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Eye-tracking Proves Real-Time Search Not Useful



OneUpWeb recently released the results of an eye-tracking study on Google’s new real-time results integrated into SERPs—and it looks like the search giant might have just wasted $15M (the estimated cost of Google’s deal with Twitter).

The study segmented web users into two groups: consumers and information foragers. It took consumers 7.09 seconds to look at the real-time results, even though they’re listed just below the news results and before the organic results. In fact, they scrolled below the fold to view the image results before they fixated on the real-time area, the eleventh area they focused on.

Information foragers took slightly longer to turn to the real-time results: 7.39 seconds. It was the thirteen area their eyes focused on—but the first 12 areas were all just above the real-time results in the news results. (The search task here was to research a selected current news item using the search engine of choice—for 89% of all participants, that was Google.) (Side note: I’m not sure why the times in the above graph are so much higher than the numbers OneUpWeb also provided that I used in these paragraphs.)

The second search task was segmented by group—the consumers were to look for a product they were considering to buy for themselves or for someone else as a gift. Information foragers were to again look for information on a current news topic. Interestingly, in this second set, consumers were five seconds faster than information foragers to focus on real-time results.

Meanwhile, 20% of consumers and 30% of information foragers actually clicked on real-time results, as opposed to 69% of consumers and 60% of information foragers that clicked on the top 5 results excluding real-time.

I’ve long argued that real-time results will only be helpful for a very small, select set of data—and for that set, most people would know to go to Twitter or Facebook in the first place anyway. I’m not the only one. The Guardian’s Charles Arthur points to several others who feel the same way, most notably Nick Carr, who sardonically chronicles the efforts to organize the web’s information around 140-character ephemera.

And yet Google insists that this information is useful and must be foisted upon the user. Aruther quotes Marissa Mayer last summer:

We think the real-time search is incredibly important, and the real-time data that’s coming online can be super-useful in terms of finding out whether – something like, is this conference today any good? Is it warmer in San Francisco than it is in Silicon Valley? You can actually look at tweets and see those types of patterns emerge, so there’s a lot of useful information about real-time interactions that we think ultimately will really affect search.

Apparently users don’t quite agree yet.

What do you think? Are real-time results useful?

  • http://www.newhomessection.com Jayson

    I don’t really care much for the real-time results and I don’t think I’ve ever actually clicked on any of them. I use Google to search for information that isn’t really time sensitive.

    If I want time sensitive results, I’ll use Google News or Twitter. I think most users are smart enough to know that News results are best found on News sites or Twitter.

    I want the old simple Google back – the one that delivers good fast results. Not the one that tries to be everything to everyone – that’s what drop down links are for.

    That said, Google will probably end up being right :)
    .-= Jayson´s last undefined ..Response cached until Thu 11 @ 2:46 GMT (Refreshes in 3.07 Hours) =-.

  • Dave Raley

    I agree that real-time results are of limited use to most searchers – although it certainly fits well within Google’s goal of cataloging the worlds information (no matter how mundane!).

    BUT what I would like to see from Google is an option to date-sort results. Often when searching, the relative recency of the information is important, even when it is not news related. An example is help and support related issues. A solution someone found to a similar problem 2 years ago that happens to show up at the top of the SERP is often far less helpful because the software has changed. If users could sort by date that would be valuable – just as valuable as real-time results.