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A New F-Word for Google Search Results

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A new study has added tangible evidence to the widely held view that top-ranking search results get the most attention from users, and that lower-ranking results are all but invisible to most people.

The joint study conducted by search marketing firms Enquiro and Did-it and eye tracking firm Eyetools examined the eye movements of users viewing Google search result pages.

The study found that most viewers looked at results in an "F" shaped scan pattern, with the eye travelling vertically along the far left side of the results looking for visual cues (relevant words, brands, etc) and then scanning to the right, as if something caught the participant's attention.

The researchers called this pattern a "golden triangle" at the top of result pages. The triangle extends across the top natural search result, then angles back to the left of the page down to the bottom-most "above the fold" result, typically in the third or fourth position on the page.

This area was viewed by 100% of the 50 participants in the study.

With both organic and sponsored search results, higher ranking results were viewed more often. Here are results for organic results (percentages represent the number of study participants viewing the listing):

Organic Search Results Viewed:

  • Rank 1 - 100%
  • Rank 2 - 100%
  • Rank 3 - 100%
  • Rank 4 - 85%
  • Rank 5 - 60%
  • Rank 6 - 50%
  • Rank 7 - 50%
  • Rank 8 - 30%
  • Rank 9 - 30%
  • Rank 10 - 20%

A similar, though smaller triangle effect was also observed for the sponsored listings on the right side of Google search result pages. In aggregate, fewer people looked at the sponsored listings; the exception to this was then sponsored ads were served at the top of a search result page as well as on the right side of the page. Ads at the top of the page were viewed by 100% of study participants.

Sponsored Listings Viewed (right side):

  • Sponsored listing 1 - 50%
  • Sponsored listing 2 - 40%
  • Sponsored listing 3 - 30%
  • Sponsored listing 4 - 20%
  • Sponsored listing 5 - 10%
  • Sponsored listing 6 - 10%
  • Sponsored listing 7 - 10%
  • Sponsored listing 8 - 10%

Here's a screen shot of the triangle.

These results are preliminary; a full analysis of the results will be available soon.

Organic Search Still Rules

The findings of this eye tracking study lend further credibility to the notion that organic search engine optimization is still critical to the overall success of a search marketing campaign. Last December, Jupiter Research released a report stating that algorithmic listings in search indexes generate an estimated six of seven commercially natured search referrals.

The eye tracking study offers a major reason why: People continue to favor organic listings over paid search listings, unless the paid search listing is at the top of the page.

And yet many search engine marketers are ignoring search engine optimization, opting instead to go the "easier" route of buying sponsored listings. The increasing body of research is very clearly saying that it's a mistake to rely solely on paid listings to drive visitors to a web site. A well-balanced search marketing campaign should incorporate both well-crafted search engine optimization efforts as well as paid listings to capture the full range of searcher behavior.

More information about the study is available here.

Want to discuss or comment on this story? Join the Searcher Behavior discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums.

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