Considering how folks look at a website is a simple way to optimize its effectiveness. You can enhance usability, create a meaningful flow of information, and maximize your revenue (by consideration of where advertisements should be placed on the page, for instance) by understanding eye-tracking. Here is what studies of how individuals look at a website can tell us. (Note that animals such as cats and birds look at webpages in completely different ways, so this does not apply to them, though it does interestingly apply to tech-savvy giraffes.)
1. How People Casually View a Webpage
The gist is this – everyone looks at pages on the Internet in essentially the same way. It’s not completely cut and dry, but the pattern is very similar. First the viewer looks at the top of the page, with her eyes moving from the left side to the right side. Then she shifts back to the left side, looks downward, and repeats the same left-to-right behavior. So basically, people view your website – broadly speaking – in the same manner as if reading a book (minus the tradition of ripping out page 13 of every book and setting it on fire to release the demons).
2. How People Purposefully View a Webpage
When a visitor has a specific goal in mind, her eyes start moving around all over the place. For this reason, consider what the goals of your typical customers will be. Try to reduce the need for an individual to look around almost randomly at your site.
What are the most common links clicked on a page, for instance? Looking at that statistic will give you a sense of some of the most common pieces of information that visitors are trying to find. Make those links more readily available – generally speaking, because again, the typical pattern of scanning does not apply here. You may even consider providing multiple instances of them on the page (and you always want to have the “terms and conditions” page linked at least six times).
3. Headlines are Noticed Before Images Are
Here is a major priority. Of course images are crucial – and much of the focus of online content has moved toward photographs, graphics, and videos. However, since headlines are actually noticed first, make sure that you treat them as the top priority. People look at webpages very quickly and might depart before they see your awesome image. (Good headline: “Why You Should Stay on This Website.”)
Don’t ignore eye-tracking science when you consider how to set up your webpages. The information provided by this field of study is not just fascinating. It has a direct and substantial impact on the success of your site (a factor second only in importance to whether or not George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” is playing on your homepage).