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.

Search Engine Rankings: Page 1 is Where It’s At

All the hype you continually hear about how important it is to get on Page 1 of search engine result pages turns out to be … right on the money.

In a just-released study from digital marketing company iCrossing, nearly 9 million “non-branded” search queries conducted on Google, Yahoo and Bing were analyzed, with the clickthrough percentages from the first, second and third pages of the search engine results (SERPs) tallied.

It turned out that more than 8.5 million clickthroughs were made from the first page of results – a whopping 95% of the total. The rest was just crumbs: Clicks off the second page came in under 250,000, while third-page clicks clocked in at a paltry ~180,000.

The results were essentially the same for the three major search engines (all at 95% or 96%) – so it’s a clean sweep across the board and clearly behavior that fits all across the spectrum.

What this suggests is that when searching on generic or descriptive terms, most people will not go past the first page of results if they can’t find a site link that interests them. If they don’t hit paydirt on the first page, they’re far more likely to try another search using different keywords or phrases until they find a site on Page 1 that does the trick.

Comparing this newest iCrossing study with research from a few years back reveals that Page 1 clicks represent an even higher proportion today; earlier studies from a few years back had it pegged at 80% to 90%.

The implications of this study are be clear: if you’re looking to attract visitors to your site via generic or descriptive subject searches, you’d better make sure your site is designed so that it achieves first-page ranking … or your web efforts will be for naught.

That being said, the recipe for success in ranking hasn’t changed much at all. Despite all of the tempting “link juice” tips and tricks out there, the main keys to getting high rankings continue to be creating loads of good web content … speaking the same “language” as searchers (however inaccurate that might be) … and maintaining lots of good links to and from your site to increase its “relevance” to search engines.

No doubt, it’s getting tougher to achieve Page 1 ranking when there’s so much competition out there, but it’s well worth the effort.