UX Rules From Eye Tracking Studies

Eye-tracking research tells us about the way in which site visitors read websites. When users get a great experience from visiting your site, they’ll turn into regular site visitors. So let’s see, what does research tell us about the average site visitor?

Users View Headlines Before Images

Do images dominate your page more than headlines? Eyetracking research on how users read news sites found that most view headlines before images. This also explains why so many news sites frequently use shocking headlines all in the effort to grab site visitors’ attention. Text draws the eye quicker on a computer screen than does a picture.

The finding is applicable to homepage layouts. Further, the specific placement of these headlines on the homepage has an effect on the speed with which a site visitor homes in on them. Place your headlines on the upper left part of the homepage, and you’ll get more site visitors paying attention to your content.

Notice how the main headline on BuzzFeed homepage is precisely situated in the upper-left section of the page:

F-Shaped Pattern

A study by Nielsen Norman Group found that site visitors usually read any given webpage in a so-called F-shaped pattern. F for fast. That’s how users read your precious content.

Site visitors typically absorb the information on a webpage by an initial horizontal movement, over the page’s upper part. This initial element forms the F’s top bar. Then, visitors usually move their eyes down the page a little bit before reading across in another horizontal movement that’s shorter than the initial one. This additional element forms the F’s lower bar. Finally, users scan the content’s left side in a vertical movement. Sometimes this is a fairly slow and systematic scan that appears as a solid stripe on an eyetracking heatmap.

Knowing this constant reading pattern of the average user, should motivate you to design a site with a direct focus on target content. Doing so will improve user experience vastly and give you more loyal site visitors.

Lufthansa homepage mimics the F-shaped pattern perfectly. This improves the user experience and easier navigation, especially since the stem of the F in the call-to-action.

Minimizing Distractions

Minimalism rules the day, especially if you want visitors who are able to find the information on your site efficiently. It’s all about the content and context.

Advertising

Beyond doubt this is the most annoying part of a site. Another study from the Nielsen Norman Group demonstrated that most users simply don’t fixate on any ads when they’re “scanning” web content.

So, if your primary means of earning money on your site —do away with ads and switch to a subscription-based model that charges site visitors a membership fee.

If advertising is a commercial necessity for you — you should remember that usability always comes first. Adverts detract from the usability of your website; it’s the adverts that need to go. You can rework them so that they don’t impair usability but if someone can’t use the site easily — they’re leaving.

Fancy Formatting & Fancy Words Looks Like a Promotion  Ignored

The fancier a webpage’s formatting and words are, the more site visitors will be confused.

Homepage for U.S. Census Bureau’s website was tested :

U.S. Census Bureau website (2007)

Information about U.S. population is located in the upper-right corner of the page. Users saw that information.

But 86% of users failed to find the country’s current population when it was presented in large red numbers. They simply ignored the big red characters. Why? Because they believe that it was an ad. Since many web users already don’t pay attention to display ads in the first place, this conclusion should come as no surprise to anyone in light of what we know from the previous point.

However, looking at its current Census site, we see that it has made at least a significant change in that the population number doesn’t look like a glaring promotion anymore with fancy formatting:

Conclusion

Eye-tracking studies shows what web users like and don’t like on any given site, based on their behavior. And you design a site in harmony with your visitors’ behavior.

Remember that on any site, it’s always headlines that draw the eyes of the user (their attention), not pictures. Keep in mind the F-shaped pattern that represents the general viewing pattern of many site visitors. And finally, balance your ads with content.