Look Into Our Eyes: The Art Of The Gaze

Forget your click-throughs, your hang times, your content choices. One of the basic Web behaviors that envelops all other determinations of effectiveness is the simple gaze. Where someone is looking -- at your Web site and your ad, for how long and even in what order -- should tell you volumes about what parts of your brand message are, and aren't, getting through.  

To wit, a company called EyeTrackShop recently surveyed the back-to-school promotions at Target, Walmart and Kmart sites to find vast differences in effectiveness. The company uses a combination of eye tracking and follow-up surveys to understand what users noticed and what they made of it.  

According to company Senior Vice President of Client Services Jeff Bander, small differences in the way the sites positioned and organized their information seemed to relate to large differences in message reception and even purchase intent. "Fixation order" is key, he tells me.

At the Walmart and Target sites, the viewers begin with the top of the home page at the search box and then to the Back to School picture below and then to the left nav bar. Fewer than half of the users go further down the page.



On the Kmart site users started with the central picture and then went to the top of the page and the left nav bar. Although users were spending more time with the Kmart site, the follow-up surveys found that users were not identifying the back-to-school message as well as they did with the other two sites.  

"Fixation is important," says Bander. "Whatever the stimuli, you want to make sure the key points are seen, and you don't want [them] to be seen last." The smooth movement of the eye from top to bottom suggests comprehension as the eye settles on the central messaging. The top left area is often a sweet spot for messages on sites. "On the Kmart heat map in the top left there is a lot of white space," says Bander. "On the Kmart page, [users] spent 20% longer on the page -- but it didn't communicate what the site was about."

In follow-up interviews right after the users were exposed to the sites, 94% could identify the back to school message with the Walmart page and 93% could do the same with the Target page. Only 80% perceived the intended theme for Kmart. On the other hand, a fair number of the visitors to the Kmart site called it informative. Nevertheless, when it comes to puchase intent in the follow-up survey 70% said they were likely or very likely to buy at Walmart, 59% at Target and only 32% at Kmart.

Bander agrees that the post-exposure results on buyer intent certainly can be attributed as well to prior brand identification and purchase tastes. But he argues the Web site structure and messaging were in some ways reflective of a deeper issue. "Both Walmart and Target had done a better job. Kmartis still trying to figure out who they are and who their market is. 

Eye-tracking technology of the sort EyeTrackShop used here has become much more flexible and affordable for marketers, Bander says. His company enjoys substantial investment from Tobii Technology, a longtime innovator in the field. Eye-tracking studies are famous for their specialized equipment and high costs -- sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. The cost of these studies has been brought down to $3,000 to $5,000, with turnaround times as little as 48 hours.

The new system allows for much cheaper and quicker online recruitment of panels. The eye-tracker software is sophisticated enough now to use standard home Web cams to focus on a user and track eye movements. This allows a company like EyeTrackShop to find a panel like the one used here of 200 to 300 subjects online. Once they agree to take part, the system can calibrate the software with the webcam view of the subject, run the eye track tests on the material and then do follow-up surveys. The follow-up questions are about brand and message awareness, intent and emotions.

Next up, video. Bander says the company is testing an eye tracking product that will track the gaze on digital view frame by frame.   

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