What We Can Learn from Eye Tracking Studies About Guiding Web Visitors’ Attention

How do you get a web site visitor to notice a particular piece of information on your web site, such as a new white paper or a limited time offer on a new device? Most of us assume, that if something is somehow emphasized on our web site it will get noticed. Well, maybe not. A new eye-tracking study is out from Dr. Soussan Djamasbi at the User Experience and Decision Making Research Lab at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, “Designing Noticeable Bricklets by Tracking Users’ Eye Movements.” The results bear a closer look.

Let’s start with “bricklet.” These are customizable chunks of web content, usually set off in a box or other such enclosure. They may contain an ad or a piece of content that you want to break apart, with the hope of emphasizing its contents for faster recognition.

But here’s the big question. What actually gets people’s attention faster?

According to Djamasbi and colleagues, “Visual hierarchy is a cognitive approach to user-centered design. In practice, web pages with a strong visual hierarchy will have contrasting perceptual elements of varying visual importance. Without the variation in emphasis, Tufte states, ‘nothing is emphasized; the design will be noisy, cluttered, and informationally flat.’ By creating a visual hierarchy, companies can naturally guide users in viewing their web pages in an effective and meaningful way.”

But what form should this emphasis take? This study tested size, graphics, color, and location with users ranging from age 23 to 60.

We assume a LARGER SIZE area will attract attention faster than a smaller size. The eye-tracking study showed that doesn’t seem to make much difference, even with a bricklet that’s twice as large.

We assume a bricklet containing a GRAPHIC will attract attention faster than one without. The study showed a tiny increase in noticeability, but it’s not clear how significant that difference is. This study may have not differentiated the two ads clearly enough, as I consider the green box with $500 to be a graphical element as much as the actual graph. More research required here.

We assume CONTRASTING BACKGROUNDS will attract attention faster than areas without a contrasting background. This one is interesting because we have to take into account “banner blindness” before we got any further.

What is banner blindness? As banners have become more prevalent, mostly for advertising, site visitors have learned to ignore those parts of a site that look like colorful ads. We see this in the advertising work we do for clients. Graphic display banners are not a good lead generation device. They can be used to support your branding efforts, but there are better ways to generate leads online.

Back to contrasting backgrounds. The research showed that background color made a BIG difference in viewing time. The backgrounds WITHOUT contrasting colors were much more quickly noticed. If you stop and think about it, it’s not that surprising. Advertisers have always tried to find ways to make their messages look more like editorial content. Same principle applies here.

Lastly, the study looked at LOCATION. We assume content on left hand side of a page is noticed faster than on the right side in Western countries where we read left to right. Turns out, location doesn’t seem to make any difference.

Download the full research report from Dr. Soussan Djamasbi at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, “Designing Noticeable Bricklets by Tracking Users’ Eye Movements.”

Really Bad Search Marketing Advice Abounds

Idk what’s going on this week, but it’s only Tuesday and I’ve gotten more than the usual number of questions that fall under the heading of “Really Bad Marketing Advice.” To the credit of my friends and clients who’ve been asking, they knew something was fishy. So they got a second opinion from, well, me. And for those of you who know me, I always have two cents to add 🙂

This week, the questions all relate to search and mobile marketing. These are complex topics; if anyone tells you either are easy, they’re lying or they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s incredibly easy to waste a lot of money on pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, search optimization of web sites, and mobile marketing.

Today let’s focus on Blogsvertise as this is a sink hole for technology marketers. (No, I’m not going to link to it to give it any inbound link points; it doesn’t deserve them.) This site has a dual purpose:

(1) They pay bloggers to blog about advertisers’ products and services, and to run PPC ads from same on their blogs.

(2) They take money from advertisers who want their products blogged about to raise their search rankings, and/or who want to run PPC ads on blogs.

If this sets off your warning bells, there’s good reason. First, why all this focus on blogs? Because Google has taken steps to give blogs more visibility in search rankings. So Blogvertise has come up with a way to talk unwary marketers into parting with their Internet marketing dollars by claiming to help you get higher search rankings. ThomasNet and GlobalSpec say the same thing, but at least they are in the technology / engineering / manufacturing space and their site visitors are engineers and purchasing agents. Who knows what you’re getting with this other site?!

Kinda reminds you of link farms, eh? If you don’t already know, search engines don’t like link farms cuz they only exist to trick them into thinking you have more incoming links than you deserve so you get higher search rankings. But search algorithms are looking for RELEVANT incoming links, not random ones. For more info, see the article “How Google Works.

Second, who are these bloggers? From what I’ve seen so far, they are mostly people looking to make a few bucks. I’m a big fan of capitalism, but when it comes to talking about my product, I want someone who comes out of the industry and is familiar with the underlying technology. If they aren’t, I run the risk of associating with people who can undermine the brand I’ve so carefully built (another strike against link farms, too).

Third, this approach undermines the whole world of blogging. The money is lousy unless the bloggers do a lot of these paid gigs. That means their blogs will, over time, end up being one big advertisement…either a copy/paste of press releases or a hatchet job on a lot of different topics. But for you, the marketer, blogging is like public relations — its power lies in its IMPARTIALITY & CREDIBILITY. As soon as you lose those, the blogger loses all reason for anyone to read his/her blog.

On a related note, there are still a few 3rd-tier tech magazines out there that will run your press release for a fee. Most are out of business because quality readers abandoned them, but I still get the occasional request for $$.

Last, let’s look at the PPC advertising side. Yes, there is a time and a place for advertising. Oh look, Blogvertise offers PPC ads, too. But why would you want to pay for a random blogger to run your ad when you can find a higher quality blogger via Google’s AdWords / AdSense PPC program?

Ok, rant over…for today 😉

SlideShare – The Quiet Giant

I came across information on SlideShare and wanted to share.  SlideShare is one of my favorite social networks, as many highly valuable searches for content are conducted there every day.  If you are looking to  find information on just about anything, start with a search there – chances are that someone has posted a presentation or paper about it.  We’ve been recommending to our clients to start a SlideShare account to share all types of content from PPTs, PDFs of all kinds (brochures, white papers, etc), and for a small fee it will host videos and web casts that are larger than YouTube standards.  The even offer a service to host a web meeting among other things.

Check out the data below.  And set up your account pronto!

I found this originally from a Twitter Share by @b2bspecialist, its origin is from a collaboration with SlideShare and ColumnFive.

What’s Working in Marketing Now an App

I love the speed with which new Internet development tools hit the market. Here’s one that let’s you create a mobile app in just a few minutes. App Factory from Mippin.com. $20 to create the app, $750 each for distribution in an app store. Android and Windows Phone 7 are currently supported. The iPhone is due out shortly. Or you can distribute the URL for use in web browsers for FREE.

So we decided to test it out. We converted the Telesian “What’s Working in Marketing” enews & blog into app format. You can input four RSS content feeds, so we included the ISA Marketing & Sales Summit blog, as well.

Download the What’s Working in Marketing app to see the final version.

The design elements include the company logo and a new mobile icon:

Here is the final app:

Whats Working in Marketing app

Here is what you see when you click on an article:

It appears that the initial design will only show one image per article, so at the end, you get a link to the full article on your blog or web site or wherever…

Whats working in marketing

And, finally, here’s the control panel where you can make changes:

All in all, quick and easy to create an app. The hard part is…and always way…creating informative and compelling content. Feel free to call us for help with that 🙂

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