In Search The Eyes, Clicks Look For Visual Appeal
An interesting eye-tracking study aims to show how Google controls search query clicks, pulling consumers'
eyes toward its advertisers' and branded sites, but it actually calls attention to the demand for visually appealing design and content to succeed.
Google's sponsored results consistently attract the most attention from searchers, according to an eye-tracking study conducted by The Institute of Communication and Media Research at the German Sports University, Cologne.
The study examines where people look on the page of search results, how long they look at individual links and where they click as a result. Researchers used search results pages found in Google's proposals found in a round of commitments to the European Commission based on nearly five years of complaints by businesses that the engine directs consumers to its own sites, rather than those that are the best result for an online search query.
Google has been asked by the E.U. commission to propose solutions to prevent any future abuse of power. The study claims Google's second attempt at a "workable, fair and effective solution" fails to stop the abuse. ICOMP claims the research shows the recent changes make the problem worse.
As Google moves more toward making search results visually appealing with images and colors, the study claims that alternative search sites falter. They do not draw enough visual attention to prompt users to click on them, and that visual attention for organic links remains insignificant compared with the image-enhanced Google elements placed above them.
One thing is certain -- the study emphasizes the need for a visually appealing page. Consumers using search engines to locate information will click on color and pictures vs. text, which remains one reason that search marketers will see the end to text-based only paid-search ads.
The eye-tracking study shows that results for the search term 'iPod' and the images guide the searcher's visual attention to Google Shopping results, with 56% of participants clicking on the link. The alternative search sites drew less visual attention, indicating little interest from users.
When searching for airline flights the results were similar. Some 43% of people searching for airline flights clicked on the Google Flight Search Sponsored links. Alternative search sites received 11% of the clicks, indicating the Google Flight Search area remains the most attractive on the search results page.
When it comes to searching for "Map London," the thumbnails for Google Maps and Images receive more, earlier, and longer visual attention than all other page elements, including competing mapping providers -- with 46% of participants clicking on the Google map and 36% clicking Google Images, according to the study.
Compare this with the first organic link on the results page of mylondonmap.com, a Google Maps clone, to find how the site only received two clicks, and the official Transport for London link positioned below, received none.
The ICOMP-commissioned study tracked the behavior of 35 users, measuring eye movements on search engine result pages given as examples in the Oct. 21, 2013 commitment proposal by Google, as well as an additional search results page depicting a mapping search. The study was conducted within time constraints to allow for submission within the European Commission's request for information deadline.