5 Ways Eye Tracking Can Improve Your Web Usability

How do your customers look at your website?

By understanding your users’ online behaviors and viewing patterns you can design websites that are both usable for your customers as well as help you meet your business objectives.

What is eye tracking?

Eye tracking is the measurement of eye activity. Where do we look? How long are we looking for? Where do we shift our focus to? What do we ignore? It’s useful in assessing usability and effectiveness of a website.

Modern eye tracking generally involves a camera that measures the relative position of the head and calculates the average gaze direction of the eyes. Infrared light is used to reflect off the retina and allow the eye tracker to identify the position of the pupils.

Eye tracking devices build a dataset by recording movements many times a second to determine behavior. When the user’s gaze stops moving, it’s called a fixation. The rapid movements in between fixation points are called saccades. Because saccades occur so quickly, only the fixation points are considered in eye tracking studies.

Eye Tracking as a Research Method

There are 3 main ways of visualizing eye tracking results:

  • Replay in slow motion, ideal, but too time-consuming.
  • Heat maps, color-coded screenshots based on the amount the user focuses on specific areas on the site.
  • Gaze plots, a series of dots that vary in size depending on the duration of time spent at a certain fixation. They are connected by a thin line representing the visual pathway, or the saccade.
The image on the left shows a heat map, the red spots indicate a longer fixation in that area. The image on the right is a gaze plot, blue dots are fixation points, where the larger ones indicate a longer gaze in that area. The thin connecting lines are the saccades.

The image on the left shows a heat map, the red spots indicate a longer fixation in that area. The image on the right is a gaze plot, blue dots are fixation points, where the larger ones indicate a longer gaze in that area. The thin connecting lines are the saccades. Image Credits: http://www.thegrowthstory.in/

Benefits for Your Web Usability  

1. Prioritize Content on Your Website

Eye tracking highlights what the users see and what they ignore.

By understanding how your users navigate and where they look most often, you can collect insights feed into designing the information architecture and page layout of your website to distribute your content according to business priorities.

Research has found that people generally scan a page in an F-shape pattern. This pattern suggests placing high-priority content in the upper left of the content area to maximize efficiency. Content placement, such as CTA buttons, menus and images require awareness of how users view websites.

2. Reading vs. Scanning Behaviors

Jakob Nielsen’s eye-tracking study indicated that less than 20% of the text content is actually read on an average web page.

Eye tracking analysis allows you to determine whether your users are reading or scanning content. Plan for scanning behaviors by providing highlighted keywords, meaningful headings, short paragraphs, and scannable lists.

3. Compare Scan Patterns of Different User Groups

There are several factors that play a role in how people perceive websites. Age, gender, and web experience to name a few.

By segmenting your users, eye tracking allows you to compare scan patterns between them. Analyzing differences in your user groups’ behavior will guide you to cater to your target audience.

Knowing how to communicate better with your audience will lead to better user experiences and satisfied customers.

4. Assess Ease or Difficulty of Target Tasks

When users are on your website, you only have 10-20 seconds to catch their attention.

If users can’t find what they are looking for on your website, they won’t stay for long. Eye tracking allows you to calculate the time taken to arrive at any given fixation. This can indicate how easy or difficult an element is to find.

The length and number of fixations at a given element can give insights on how engaging, comprehensible, distracting or useful an element is. Eye tracking alongside usability testing clarifies which areas of your website are striving, and which areas need improvement.  

5. Capture Data about Conscious and Unconscious Behaviours

Users take in visual information much faster than their mind can consciously process.

Eye tracking devices capture where their eyes are moving and relate it to their behavioral performances. Eye tracking information collects scanning behaviors for the options they consider when completing a task. Knowing where users look during a task is helpful in revealing user expectations and usability issues.

Complemented with a ‘Think Aloud’ protocol, users’ conscious behaviors are expressed while their unconscious performance is recorded via eye movements. Failure to mention what users scan, might make you think they missed certain information. So, combining what users say with what they see gives an in-depth understanding of how they interact with your website.

Limitations of Eye Tracking

Although eye tracking can provide valuable information, there are limitations of what it can reveal.

Eye tracking can only tell us what users looked at but can’t explain why. Since we process information unconsciously, you can’t tell if users consciously gave meaning to what they saw. Viewing something doesn’t translate to understanding or attention. Users may fixate on something but not process that they saw it.

Because vision is such a complex system, eye tracking data only accounts for a small part of our visual field. It does not measure our peripheral vision, which makes up 98% of our visual field, used to see things without actually fixating on them. Even though the user didn’t fixate on some items, it doesn’t mean they didn’t see it, they just didn’t give it enough focus.

Therefore, eye tracking only provides little meaning on its own, but paired with the right research methods, it can deliver complementary data that is valuable to your research.

Take Away

Eye tracking uncovers another level of user behavior. It is a powerful tool to help understand the evolving web user. Proper application of eye tracking technology can be a great help to improve your website’s usability and deliver the best user experiences.

Enhancing user experiences leads to better business value of your website.



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