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F-Patterns No More: How People View Google & Bing Search Results

There have been a few eye-tracking and mouse-tracking studies done on search behavior in the past. Of course, you’re probably familiar with the F-Pattern uncovered by NN/g years ago.

So, as part of brand new research arm – ConversionXL Institute – we conducted our own eye tracking study. We wanted to see if previous research still holds up.

Google and Bing are constantly changing their interface. The goal, of course, is to provide the greatest possible user experience with the most relevant results. If users reach their goal faster, and are satisfied with the content the SERP delivers, they’re more likely to return and bring that sweet ad revenue to the company.

Let’s take, for example, the proliferation of rich snippets, the additional content other than the black text and link that call your attention to a results. These are things like reviews, photos, phone numbers, etc.

They’re thought to be highly effective at calling attention to a result and to provide a good user experience, but recently Google has mentioned that they don’t want to clutter results with too many rich snippets

As Zineb from Google posted on Twitter, “enfin, nous essayons de ne pas trop “encombrer” les SERPs avec trop de sites avec RS. Du coup, vos critères sont à évaluer.” (That translates to “Finally, we try to not “clutter” the SERPs with too many sites with RS. Suddenly, your criteria are to evaluate.”)

In 2014, Mediative did an eye tracking study on 53 participants who did 43 common tasks. They compared the results with results they had gotten from a similar 2005 study:

Writing about the study, MarketingProfs’ author Nanji said, “the top organic result still captures about the same amount of click activity (32.8%) as it did in 2005. However, with the addition of new SERP elements, the top result is not viewed for as long, or by as many people. Organic results that are positioned in the 2nd through 4th slots now receive a significantly higher share of clicks than in 2005.”

The top organic search result still receives, by far, the most clicks of any organic search result (20.69% of all clicks on Google). The closest to that is, oddly enough, organic result #3, with 6.897% of clicks. However, rich data now gets 39.655% of clicks, by far the largest share.

While there was a big difference in what users clicked on (1st vs 3rd vs 2nd), there wasn’t much of a difference, on Google or Bing, on how long users fixated on each organic result:

Web optimizers and researchers are usually at least somewhat acquainted with Nielsen Norman Group’s F-pattern theory based on their 2006 study and article. The idea that you can slap an uppercase letter onto a webpage to solve all your design problems sounds good, certainly looks good, and for a while it probably was good.

We’re here to say that the F-pattern is no more. The evolution of search engine results pages has caused a similar evolution in user behavior patterns. The strict F-pattern style we saw before is, quite frankly, outdated

With the advent of rich text and ad placement, users find themselves exploring the entire results page to find what they’re looking for. As we observed through the Google platform, many users look at rich text on the right before even considering actual search results. Unfortunately, there is no longer a letter in the (English) alphabet to describe this new pattern:

However, when it comes to ads cleverly designed to look like top search results, users can’t help but look even if for only a moment. When the hoax is up, though, users quickly leave the paid search results behind for organic ones. The fact does remain that they’re looking at those paid results, though, and right away.

How do people view search results? The answer to this questions brings great insight to those trying to make money on search marketing, whether SEO or PPC. We conducted a new eye tracking study to find out.

How do people view search results? The answer to this questions brings great insight to those trying to make money on search marketing, whether SEO or PPC. We conducted a new eye tracking study to find out.

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