Keeping an Eye on Google

A new report offers fascinating, in-depth insights on how users interact with Google search results, based on studies using eye-tracking technology.

The report, from Enquiro, Did-it, and Eyetools, is a comprehensive white paper that builds on an earlier press release that describes Google’s “golden triangle” of search results.

The study finds most viewers look at results in an “F” shaped scan pattern, with the eye traveling vertically along the far left side of the results seeking visual cues (relevant words, brands, etc.), then scanning to the right, as if something caught the participant’s attention.

This new study expands significantly on the initial findings. It offers a detailed look at the methodology used and reaches much more granular conclusions regarding all aspects of Google search results. The study shows, for example, searchers react to organic results differently than to sponsored listings.

An interesting twist comes into play when a query triggers a “one-box” result, with news, local search, or desktop search results displayed at the top of a search results page above organic listings. The report raises a very interesting question: If we can’t always control Google’s behavior when one-box results are triggered, is trying to achieve top organic listings worth the premium in both time and cost?

Throughout the report, sidebars offer insights into searcher behavior observed during the study. These are the authors’ opinions, based on both study results and their experience as search marketing professionals. Some of the insights touch on such issues as why we ignore advertising, the role of brand in search, online patience, the effects of gender, and numerous others.

One of the most interesting parts of the report describes “semantic mapping,” an important new idea that, when used properly, will help search marketers optimize pages more effectively, not for the search engine but for the ultimate “consumers” of search results: people.

The idea behind semantic mapping is when we search, we’re not just seeking for the “best” results but rather the best match between an online destination and the concept in our minds. This goes far beyond the notion of landing a page with keywords or keyword phrases that match search queries.

Instead, the study finds searchers tend to respond to search results that do the best job of matching the concept in the searcher’s mind, regardless of the position of the search result on the page. Two important behavioral events occur here: Our eyes jump around on search results pages looking for direct matches; we also use peripheral vision, which can indirectly help locate information on the page.

These ideas, optimizing for concepts rather than keywords and taking advantage of subtler types of behavior such as the searcher’s peripheral vision, could lead to a whole new level of search optimization for search marketers willing to invest the time to experiment.

The study also examines many other factors influencing searcher behavior, such as the effects of bold-faced search terms rather than plain ones in results; the confidence factor a searcher has with initial results compared to results seen more than once; demographic differences that can affect searcher preferences, and many more.

It’s a fascinating report. Though it deals with some very sophisticated research and presents rather complex observations and conclusions, it’s nonetheless compelling and eminently readable. If you’re serious about search marketing, you should get this study. It contains both solid research and valuable insights into how to improve search marketing you won’t find elsewhere.

Priced at $149, the report isn’t inexpensive and it will likely pay for itself almost immediately if you put its keen insights and practical recommendations into action with your own search marketing efforts.

For more information, and a sample of the full report, visit www.enquiro.com/eyetrackingreport.asp.

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