Information, advertising and eye-tracking: Continuity among the chaos.

digital eyeIn the Western world, humans have been viewing and processing information in the same basic ways for hundreds of years. It’s a subconscious process that entails expending the most judicious use of time and effort to forage for information.

Because of how we Westerners read and write – left-to-right and top-to-bottom – the way we’ve evolved searching for information mirrors the same sort of behavior.

And today we have eye-scanning research and mouse click studies that prove the point.

In conducting online searches, where we land on information is known variously as the “area of greatest promise,” the “golden triangle,” or the “F-scan diagram.”

However you wish to name it, it generally looks like this on a Google search engine results page (SERP):

F-scan diagram

It’s easy to see how the “area of greatest promise” exists. We generally look for information by scanning down the beginning of the first listings on a page, and then continue viewing to the right if something seems to be a good match for our information needs, ultimately resulting in a clickthrough if our suspicions are correct.

Heat maps also show that quick judgments of information relevance on a SERP occur within this same “F-scan” zone; if we determine nothing is particularly relevant, we’re off to do a different keyword search.

This is why it’s so important for websites to appear within the top 5-7 organic listings on a SERP – or within the top 1-3 paid search results in the right-hand column of Google’s SERP.

In recent years, Google and other search engines have been offering enhancements to the traditional SERP, ranging from showing images across the top of the page to presenting geographic information, including maps.

To what degree is this changing the “conditioning” of people who are seeking out information today compared to before?

What new eye-tracking and heat maps are showing is that we’re evolving to looking at “chunks” of information first for clues as to the promising areas of results. But then within those areas, we revert to the same “F-scan” behaviors.

Here’s one example:

Eye-tracking Update

And there’s more:  The same eye-tracking and heat map studies are showing that this two-step process is actually more time-efficient than before.

We’re covering more of the page (at least on the first scan), but are also able to zero in on the most promising information bits on the page.  Once we find them, we’re quicker to click on the result, too.

So while Google and other search engines may be “conditioning” us to change time-honored information-viewing habits, it’s just as much that we’re “conditioning” Google to organize their SERPs in ways that are easiest and most beneficial to us in the way be seek out and find relevant information.

Bottom line, it’s continuity among the chaos. And it proves yet again that the same “prime positioning” on the page favored for decades by advertisers and users alike – above the fold and to the left – still holds true today.

Evil eye? Google’s vision for the future.

pay-per-gaze creepy disturbingTo understand where Google is heading next in the world of advertising, consider this:  The company has just been granted a patent on its “pay-per-gaze” eye-tracking system.

You might wonder what that might be.

Pay-per-gaze is an ad system that utilizes Google Glass for tracking the ads that consumers see online and elsewhere.  The gaze-tracking capability comes from another Google innovation:  a head-mounted tracking device that communicates with a server.

According to the patent documentation, the tracking devices includes eyeglasses with side-arms that engage the ears of the user … a nose bridge that engages the nose of the user … and lenses through which the user views the external scenes wherein the scene images are captured in real-time.

And it need not be limited to tracking online advertising, either; pay-per-gaze functionality could potentially extend to billboards, magazines, newspapers and other printed media, Google notes.

But the idea is even more revolutionary than that:  Not only does it aim to measure how long an individual looks at an ad, but also how “emotionally invested” the consumer is by virtue of measuring pupil dilation.

So the tracking system not only will show how long someone looks at an ad, but also will measure the emotional response.  The patent also covers a provision for “latent pre-searching” which would display search results over a user’s field of vision using Google Glass or another wearable computer.

If all of this seems like “Big Brotherism” at its worst … you may well be correct.  But Google is doing its best to downplay such sinister connotations.  It’s emphasizing that users can opt out of “pay-per-gaze” tracking, and that all data will be anonymized.

But let’s get this straight:  The world’s biggest search engine was just granted a patent for the most “sticky” form of advertising possible – ads that literally flash in front of someone’s eyes.

And when we add in aspects like measuring pupil dilation, it won’t be long before Google will be able to determine how good eats, or good looks, are affecting our emotional response.

One wonders how much farther we can go with measuring advertising engagement and buying intent. 

Then again, we already have an answer, of sorts.  As early as 2000, experiments with electromagnetic brainwaves have shown that people can literally “think” instructions and thereby cause an action.

Imagine combining Google’s pay-per-gaze and pay-per-emotion with electromagnetic brainwave tracking.  Add in a credit card number, and there’s no telling what could happen just with a fleeting thought or two!

If all of this sounds creepy and disturbing … get used to it.  With the likes of Google and the NSA at the helm, “creepy and disturbing” may well become the “new normal” for society.