Eye-Tracking Studies: 23 Actionable Lessons

Eye-tracking studies are hot in the web design world, but it can be hard to figure out how to translate the results of these studies into real design implementations. These are a few tips from eye-tracking studies that you can use to improve the design of your webpage.

  1. Text attracts attention before graphics. Contrary to what you might think, the first thing users look at on a website  isn’t the images. Most casual users will be coming to your site looking for information, not images, so make sure your website is designed so that the most important parts of your text are what is most prominent.
  2. Initial eye movement focuses on the upper left corner of the page. It shouldn’t be surprising that users look at webpages in this way, as most computer applications are designed with the top left hand side as the main focus. You can do your website a favor by keeping this format in mind when creating a design. Remember, while you want to have a personal style, you have to keep the habits of your readers in mind if you want your site to be successful.
  3. Users initially look at the top left and upper portion of the page before moving down and to the right. Users were found to generally scan webpages in the shape of an ‘F’. Make sure the important elements of your content are located in these key areas to keep readers engaged. Place headlines, subheadlines, bullet points, and highlighted text along these lines so readers will be enticed to read further.
  4. Readers ignore banners. Ads may be the bread and butter of your site, but studies have shown that readers largely ignore banner ads, often focusing for only a fraction of a second. If you’re trying to make money from ads, you need to be creative in your ad placement or in the types of ads you have on your site.
  5. Fancy formatting and fonts are ignored. Why? Because users assume they are ads and don’t have the information they need. In fact, studies showed that users had difficulty finding information in large colored letters formatted in this way because visual clues told them to ignore it. Keep your website streamlined and not so shiny that important elements will be glossed over.
  6. Show numbers as numerals. Readers will find it much easier to find factual information on your site if you use numerals instead of writing out numbers. Remember, you’re writing for readers that are going to be primarily scanning your site, so make it easier for them to find what they need and keep them interested.
  7. Type size influences viewing behavior. Want to change how people look at your page? Change the size of your font. Smaller fonts increase focused viewing behavior while larger fonts encourage scanning. Depending on your needs, you may want more of one than the other.
  8. Users only look at a sub headline if it interests them. Don’t put in subheadlines just to stick to a particular format–make sure that they are relevant and interesting. You can also help yourself out by making sure they include keywords that will bring search engines to your site.
  9. People generally scan lower portions of the page. You can use this to your advantage if you give readers something to latch onto when they’re scanning your page. Highlight certain sections or create bulleted lists so information is easy to find and read on your page.
  10. Shorter paragraphs perform better than long ones. Information on your page should be designed for the short attention span of most Internet users. Keep paragraphs and sentences short unless context mandates otherwise, such as descriptions of products on an e-commerce sites.
  11. One-column formats perform better in eye-fixation than multi-column formats. Don’t overwhelm visitors to your site with too much information. Simpler really is better in some cases. Multiple columns will more than likely by ignored by users, so eliminate clutter from the get-go.
  12. Ads in the top and left portions of a page will receive the most eye fixation. If you’re going to place ads on your website, try integrating them into the top left portion of your page, as those will get the most visual attention. Of course, just because readers see them there doesn’t mean they’ll click on them, so don’t sacrifice design just to gain some extra visibility.
  13. Ads placed next to the best content are seen more often. If you want to get your ads seen and hopefully clicked on, incorporate them into your design in a way that places them near the most interesting elements of your content. Users will still be able to find what they need, but you’ll gain an advantage in advertising.
  14. Text ads were viewed mostly intently of all types tested. Like we said earlier, the average Internet user generally doesn’t waste much time looking at things that immediately appear to be ads. That’s why text ads perform so much better. They aren’t distracting and blend in with the rest of the content on the page, making them less visually irritating to the reader and ultimately more successful.
  15. Bigger images get more attention. If you are going to use images on your page, bigger is better. People are more interested in an image where they can see details and information clearly. Just make sure that any image you are using is particularly relevant to your text, otherwise it will most likely be ignored. Most readers have high-speed connections these days so don’t be afraid to stick a few larger photos on your Web host.
  16. Clean, clear faces in images attract more eye fixation. While they might look good with your design, abstract and artsy photos aren’t going to garner much reader attention. If you’re using photos with people in them, make sure they are clear, easy to read shots. It should also be noted that photos with "real" people, not models, perform better.
  17. Headings draw the eye. One of the first things readers have been found to look at on a webpage are headlines. Make sure yours are unobstructed by other items on the page and that they are engaging enough to draw the reader into looking further through your site.
  18. Users spend a lot of time looking at buttons and menus. Because of this, you’ll want to put in some extra time making sure that yours are well-designed. After all, they not only draw a lot of eye fixation, they are one of the most important elements of your site.
  19. Lists hold reader attention longer. One way you can break up the paragraphs in your content and keep users looking through your site is to make frequent use of a list format for your articles. Use numbers or bullet points to highlight important information within your content. It will make your site more scannable and easier for users to find the information that they’re looking for.
  20. Large blocks of text are avoided. Studies have shown that that your average Web visitor isn’t going to take the time to study large blocks of text no matter how informative or well-written they might be. Because of this, you need to break up these larger blocks of text into smaller paragraphs. Highlighting specific areas and pulling out bullet points can also help to keep user attention.
  21. Formatting can draw attention. To keep users from skipping over the main and most important points in your content use bold, capitalized, italicized, colored, and underlined text. Use these things judiciously however, as too much will make your page hard to read and send readers away.
  22. White space is good. While it might be tempting to put something in every corner of your page, it’s actually better to leave some of your site free of any text. Sites with too much going on tend to overwhelm users and they ignored a large part of the content. So keep things simple and allow some visual open space for readers to rest their eyes.
  23. Navigation tools work better when placed at the top of the page. Ideally, you don’t want readers to just look at the initial page they came to on your site, you want them to stick around and look at other interesting things as well. You can help send them in the right direction by making your navigation easy to find and use by placing it at the top of the page.

