7 Marketing Lessons from Eye-Tracking Studies

Who doesn’t love a good eye-tracking study?

With the ability to take a lot of guesswork out of conversion rate optimization, eye-tracking software and heat maps can reveal some startling insights into increasing conversions (and avoiding sales killers) that can benefit every business.

Today we’re going to go over 7 important eye-tracking studies that give a sneak peek into common browsing patterns and elements of human behavior that all marketers need to know.

Let’s take a look!

1. Beware of “Dead Weight” with Visuals

You don’t have to be an expert in UX (user experience) to understand the importance of Fitts’s law.

While seemingly complicated at first glance, one of the fundamental lessons Fitts’s law communicates is that object “weight” (in the visual hierarchy) is a big determinant in what attracts eyes and mouse clicks.

Consider this recent case study from TechWyse that examined the homepage of a truck service with a heat map:

tow truck case study

eyes all over the place

As you can see from the first test, the non-clickable “NO FEES” button was hogging a lot of attention, but it is not a call-to-action and its information isn’t the most important on the page.

That’s no good.

Also, it is right next to one of the most important CTAs on the page (the phone number) and it stands out so much that it actually is drawing people away from other more important elements.

Take a look at the changes they made to alleviate this problem.

tow truck case study improvement

tower

Much better!

The “Call Now” button clearly is getting a lot of attention over every other section on the page, which is great because it is how customers get started contacting the business!

Lesson learned: When you are assembling a persuasive landing page, be sure the elements that “pop” are the ones that matter, and that you aren’t giving too much weight to visuals that don’t encourage customers to take action.

2. The Effect of Video on Search Results

Most marketers have seen those SERP (search engine results page) heat maps that show the top 3 rankings hogging all of the action… But what role do visual elements play in holding visitor attention?

In an interesting heat map study published on Moz.com, videos were shown to be particularly powerful in capturing eyeballs, even when they weren’t the #1 result.

As you can see below, both direct video results (such as a hosted YouTube video) and embedded video results (videos embedded on a webpage) commanded more attention than a regular search listing, especially if they were near the top of the results.

direct video

Why video?

There was a popular post a few weeks ago on how authorship may have hurt click-throughs for a product page. It was on the front page of Hacker News and many marketers were arguing over how Google Authorship has impacted their own search traffic.

While the debate stirred up some counterpoints, one conclusion may be valid. Authorship photos might cause people to assume that the page is an article or a blog post rather than a product page.

Video, on the other hand, should not have the same effect, since it usually is interpreted as a product video. However, instead of assuming, test to see if it impacts your search traffic for top keywords.

Lesson learned: If you want to stand out at the top of some competitive search results, you may want to test an embedded video rather than authorship for product pages.

3. The Power of Directional Cues

Using visual cues to guide visitors to key areas of your site is nothing new, but just how effective is it?

According to studies such as the aptly named Eye Gaze Cannot be Ignored, it is incredibly effective. Human beings have a natural tendency to follow the gaze of others, and we have been coached since birth to follow arrows directing us to where we should be looking/going.

Consider the following example that included a page with a baby and a compelling headline for taking care of the baby’s skin.

baby face website study

It’s obvious that the baby’s face is drawing a lot of attention. (As a matter of fact, faces of babies and pretty women draw the longest gazes from all visitors.)

Unfortunately, from a marketing standpoint, this is a problem because the copy isn’t commanding enough attention.

Now look at the browsing patterns when an image of the baby facing the text was used.

baby face eye tracking

As you can see, users focused on the baby’s face again (from the side) and directly followed the baby’s line of sight to the headline and opening copy. (Even the area of text that the baby’s chin was pointing to was read more!)

Lesson learned: Visuals are an important part of a site’s overall design, but most pages can be optimized by including images that serve as visual cues for where visitors should look next.

4. The F-Pattern Works Across the Board

I bet many of you already have heard of the F-pattern of reading that is common throughout the web, but would you have guessed that it applies practically everywhere?

According to this study from the Nielsen Group, all across articles, e-commerce sites, and search engine results, people almost always browse in an F-shaped pattern that heavily favors the left side of the screen.

F pattern website reading

This coincides with additional research that shows people tend to view the left side of the screen overall far more than the right.

pixels from left edge

It is important to note all of these studies were conducted with English speaking (and reading) participants. The opposite was true for those users whose languages read from right to left.

Is it any wonder that some of the most tested websites in the world (like Amazon) have placed a clear priority on the left sides of their homepages?

amazon on the left

Lesson learned: Web users tend to browse sites based on their reading habits. For English speaking people (and languages with similar reading patterns), the left side of the screen is heavily favored, and all sites tend to be browsed in an F-pattern.

