Tracking tool is an eye-opener

Eye tracking technology may produce contradictory results to traditional click-map statistics, but by using new an old usability tools together marketers can gain complete understanding of their users

So what is eye tracking? Eye tracking lends itself very well to traditional advertising and marketing research, in print and online. Companies such as Bunnyfoot have pioneered its use in these arenas, even extending to in-game advertising.

CADinteractive often has a wider remit for our user research than just marketing and we are generally tasked with understanding cognitive reaction to brand, message and content and how customers physical interact with booking forms, self-help, navigation and rich media.

During a recent research project we used eye tracking and the PEEP methodology (don’t talk, just look), followed by a traditional use-and-talk lab interview. We then combine these findings with quantitative click-map stats (overlay of where users are clicking on the website). The end results are both fascinating and worrying. On their own, the eye tracking and click-map stats contradict how people interact with a page.

Users are looking at and clicking on the main navigation in a consistent fashion, but are interacting very differently with page contents.

An example of this is where there is a linked title with copy below and a related image. The majority of users read the title but click on the image. If you relied on eye tracking alone, then you would find that the image is ignored and the title is the most important element, relying solely on click-map analysis shows the reverse.

The reason the eye tracking does not correlate with the location users are clicking on is because eye tracking does not pick up peripheral vision, it only registers what people are looking directly at.

On certain pages of the site there is an interesting trend emerging. Users tend to spend more time gazing at the animations and on-site graphics more than the written content. However, despite their focus, it does not mean that images are always used as a point of navigation. The chart below shows the vast majority of Web users (68%) clicked on headings and titles compared to 18% whose gaze fell on them. Yet, 39% of users’ gaze was captured by animation, but only 9% clicked on them. Graphics tell a similar story, with 30% of Web users’ gaze being captured by them, yet only 15% clicked on a graphic. Text links do not have the same disparity – they attract 13% of Web users’ gaze and 8% click on them to help them navigate the site.

The research also shows that users are looking at key information on screen, yet have no recollection or recall of it. This is particularly true of pages that have a number of different prices displayed around the page or pages that have a large amount of similar information.

Once we put the results through our customer insight intelligence tool – which reviews key website information to produce a top-level executive summary that pinpoints usability and accessibility problems – and combine wider sources of user interaction data we can build an incredibly detailed and sometimes conflicting user story.

This research shows that eye tracking offers an immensely powerful insight into user behaviour, cognitive recognition and through PEEP, realistic user interaction.

However, eye tracking is only a tool and one that fits well with other usability research services, like remote Web tracking, statistical analysis, holistic reviews and traditional lab research.

Eye tracking can show how people use sites and services in a more realistic way as they don’t need prompting, but they are still in a lab, undertaking a task on-demand. Yet, for the first time, we can watch, in detail, exactly how a person interacts, without the need for software downloads, prompts or labs.

Relying on eye tracking alone, especially in untrained hands will lead to unnecessary interface changes being implemented and the real problems going undetected. Combining eye tracking with other usability tools will provide marketers, designers and site owners with a complete understanding of their users.

Anyone can buy or rent an eye tracker, so before engaging their services check that they have a robust methodology in place and are not just using eye tracking for hype or for the sake of using technology.v

Chris Averill, managing director of CADinteractive, contributed to this week’s Trends Digital Insight

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