalism, we called this the inverted pyramid style of writing. The most important information is in the headline – users should be able to surmise the content of the page from the headline. Then, using paragraph headers, summarize each paragraph so that users can quickly find the information they need as they scan the page.

You have a very short time to keep your visitor’s attention – these studies should show the importance of getting their attention and focusing it in the right place.

Jakob Nielson Eye Tracking Study
Enquiro Eye Tracking Study