Comments

  1. Dustin Boston says

    This is an excellent post! It has a lot of great information that I suspected but could not confirm. I found it super interesting that readers ignore banners. I had assumed that they would probably perform the best. Thanks a lot!

  2. says

    Wow! What a great and helpful article. Thanks so much for writing this up. Reading these facts, I’m all “well, duh! Of course!” but when I design web stuff I do the opposite. Definitly a learning experience, and a wonderful resource.

  3. Patrick Mowers says

    Excellent and useful article. It boils a complex area down into a concise list. A guide that I have found invaluable is “Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines”, published by the National Institutes of Health. (NIH Pub 03-5424). Many of the examples listed in the eye-tracking studies confirm the findings of the guide. Although published by the government, they do not hesitate to use their own sites as examples of what not to do. Each item is rated as to importance and strength of evidence supporting the guideline.

  4. says

    This a very useful post, thanks for making it happen! It seems there’s a bit of interest in this so I would like suggest the book ‘Call to Action’ by Bryan & Jeffrey Eisenberg – its awesome!

  5. says

    Fantastic timing – I’m a few days off getting back some results of an eyetracking study I did as part of a university project. This list will work well as a reference point for when I’m evaluating the results.

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. imjuk says

    Nice post. Am well interested in these results. The conclusions back up some research I’ve been doing with click tracking software on some sites. Its also given me more things to study in the future. cheers.

  7. Michel says

    Points 5 and 21 don’t necessarily contradict each other as was suggested earlier. Point 5 says that “fancy formatting” will be ignored says that heavily stylized, contrived, heavy-handed, and abusive use of formatting will be interpreted as advertising and ignored by the reader. Point 21 states that careful formal use of formatting to draw attention to a key message can be effective. The distinction is a question of degree. If you bold just two key words, this may draw attention, if you use a bold font just for its own sake then your message will be diminished.

  8. Robert says

    I disagree that designers should build the site around its viewers current viewing habits. Viewers are used to looking at poorly designed sites. I think its better for you users to be able to naturally navigate your site without a conscious learning phase, even if your site doesn’t follow all standards.

  9. pauly paul says

    alot of these points are well made, however a good designer can take this information put it to use while breaking a lot of the ‘rules’ put forward here. What makes good design is the freedom to break convention in order to communicate an effective message. In the case of a well branded company the ‘fancy formatting’ can be reckognized as an extension of that companies ‘brand’ and as a result although the eye does not fixate on the image/banner the message has been communicated. Unfortunatly we are a long way from tracking what the brain actually processes and until then I will find this a very loose guide to designing an effective website. Non the less, you can’t really break the rules if you first don’t understand them – so it is a great list to have read.

