There is an interesting study from the folks at SURL this month. See “Eye Movement Patterns on Single and Dual-Column Web Pages” by Sav Shrestha & Justin W. Owens.
The focus of the study is on eye fixation patterns of 1-column versus 2-column text layouts. I’m not a huge fan of eye tracking studies, but I think they do reveal some interesting patterns. Here is the summary of the study:
“This study examines eye movement patterns of users browsing or searching a 1-column and 2-column news article on a web page. The results show a higher number of fixations for information in the second column of an article than for the same information in the lower portion of a single column. In addition, the typical “F” pattern appeared in the left column of the 2-column layout, but not in the right column. Users also fixated more on other page elements, such as ads, when they were browsing than when they were searching. “
It’s that last part that caught my attention–the part about people seeing more page elements when browsing than when searching. This makes sense, and it reminded me of similar findings elsewhere.
First, Jared Spool found that people tend to continue shopping more when browsing to content than when searching for it. See “Users Continue After Category Links” (Dec 2001). He writes:
“Apparently, the way you get to the target content affects whether you’ll continue looking or not.
In a recent study of 30 users, we found that if the users used Search to locate their target content on the site, only 20% of them continued looking at other content after they found the target content.
But if the users used the category links to find their target, 62% continued browsing the site. Users who started with the category links ended up looking at almost 10 times as many non-target content pages as those who started with Search.”
I was also reminded of the study “Why Are Users Banner Blind?” by Magnus Pagendarm and Heike Schaumburg. The summarize:
“Half the subjects were asked to search for specific information, while the other half was instructed just to explore the site as they wished. In a subsequent recall and recognition test, subjects from the aimless browsing group performed significantly better than subjects from the information search group.”
I put it like this in Designing Web Navigation:
“People prefer information that involves sequence. They like to browse. Navigation provides a narrative for the people to follow on the Web. It tells a story–the story of your site. In this respect, there is something both familiar and comforting about web navigation. The widespread, seemingly natural use of navigation to access content on the Web reflects its strength as a narrative device.”
And if people are looking more at ads, the experience of browsing content also affects your bottom line.