What Eye Tracking Studies Reveal About Gen Y and Web Sites

In a new research paper by WPI Professor Soussan Djamasbi, we have our first look into Gen Y’s likes and dislikes when it comes to web pages. Gen Y’s are particularly interesting because they’ve been exposed to technology since childhood. They’re tech savvy and they’re short on attention span. That makes them an interesting target market. They’re entering the workforce in large numbers and, due to their sheer size, could account for half the spending in the economy. What does this mean for those of us interested in gaining their patronage?

Generation Y (18-31 years old) is a large, economically powerful group that spends about $200 billion annually. They are children of the Baby Boomers. In the US there were about 76 million births in the Baby Boomer generation. Gen Y has surpassed those numbers, coming in at about 80 million, according to Wikipedia.

According to Djamasabi:

They are significantly more likely than older Internet users to create blogs, download music, instant message, and play online games. Additionally, Generation Y searches for health information, conducts job research, banks online, and makes travel reservations. For this generation, who has grown with technology, usability is a given and aesthetics are not a bonus but an EXPECTATION.

This study looked at four main web design elements: large images, images of celebrities, small amount of text, and a search feature. For the purposes of B2B marketing, most of us don’t have the budgets to get celebrity endorsements. So let’s focus on the results of the other three areas with our goal being to answer the question:

–> What can we do to keep users from moving away from our web sites?

According to the study, there are 6 primary factors that influence where a person’s eyes fall on a web page.

Ok, so we know that animation, large size objects, images, bright colors, text style, and top elements draw more attention. How does that actually play out on a web page?

Let’s take a look at several heat maps generated during the study. They show us that Gen Y responds to:
• Large pictures because they draw the eye in quickly
• Images of people as they generate a sense of warmth
• A search bar in the upper right hand corner because they have shorter attention spans and like fast service; this is especially important on a site with lots of elements that can appear confusing
• Low word count on the home page; the maximum number of words on a page in the study was in the low 200’s

Here are the MOST LIKED web pages:

Here are the LEAST LIKED web pages:

While heat maps tell us what part of the page attract the most attention during the entire time of the test, it’s also important to consider what was viewed during the first few seconds and the order the components were viewed. This tells us what information is being used to generate a web site visitor’s first impression.

The study’s eye tracking data shows that users fixated on main large pictures, faces of celebrities, and the search feature. It also shows relatively few fixations on the text. Pay attention to the order of the fixation below.

Fixation order for the MOST LIKED web pages:

Fixation order for the LEAST LIKED web pages:

Of course, these observations are specific to Gen Y and may not apply to all audiences. We know there will be some leeway in dealing with Gen Y engineers, for instance. But the general trend is probably true for most in this age group:
• No more big blocks of text, use shorter blocks and more bullets
• Add big graphics that add to the story you are telling, not just eye candy that wastes their time
• No matter what the size of your site, include a SITE SEARCH function

Download the full research report, “Generation Y, web design and eye tracking” for additional details.


  1. Nikki Groom says:

    Really informative post, thanks. The full research report gives me a 404 error… Would love to be able to access that.

  2. sharilee says:

    Thanks for catching that, Nikki. I think I fixed the PDF url. Let me know if you have any more problems.

Leave a Reply