User behavior in SERPs. Eye tracking study July 2010
This fantastic study was done by Mari Carmen Marcos @mcmarcos and Cristina González Caro at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona and published July 2010 by magazine El profesional de la Información (copyright owners).
It can be downloaded here in Spanish but as I found it interesting for SEO consultants and there is no English translation I want to summarize and put it into my bad English.
Eye tracking experiment design
There are some previous studies analyzing the search engines results pages (SERPs) but this is the first one trying to determine whether the intention behind queries affects the way people browse the results page, the relationship between gaze patterns and intentionality while performing queries.
Participants attempted four different types of queries, informational, navigational, transactional or multimedia.
- Informational: the user wants to obtain information such as phone number of a hospital, the temperature of a city or the biography of a singer
Question: What is the schedule of the Louvre museum in Paris?
Query: louvre hours
- Navigational: the user wants find a particular website, such as a university where he wants to study, a company's one where he will do a job interview or a newspaper site he would like to read
Question: Search the official website of the National Spanish TV channel
Query: "televisión española"
- Transactional: the user wants to perform an action, such as a software download, buy a flight ticket or request a certificate
Question: Find a website where you can book a table at a restaurant in downtown Barcelona
Query: barcelona restaurant
- Multimedia: the user wants to find a photo or video
Question: Find a picture of the Alhambra at sunset
Query: Alhambra at sunset
Google, Google Images, Yahoo! and Yahoo! Images
58 people who regularly use search engines
Between 18 and 55 years old, 80% of them between 20 and 30
25 men (43%), 33 women (57%)
30 minutes by test made individually, not in group
22 tasks in total per person, 10 informational, 3 navigational, 4 transactional and 5 multimedia.
Type of query: informational, navigational, transactional or multimedia.
Type of results: organic or sponsored (paid adds)
Areas of interest (AOIs): titles, snippets, urls and images
The number of fixations on each AOI
Time of those fixations in milliseconds for any of those AOIs
Organic and sponsored results
From the total amount of queries performed only 39% had sponsored adds.
This percentage is divided as follows: 36% on informational queries (77 pages), 43% on navigational (25 pages), 76% on transactional (56 pages), 0% on multimedia (0 pages).
Conclusions by query type
Some numbers of the study:
Informational intent queries
Users performing these queries focused more on the snippet element trying to decide whether or not this result is consistent with the information they are looking for. The title was in second position as also offers an important insight of content after the click.
Relevancy by AOI:
- Title: 37% of fixations, 34% of fixations time
- Snippet: 51% of fixations, 53% of fixations time
- URL: 12% of fixations, 13% of fixations time
Navigational intent queries
The order in relevance is the same by fixation time but it changes in favour of title and URL by number of fixations.
Relevancy by AOI:
- Title: 38% of fixations, 31% of fixation time
- Snipet: 42% of fixations, 49% of fixation time
- URL: 13% of fixations, 15% of fixation time
Although keeping a low relevancy, the number of fixations at sponsored results represents 5%, close to double when compared to informational queries, 2,8%.
Transactional intent queries
Organic results are still getting most of the attention, 82%, but a growing user interest for sponsored links is confirmed, 17%.
Relevancy by AOI:
- Title: 42% of fixations, 28% of fixation time
- Snipet: 43% of fixations, 56% of fixation time
- URL: 15% of fixations, 16% of fixation time
Number of fixations at sponsored results is 9,8%, the highest rate compared to 2,8% at informational and 5% at navigational.
The distribution of fixations by area for sponsored results is 79% for the upper area and 21% for the ones on the right column.
Regarding the variables for sponsored, title gets 43% of the time of fixations, snippet 28% and URL 29%.
Multimedia intent queries
By number of fixations, 76%, and time of fixation 71% almost all the attention is focused on images.
Users set their attention mainly in the first row of results, so these images are usually the ones that user comes to evaluate.
In general terms, the results demonstrate that a relationship exists between the user's intention and their behavior when they browse the results page.
If user's intention is to obtain information or to reach a particular website, organic results are the most relevant. Instead, sponsored links are taken into account only if the intention is to perform an action.
Time of fixation by AOI:
- Organic results: snippet 44%, title 39%, URL 17%
- Sponsored results: title 43%, snippet 28%, URL 29%
For informational, navigational and transactional queries the most observed element is the snippet followed closely by title in organic results. Snippet is the element where user expect to find the information that will help them decide if they click on the result.
For transactional queries, sponsored results are receiving a bigger number of fixations but in this case the order of relevance of elements is title, snippet and URL.
Finally, for multimedia queries, image queries receive most of the fixations.
Sponsored links does not arouse interest in the search users whose intention is not transactional, and the other way round.
The wording of the title must be carefully thought to reflect the content of the page
Ads at the top have more fixations than those found on the right side column may be because the upper zone more easily confused with organic results or because it is an area where user expects sponsored advertising.
My take on the study
This data is not revealing nothing absolutely new to professional SEO consultants but it is important to have some scientific or numeric evidence to support the practise of this discipline.
We knew the role of snippet as a factor to increase click through rate and the study evidences even more how important can be to balance clicks in favour of one result or another.
Writing carefully titles and meta descriptions is beyond discussion but intentionality adds a new variable to the equation here so try to anticipate user's intention adapting your wording according to the type of service your site offers.
What's your take?