  10. Godric says

    What exactly do you–or not you, but authors of the study you quote–mean by “numerals”? I agree than “a thousand” or “a hundred” may be better than “1000” or “100”, but “87329” seems to be much more readable than “eighty seven thousand three hundred twenty nine”.

  11. says

    An interesting mix of points stating the obvious, plus some generally new ideas (for me, at least). Not that there’s anything wrong with stating the obvious – sometimes those are the exact thngs you overlook!

    It’s the second time I’ve read someone recommend expressing all numbers as numerals (‘1′, not ‘one’), and the justification makes a lot of sense. I’m still quite wedded to the old-skool way (one to ten spelled out, 11+ as numerals), but although I think it looks better, I’m struggling to convince myself that it actually works better.

    Give me another few months and I’ll probably be doing it the new way…

  12. neil says

    Useful information because it’s all relevant and to the point. It highlights areas to consider, not rules to follow, so it is pretty universally applicable. Great job!

    Can I also recommend the work of Robert J Heath and Brett Martin for anyone interested in the science of attention and advertising. And definitely Seth Godin’s “The Big Red Fez” for web-specific advice.

    There is no such thing as a holy grail of all websites because each website exists for a different user and use. The advice above will definitely be helpful optimising webdesigns!

    Thanks again!!!

  13. Hanif O'Neil says

    I think the question Ryan has raised about the cultural framework of the user is very important and should be taken into consideration when testing interactive designs.

    It should be understood that findings from eye-tracking studies are uniquely based around the design goals of the stimulus being tested, and according to the defined parameters of the eye-tracking study. Broad based rules, i.e., “23 Actionable Lessons” should be referenced loosely, because online user behavior is always in flux constantly shifting and changing according to what new stimulus is made available.

  14. Karan says

    I found your blog via Google while searching for web developer and your post regarding Scientific Web Design: 23 Actionable Lessons from Eye-Tracking Studies looks very interesting to me. I have seen many sites before and most of them do not look this good. I cannot wait to let my friends know about this site. Thanks for the excellent content.

  15. Godric says

    Anthony: thank you. I did not realise that the word ‘numeral’ has more than one meaning and that among them are “a word expressing a number” and “a symbol used to represent a number”–well, quite opposite in this context.

    Speaking in general, people who learn English as a foreign language are used to know ‘numerals’ as a grammatical category of words like ‘nouns’ or ‘verbs’. And so did I. The other meanings were unknown to me until now. Sorry for misunderstanding.

  16. pauly paul says

    Doug Stewart? Are you suggesting that using images for advertising and branding and not other information is a bad thing? Would you prefer to use them only as graphs and bar charts? PC, is that you?

    It should be realised that the social bombardment of images in our everyday life is a direct response to consumer reaction. Very much like Christina Laun’s study many studies for many years have been conducted on Brand. It is well understood that the power of a good brand is not ‘abusing’ the use of an image. This too applies to the web, where a site can be viewed by millions of people world-wide! That power is in developing an identity associated with a specific message that is attached to a product, organization or company. The web is about communication and as human beings we understand things visually, this means the web is the perfect medium to re-enforce a positive association with a brand and that brands messaging.

    With that said, yes there are a shit-load of lousy brands out there, but before you question the integrity of ‘brand’ try to consider why it plays such a huge role in the biggest, richest, and most powerful companies success through out the world.

  17. says

    Great information!!! I probably broke every rule with my website!! I will use this as a guide for my redesign. I will certainly use this for my Web Blogs (JoeMurphy180 and clientize.blogspot) … I will also link to this site. GREAT!

  18. says

    People spend a lot of time looking at buttons and menus.

    “Spending a lot of time” suggests a bottleneck in the process. The navigation is confusing, or even unreadable. I have spent a WHOLE lot of time looking for very hard to read labels.

  19. says

    Great article, very useful – I’d like to add however, that to aid a user’s ability to ‘scan’ a page (particularly if dyslexic) is helped by avoiding using fully justified text; something that can perhaps be addressed on this blog.

