Eyetracking shows Universal does change behavior

Fri 6 February 2009 21:17, Bas van den Beld

Eyetracking shows Universal does change behavior

New eyetracking studies, performed by Google itself seem to confirm that when optimizing for Universal Search other behavior of users have to be taken in account.

Though Google itself feels the thumbnails in Universal Search do not ‘interfere with the users search patterns’ a closer look at the images Google provides us show users do behave differently.

Google compared how users scan the search results pages with and without thumbnail images. Users were asked to find the results they thought were best fitting to their needs.

Google feels the results of the eye tracking research  shows the thumbnails Google placed in their Universal search results do not ‘interfere’ with the users search patterns. Google says “the thumbnail image seemed to make results with thumbnails easy to notice when the users wanted them”.

Users tend to scan the search results in order. Google says the order of scanning the results was not strongly affected. Google also suggests that participant to the research were able to find the results they want more easy.

Off course Google is right. The order of scanning didn’t change. Users still take the same steps. However that’s the search engines side of the story. But off course we also have to look at the story of optimizing. When taking a good look at the images of the research which Google provides a couple of things can be noticed.

First of all the research shows yet (again) that universal search makes users scroll down a lot less than when showed the ‘regular’ search results.  Where Google says this means searchers found what they were looking for faster, one could also say the thumbnails are an ‘obstacle’. It seems as if users do not scroll down below the video thumbnails.


This would mean optimizing for the first couple of results is becoming even more important with Universal Search.

Second, strangely enough a second research picture Google gives us shows a difference in choice in results. When no thumbnail was placed most users seem to go for the number five result. With thumbnail (placed next to the fourth result) users skipped a result and seem to choose the number six result.


This would mean that when an image is added other results are influenced. Is it better to stay away from the imaged results?

The images Google supplied are not the best quality pictures (relatively small) but they do give us some insight on the behavior of users. It can be concluded that though users still follow the same pattern the thumbnails do have an impact on the spot you want your results to show up.

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