Web Usability Study Reveals the “Golden Triangle”
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June 14, 2010 by dbrendant, http://eyetrackingupdate.com

We’ve written a few articles on website usability and how, in particular, people search the web, scanning their eyes across the screen to seek out the results relevant to their search. Many studies using eye tracking heatmaps have shown that web users tend to scan in an “F” pattern – that is, focusing mainly on the upper left side of the screen and scanning across horizontally and then down the left hand side to check what’s on the page. This makes sense. Think about when you do a search on Google –how do you approach the page?Most often, the relevant results are at the top of the page, listed downwards, and as you read across each entry, you’re going from left to right. It’s not rocket science, but eye tracking has helped to show typical gaze tendencies, helping designers and web engineers to shape and customize their sites to the user’s needs.

A new study is showing that many web users, however, tend to search Google in a triangular shape. The eye tracking study, jointly conducted by search marketing firms Enquiro and Didit.com, in cooperation with Eyetools, an eye tracking firm based in San Francisco, has shown that the majority of eye tracking activity during a search happens in a triangle at the top of the search results page. And they’re calling this area of maximum interest a “golden triangle.”

Fifty people at Eyetools eye tracking lab participated in the study. Each panel was presented with five distinct scenarios where they would perform a Google search. What they found wasn’t much different – think about it: if you connect the dots of an F pattern, you pretty much get a triangle.

The most important location, as determined by the test was at the top of the page, extending from the top of the results over to the top of the first result and then along down the left side of the “above the fold” visible results. This means, basically, that people are scanning across and then down until they get to the bottom of the page, and they tend to lose interest if they have to scroll down.

The study shows that 100% of participants looked at the top of the page, 85% looked at the bottom listing (which is still pretty high, relatively speaking). Anything below the fold dropped dramatically to 50% at the top and a lowly 20% at the bottom.

We are pretty trusting of Google’s ranking system, which uses algorithms to place the most relevant content at the top of the page.

Call it what you will – an F or a triangle – people still want relevant results, and efficiency and priority are really what dictates good usability on a search page.