  20. says

    Very great article Sir! Your tips are all very helpful… I agree with #4…
    Most people really ignore banner ads. I personally don’t look on banner ads and I don’t find them that attractive.. Anyway, great looking blog you got here Sir… Keep it up…

  21. Drew Bernard says

    Very nice. There are so many temptations to make things more complicated than they should be and/or to ignore what really works and to go with what makes us feel good.

    Your list will provide a nice tool help us all gauge whether or not we’re accomplishing what Albert Einstein so rightly advocated for in web design :) “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

    Thanks for a great post.

    Drew

  22. says

    Hi All,

    Sub:- Please help me out, in wiki Web Design & Development.

    I have puzzled with the task of Wiki Web Design & Development Strategies, and very much eager to know these questions:

    1 Whether should we prepare for the final presentation of our Wiki Web Design work?

    2 Will is it exact task of web programming? Or the content of the website can be something we fetch?

    Thanks

    Best wishes!

  23. Dexterous SEO India (Search Engine Optimization) Company says

    Hi Web Developer India & whom who is concerned about Wiki Web design

    I won’t go so deep with the definition of Wiki but if you are not familiar with it, they are websites that anyone can freely edit and optimize to grow through collaboration; This Wiki software is developed by Ward Cunningham to exchange ideas between computer programmers. Wiki Web Design is an incredibly fun skill to learn – combining the latest technology with the creativity of Wiki web design. Wiki merely supports hyper links & has simple text syntax for creating new pages and cross links between any numbers of pages on the fly.

    Thanks & Regards

    Dexterous SEO India

  24. says

    If you visit my site you will see my bias right away… With that said, what studies have been made with regards to motion and animated graphics vs static graphics. And, which graphics were used in the testing you sight in your list?

  25. says

    Really interesting but you need to pay attention because all this stuff are not right. Indeed the eye scanpath depend on the architecture you’ve build.

    Just an example : “Users initially look at the top left and upper portion of the page before moving down and to the right.”. That’s completely false. Indeed, depending on the construction of the page, a behavioral expert can guide the eye with in a specific visual flow.

    I propose you to write an article together to balanced these results. Does it sound right for you?

    Have a nice week.

    Marc

  26. Sofia says

    Hello every one!
    i wanted to hire virtual employees for web designing and SEO. Actually i am looking for whole virtual team. Because now it’s become very expensive for our organization to recruit employees :( And we need reliable and quality virtual employees.
    We were prepared to post our requisite on freelancers’ site. But we have observed that it’s very time as well as money consuming process. And also I heard that “The bigger problem on Elance, in my experience, is dummy projects. Some buyers post projects simply to get an idea of the cost or to try to find free work” So, what next?
    Our team comes out with conclusion to directly contact companies who are providing virtual employee services. But the question is “RELIABILITY and Hiring charges”.
    We have got replies from some forums and communities. So, now we have one option company marketraise corp. it’s nice.
    But we want best service provider with better package.

    Thanks in advance
    Sophia

  27. Dan says

    This does indeed seem like very useful info, but where is the evidence to back it up? Most of the bullet points don’t have any links. I’m not doubting it necessarily, but it’s hard to make a case for change without evidence.

  28. says

    Nice article. Thank you for gathering all these information together. I design wireframes for websites for a while now and I have noticed that all these tips form better user experiences when a user visits a website. My only objection is on tip 15. Bigger images get more attention as I believe that we should not cover most of the Real estate of a page with big images. It is more advisable to place critical calls to action so as to create more user journeys for a visitor to access more pages in the website as possible.

  29. says

    wow, really good points. also never use any colour to highlight some text as users think that the colourful text is a link. and once they come to know that it is not a link then there is a chance that they might skip links thinking they are just colourful text. and use just one colour for links throughout your site.

  30. Charlotte says

    I’m gathering information for a redesign project and would love to reference some of this article but need to know who wrote it and what research this list is based upon before I send it on to my client.

    Can anyone point me to these details?

    That said, I think the compilation of these lessons is a wonderful tool!

  31. says

    I’m gathering information for a redesign project and would love to reference some of this article but need to know who wrote it and what research this list is based upon before I send it on to my client.

Leave a Reply