Posted September 21, 2007 3:36 pm by with 15 comments

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AT SMX Advanced in June, someone asked about eyetracking for personalized results. Gord Hotchkiss took on the challenge, and today writes about Enquiro’s new eyetracking studies on Google Universal Search results pages, revealing a new scanning pattern in personalized search results.

Historically, we’ve seen the “Golden Triangle” or the F-shaped scanning pattern, which shows that users focus their gaze on the upper left hand side of the page, trailing off to the right and bottom of the page.

eyetracking on Google universal serps

However, with personalized results, these studies found a more E-shaped eyetracking pattern. Universal results kept users’ attention further down and across the page. Where non personalize results tended to have one or two areas of attention across the page, personalized results showed more interest across the page three, four or even more times, as well as more interest further down the page.

Somewhat surprisingly, images in search results did not hold users’ attention very long. Gord explains that “We can determine relevance fairly quickly and if an image proves to be irrelevant, we quickly move on.”

However, personalized search results in the mockups did hold attention longer:

First, we gave participants a chance to find out more about Apple’s iPhone. We didn’t restrict their online browsing, but we did track which sites they went to and which searches they did. Then, we used this information to mock up a search results page, for a second session, where we asked them to pick up where they left off in the first session and continue to find out more about the iPhone. We showed personalized results in organic positions 3, 4 and 5, tailored to where we felt the participant was in their cycle. The rest of the results were actual Google results.

It was interesting to compare interactions in organic positions 3, 4 and 5, our test positions for the personalized results, in our personalized mock ups and the non personalized sessions. These personalized results, even though we didn’t move them up into the top two organic positions, performed remarkably well.

The performance of personalized results in the test versions was notably better than non-personalized results:

graphical difference between personalized and nonpersonalized results

Overall, their personalized search mockups showed marked increase in time spent on site, click-throughs and fixations of attention on the page.

For the full personalized search eyetracking whitepaper, visit Enquiro. It features interviews with leading search engines experts and employees, including Ask’s Michael Ferguson—but what I’d like to see next is eyetracking on Ask 3D!

  • Very interesting study, thanks for posting this Jordan 🙂

  • Great stuff from Gord. It is easy to understand why the personalized search results get the extra clicks as they are usually much more customized to the user. Of course if that is the right user that is signed in, LOL.

  • Interesting research.Did they run a test to a number of people ,or is this research tool integrated in their system?

  • Wow. That’s some really interesting research. I wonder how long it will be before OSes include eye-tracking software that can be used for this sort of analysis.

  • Marketing Sherpa has some of these for email campaigns and I find the fascinating. Thank you for posting this – I am intrigued by this as well.

  • Jordan…

    Ask and you shall receive. There’s some eye tracking on Ask in the whitepaper on our site.


  • I still can’t accept the fact that people barely look at the images on the personalized results. Sorry, but I can’t.

  • Good for advertisers that arnt the highest relevancy or that have lower max bids.

  • Jordan McCollum

    @Gord—Oh, hooray! I wanted to get this up ASAP, so I didn’t get a chance to finish looking through the whitepaper, but I will now!

  • really interesting study and amazing results,
    i never thought there is that huge click through rate between first and second result on first page.
    personalized search results seem to deliver more relevant results and more targeted ads.

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  • I was involved in the breakfast conversation that led up to the question at SMX/Local/Mobile. One of the core questions was how many clicked on the MAP ITSELF when the MAP ONEBOX was shown at the top.

    I think we can assume there would be a very-red fixation point on that map if it were included, variant by how much detail was on the map itself.

  • Jordan McCollum

    @Scott—the question that originally precipitated this was at SMX Advanced, but I’d love to see the results from maps, too!

  • @jordan – standing corrected. Still have lomo on the mind. I guess we’re all wanting to know what people are gawking at.