Google Eye-Tracking Watches What You're Watching

If you’re reading this story, Google’s eye-tracking team may be onto something.

The site’s engineers are revealing a new line of eye-tracking studies that aim to see where your eyes first land on a Web page -- then make sure the content you want is in that same place. (I’m assuming, of course, that this story was the content you wanted. If not, then the studies have failed. And, quite frankly, my feelings are hurt.)

Ah, good -- I knew you wanted to be here. That’s why I placed this line of text right here on the page. Let me explain.

Google Eye-Tracking: The Basics

The Google team has been watching people’s eyes for a while now, but this is the first time it’s sharing the results with us. What engineers have found makes enough sense: People scan pages like search results very quickly. Their decisions on what links to click are almost automatic.

Using that information, then, the Google gods have worked to build their pages so that you’ll see and click on all the right stuff. The following heatmap image, for example, shows how most people look at search result pages. The darker the pink gooey blob, the more time people spent focused on that part of the page.

The pattern, not surprisingly, shows that most surfers start at the first result and scan downward, typically stopping before they hit the third item. And their eyes dart around like a hunting lizard’s tongue -- just check out this video showing average eye movements around a page in real-time. The red dots get bigger as the eyes stayed in a single spot for longer.

Applying Eye-Tracking Principles

So what’s all this mumbo-jumbo really about? Here’s the deal: These eye-tracking principles can be applied to practically any page. Google uses them in everything from Google News -- learning which areas of the screen are most apt to grab your attention and placing links, ads, almost anything accordingly -- to Google Image Search, discovering whether the second row or the second column is most likely to catch your eye. If you found this story on the home page of PCWorld.com, then our site did something right in deciding where to place it. (Again, assuming you actually wanted to read it. If you didn’t, you should really stop reading already.)

Will having this knowledge alter your life? Of course not. But it’s some interesting insight into how something as simple as a search results page comes together -- and how anyone building a blog or Web site can take those same pattern-based concepts into consideration.

Hopefully, your eyes aren’t too glazed over from the thought.

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