&83/ The State of Eye Tracking 2004, Summarized

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D70-2005-05-19-170924

Today we seem to wander around so impatiently in an ever-growing sea of information that the navigational elements enabling us to immediately zap away from where we are (because we know by experience that we definitely have not reached our destination yet) have to be the #1 element. What if we just banned the remote control to stay in the basement? And declared our content as #1 upper left? Close button and off-switch disabled.

Christina Laun and Virtual Hosting summarized an eye-tracking study from 2004 into 23 rules last week - and Seth Godin recommends to break some of those rules today - which is always a good starting point for innovation :)

Let me reshuffle the 23 rules again in our listing - this time according to topic (sorry Seth, but an alphabetical sort doesn't make much sense). Because some rules fall into more than one category, we end up with 33 instead of 23 points in our list.

Carefully looking at it: There seem to be quite a few contradictions. But nevertheless, going with Seth's advice - and proceeding to the extreme (breaking all the rules):

  • Elements: Plaster your page with visually irritating graphical banner ads all around. No text banners at all. No interaction elements. Density increasing to the lower right. - I remember that one, and the guy made a million, didn't he?
  • Structure: No buttons. Long texts though only in one column. Large blocks of text and strange formatting. That's Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox isn't it?
  • Formatting: Use a lot of weird formatting - definitely not used judiciously - and a lot of small text that isn't even according to any spelling rules. Without any images or a single small one depicting colored pills and you are among those selling a lot of health-care stuff. With a lot of revenue ...
  • Style: Brand reputation. Wasn't that about artsy photography according to a corporate style guide? But it's correct: A myriad of real people's pictures make up a social network. With MySpace leading and Google in the background, Microsoft paid an incredible amount to get into the follower position with Facebook. A myriad of real people's pictures. Not artsy at all.
  • Positions/ Layout: Go ahead and design a web site with lower right navigation! Not only upper right as a mirrored approach for right-to-left reading cultures, but definitely lower right. The upper left completely reserved for your content. Would that work? Think of it.

Again: Today we seem to wander around so impatiently in an ever-growing sea of information that the navigational elements enabling us to immediately zap away from where we are (because we know by experience that we definitely have not reached our destination yet) have to be the #1 element. What if we just banned the remote control to stay in the basement? And declared our content as #1 upper left? Close button and off-switch disabled.

Now here comes the list:

Basic Elements: Text, Graphics, Ads, Interaction Elements

  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. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 site, 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Structure

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.

Formatting

  1. 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 site streamlined and not so shiny that important elements will be glossed over.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Style

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. [Note by & the Red Fez: Cp. image at the top of this post.] 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.
  4. 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.

Positions/ Layout

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 site, 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

Read Virtual's Hosting!
Read Seth Godin!
Have a look at the study!

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