Eye-tracking is a technology that helps observe and measure eye movements, pupil dilation, point of gaze, and blinking to see where subjects of a study focus their attention, what they engage with, and what they ignore.
Eye-tracking is used in a variety of research, for example marketing research and usability testing studies, to help researchers understand which elements of a webpage or an advertisement draw people’s attention. Armed with this information, companies can then design more usable websites and craft more effective advertising.
Eye-tracking can provide valuable information about visitor/customer preferences that surveys or other research methods can’t always uncover. For example, while on-site surveys can be effective at highlighting what visitors consciously focus on—and what consciously impacts them—they won’t pick up the many things that are occurring below the subject’s conscious awareness.
Our eyes follow what interests us: our pupils dilate when we’re intrigued by something or when we’re having an intense emotional response to what’s in front of us. When researchers observe these patterns across test subjects, they can better predict how the audience will react as a whole. In turn, when applied to UX and usability, this insight allows companies to create websites that are more usable and content that is more likely to attract attention and convert.
Take a look at this popular meme:
The vast majority of people will read the text in the exact order the meme predicts, while a few odd ones will deviate.
Now, if you saw an ad with text structured like this, you might not consciously remember the order in which you read the copy—but eye-tracking would pick it up and researchers would be able to spot the pattern. Once they see the same pattern play itself out over many test subjects, they can determine how most people will respond—and design their webpages accordingly.
Eye-tracking can tell you exactly what subjects are looking at, so there’s no need for self-reporting and guesswork. On the downside, since the tracking requires specialized equipment and takes place in a laboratory, some subjects may behave differently than they would in the real world—perhaps trying to ‘please’ the researcher or avoid looking at something they otherwise would. Also, it can be time-consuming and expensive (and therefore cost-prohibitive) for many startups and small companies.
How does that help? Some studies suggest there’s a correlation between where people hover their mouse pointers and where their eyes move. And while it’s not a perfect correlation, it can give you a good idea of where users tend to focus their attention—for a much smaller price tag than eye-tracking.
Heatmaps show, in aggregate, where your visitors click, scroll and hover their mouse pointers. The ‘hotter’ the element, the more action it’s getting from your users.
The above ‘move map’ is a specific type of heat map that records mouse hover positions and gives a clear indication of what captured people’s attention the most. Readers of the page clearly paused over the image more than they did anywhere else around it.
As a companion tool, you could use session recordings to watch individual sessions of anonymous users as they interact with the page itself, and see what else was happening on the page and during the journey that inspired them to stop their mouse there.