5. “The Fold” isn’t That Important

Relying on the screen above “the fold” to do all of the heavy lifting is one of the biggest usability mistakes you can make. The idea that it is the only place web users will browse is a complete myth.

Multiple tests (including this one and this other one) have shown that users have no problem scrolling down below the fold. Surprisingly, they will browse even further down if the length of the page is longer.

1the fold isnt that important

KISSmetrics’s own co-founder and VP of Marketing, Neil Patel, conducted an interesting A/B test on his homepage and found that a page with 1,292 words beat 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 higher in quality than the leads from the variation.

Another great test from the folks at ContentVerve showed that moving the call-to-action far below the fold actually boosted conversions by 304%.

moving call to action

Lesson learned: Although it’s dependent on the page you are testing, you shouldn’t be afraid of placing important elements below the fold (and testing them there), because it gives people time to read your copy before they take action.

6. Keep Newsletters Short and Sweet

Who’d have thought that eye tracking and email marketing could be best of friends?

According to this study conducted by the Nielsen Group, people scan emails very quickly, and the only areas they give any appreciable amount of time to at all are the initial copy and headlines.

keep newsletters short

From the study:

Users are extremely fast at both processing their inboxes and reading newsletters. The average time allocated to a newsletter after opening it was only 51 seconds.

This means that you need to get to the point in your emails in under a minute. The message should be as compelling as that of an online article, but you don’t have as much time to capture attention as you might in an article.

This coincides with a study from MarketingSherpa that shows people prefer short, clear, and un-creative headlines for their emails. (Creative headlines can seem mysterious, and mystery in an inbox may equal spam.)

Truly a situation where the KISS principle applies!

Lesson learned: Once you’ve earned the right to appear in a prospect’s inbox, be sure to keep that privilege by crafting emails that are clear and get to the point quickly. You don’t have as much time to broadcast your message as you would in an online article.

7. The Power of Pre-Sale Prices

If you’ve ever seen this video by Dan Ariely, you know that sometimes seemingly “useless” price points actually are quite important for increasing conversions.

One common pricing element that fits the bill here is the “pre-sale” price. It isn’t literally used by customers because they don’t pay that price… But is it still “used” to evaluate the new price?

In an effort to answer this question, Robert Stevens of THiNK Eye Tracking conducted a test that examined how people look at prices and products on shelves.

price products on shelves

In the initial test, results weren’t too surprising. Most people spent time looking at prices and product packaging.

But if the pre-sale price was included, would people look at it?

pre sale price included

They did!

Better yet, Stevens also tested perception of the sale price to see if viewing the pre-sale price played a role.

These were his findings:

After consumers selected the smoothie of their choice, I asked them if their purchase was a good value for the money on a 7 point “like” scale (with 1 being very good value for the money and 7 being not very good value for the money).

Consumers who saw only the promotional item gave a mean score of 2.4. Consumers who saw the promotional item next to a full-price premium offer gave it 1.7, even though they purchased the same item!

Basically, humans are pretty bad at evaluating price without contextual clues (as argued by Ariely in this TED talk). We find it much easier to make decisions when we have something to base them on.

That’s why people often view a sale price as a better value when they can see what they really are saving. Without that contextual clue, the sale price is hard to evaluate because they don’t know what the product usually sells for.

Lesson learned: Sometimes “useless” prices like pre-sale prices can be used by customers to evaluate the value of a potential purchase.

About the Author: Gregory Ciotti is the marketing strategist for Help Scout, a Zendesk alternative made for small businesses that want help desk software with a personal touch. Get more data-driven content from Greg by downloading his free guide on converting more customers (with psychology).

  1. Hmmm. Not sure about your thinking here. Especially the first one.

    CTAs aren’t supposed to be read for a long period of time they’re just supposed to be found when needed.

    Possibly the fact the company has No Fees is the most important message on the page and therefore should be the one that pops the most. Or maybe it isn’t.

    We don’t know either way because neither your article nor the one you’re referring to have published by conversion testing data. So we’ll never know.

    Personally I don’t understand the leap of faith that says just because someone looks at a page element longer it means that should be the next intended action. It could be the one that provides the most food for thought and therefore the eyes stay on it longer.

    If I was trying to sell holidays, for example, I wouldn’t want people staring at the big red Book Now button, I’d want them spending time on the descriptions and images. That’s where the selling is most likely to happen.

    Make sense?

