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Keeping an Eye on Google

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A new report offers fascinating, in-depth insights on how users interact with Google search results, based on studies using eye-tracking technology.

The report, from Enquiro, Did-It and Eyetools, is a comprehensive white paper that builds on an earlier press release that described Google's "golden triangle" of search results.

The study found that most viewers looked at results in an "F" shaped scan pattern, with the eye traveling 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 new study expands significantly on the initial findings, offering a detailed look at the methodology used and much more granular conclusions examining all aspects of Google search results. For example, the study showed that searchers react to organic results differently than they react to sponsored listings.

And an interesting twist comes into play when a query triggers a "one-box" result, with news, local search or desktop search results being displayed at the top of a search result page above organic listings. The report raises a very interesting question: If we can't always control Google's behavior when one-box results are triggered, is trying to achieve top organic listings worth the premium in time and cost?

Throughout the report, sidebars offer insights into searcher behavior observed during the study. These insights are opinions of the authors based on both study results and their experience as search marketing professionals. Some of the insights touch on issues such as why we ignore advertising, the role of brand in search, online patience and the effects of gender and numerous others.

One of the most interesting parts of the report describes "semantic mapping," an important new idea that when used properly will help search marketers optimize pages more effectively, not for the search engine but for the ultimate "consumers" of search results: people.

The idea behind semantic mapping is that when we search, we're not just looking for the "best" results, but rather the best match between an online destination and the concept we have in our minds. This goes far beyond the notion of larding a page with keywords or key phrases that match search queries.

Instead, the study found that searchers tend to respond to search results that do the best job of matching the concept in the searcher's mind, regardless of the position of the search result on the page. Two important behavioral events are occurring here: Our eyes are jumping around on search results looking for direct matches, but we're also using peripheral vision which can indirectly help us locate information on the page.

These ideas, of optimizing for concepts rather than keywords, and taking advantage of subtler types of behavior such as the peripheral vision of the searcher, could lead to a whole new level of search optimization for those search marketers willing to invest the time to experiment.

The study also examines a lot of other factors influencing searcher behavior, such as the impact of bold vs. normal search terms in results, the confidence factor a searcher has with initial search results vs. results seen more than once, demographic differences that can affect searcher preferences and many more factors.

It's a fascinating report, and though it deals with some very sophisticated research and presents rather complex observations and conclusions, the report is nonetheless compelling and eminently readable. If you're serious about search marketing, you should get this report—it contains both solid research and valuable insights into how to improve search marketing that you won't find elsewhere.

The 106 page report, priced at US$149, is not inexpensive, but will likely pay for itself almost immediately if you put its keen insights and practical recommendations into action with your own search marketing efforts.

For more information, and a sample of the full report, visit www.enquiro.com/eyetrackingreport.asp.

Want to discuss or comment on this story? Join the Google's (And Search Marketing's) Golden Triangle discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums.

Search Headlines

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