    • Fair point, but my intention was to simply highlight how a non-clickable (and unimportant) item can attract far too much attention when it is given too much visual weight. It would be interesting if the TechWyse crew could release some more hard data on that redesign!

  2. I admit that I was kind of confused when I read the headline (thought it was about eyeballs or eyesight), but once I started reading the post, I understood what it was about.

    Using eye-tracking can benefit your company because you’ll be able to see your hot and cold spots and make the necessary adjustments.

    Thanks for the tip! I’d like to research this more for my business.

  3. Wow, this is some really powerful stuff that I wasn’t aware of. Well, some of it, like object weight and eye gazes. But now that you’ve pointed it out it seems so obvious and clear what an impact they can have. Thanks for the great pointers Gregory.

  4. Is the first example really an Eye tracking study? It looks like a screenshot from AttentionWizard or a similar tool.

    These tools are useful, but they’re not eyetracking. They are simulated attention study tools.

  5. A few month ago we also did a a/b test with Directional Cues for a website and indeed it worked well. About 36% increase of contacts were the result.

    Mostly is the content / media a problem, you don’t always have the correct pictures of video’s to implement.

  6. With regards to customers staring at the non-clickable image, I remember seeing (not sure where) another marketer that found the same thing- prospects kept clicking on pix that led them nowhere.

    Instead, that marketer made the image clickable, and got a significant increase in click-throughs and conversions.

  7. I don’t think “above the fold” is as important anymore as long as you have a photo of a baby looking at something below it! :) Kidding, but I actually love the eye gaze research. Reminds me of when people point within their videos to call to actions situated below the video player on the page.

  8. Dont agree with your point that people will scroll down more for longer pages.
    Unless it is a KISSmetrics post :) Just kidding. Actually this post and all the comments (so far down) prove your point. Fitts Law is very interesting.

  9. Today we’re going to go over 7 important eye-tracking studies that give a sneak peek into common browsing patterns and elements of human behavior that all marketers need to know.

  10. Great post, Gregory. As a copywriter, I often don’t pay too much attention to images and how they are positioned on a web page. However, for a web page to be successful, all the elements must work well together.

  11. A majority of studies on eye-tracking have been concerned with using the technology as an input device… But what happens if it is used as a data collection tool?
    Eye-tracking, uses images from a camera or imaging system to track changes in the structure and movements of our eyes, give a tremendous amount of information about the way you interact with something.

    What happens with your eyes when you are reading an article: Did your pupils constrict, ever so slightly, at any point while reading the text? Did your eyes pause on certain words? Did the blink rate of your eyes changed while reading the text? Did you backtrack to reread any words, and if so, which one, when and how long?

    It is proven that pupil diameter decreases with fatigue, relating to the complexity of a page layout. Eye blinks are closely related to psychological factors including mood state and task demands. This reflects the viewer’s attention and tension. Backtracking to certain locations on the screen may also occur as a result of fatigue and strain, and may be an indicator of the user having difficulty in accomplishing a task.

    Today, eye-tracking isn’t ready for mass-market. The computations required can’t be handled by current generation computers. But these obstacles are vanishing as electronics become increasingly powerful. While today’s laptops and tablets might have trouble performing eye-tracking computations, those of 2015 will be able to do so with ease.

    The same technologies that will make playing Fruit Ninja with your eyes a reality, will also allow advertisers to monitor and measure everything you look at: Did our eyes linger for a few seconds on an advertisement that, in the end, we decided not to click? Are there certain words, phrases, or topics that we appear to prefer or avoid?
    In the future, will we be served online ads based not only on what we’ve shopped for, but also on the thoughts reflected in our eye movements?

    A cheap solution would be to put a piece of tape over the front-facting camera. For today’s devices, that would work. But that may not be an option in the future. Apple filed a patent application, where future display screens could include thousands of tiny imaging sensors built into the screen.

    Today, when we reading online, our thoughts are still our own. We should enjoy it while it lasts.

    • Hi Thomas,
      I think that the technology its ready. Today, for example, with Tobii you can have full control over a PC. It´s possible send emails, it´s possible “talk” with the eyes, It´s possible draw, make a painting with Eyetracking.
      For the other side, collect the data it´s possible to by the current computer generation even analyze the data it´s posible.
      I encourage you to investigate a little more about, eyetracking control over a PC. You can start with Tobii EyeX.
      ;D

  12. Great article. Every webdesigner and marketeer should be aware of!
    Personally I am a great fan of Dan Ariely.

  13. Great post! I

  14. Interesting Read

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