What is an Eye Tracking Study?
The term “Eye Tracking Study” can be used to describe any type of study that examines how the participants’ eyes work in relation to their activities. When you first look at a piece of media, your eyes are drawn to a specific point and will then trail off in a certain direction. Marketing departments use this information to plan their next deployment accordingly. Scientists can use this information to determine the best placement of highway signs or to determine how well you drive. In each of these different situations different equipment is used.
What is Eye Tracking?
Wikipedia describes an eye tracking study as:
Eye tracking is the process of measuring either the point of gaze ("where we are looking") or the motion of an eye relative to the head.
Eye tracking studies can also be used for usability studies on websites, print articles, and more. Eye tracking was created and developed for offline work such as to determine reading or driving patterns. Standard media outlets like print newspapers used this information to lay out their material. The tests will show researchers where your eyes were looking at any given moment. Now when we speak about web eye tracking studies, most of the time they do not involve head gear like the offline tests do.
Offline tests use head gear to judge the exact position of each eye. Internet testing uses your mouse as a representation of where you are looking. Sometimes, they can involve other technology like cameras as well. You can see one such example below.
In the picture above you see a study participant staring at a specialized computer screen and the researcher on the right can alter the flow of the test. Depending on the type of experiment, the eye tracking equipment can vary immensely from the type shown above. Take a look at the eye tracking equipment below:
and this set here:
How Does Eye Tracking Work?
Eye tracking works by measuring a subject’s eye movement and position when reviewing materials or by performing a specific action. I have used eye tracking studies personally when evaluating a website’s usability. There are some retail applications on the market to help with this purpose. Most of the time during these types of experiments, proprietary software is used. This software allows the researchers to monitor their test subjects’ mouse movement throughout their browsing session. The results are provided on a document called a heat map. A heat map shows a diagram like the below, which allows you to see what spots are viewed more than others.
The heat map above was generated using the demo of clickdensity. The darker colors mean that there has been more traffic over this specific portion of the page. You can change from heat tracking to click tracking to see what area attracts the most clicks as well as what is looked at the most. Clickdensity is a paid service that allows you to view your own eye tracking patterns for your websites. You can use their free trial to allow yourself to become better acquainted with heat map services.
You can create a free click heat map by using ClickHeat. You can see a demo of ClickHeat at their URL or incorporate it in your own website using their open source code. ClickHeat is open source software, released under GPL license, and free of charge.
There are many types of applications that take this information into effect such as website analytics. When an eye tracking study is used online, the results are used to help us assess where the content we want users to see should be placed on the site.
What Can Eye Tracking Tell Us?
We have looked at what eye tracking is. We have looked at how eye tracking can work, but what can it tell us? When using eye tracking on the web, we can learn what portions of our page are getting the most attention. These are the spots on our website that we would want to place ads or other highly desirable links. After reviewing many heat maps, I have learned that people read the web in a capital F pattern. They read the first line and then skim as they move down and across. If you have a link that you want your readers to see, the upper left hand corner would be optimal.
Using split AB testing, we can serve up different versions of our web site with eye tracking software installed, and we can review the data to see which one is doing better. AB testing results can help us see what is attracting more views or clicks. Then, we can get rid of the version being outperformed. In the offline world, on the other hand, we can tell if someone is a good driver by running an eye tracking study while they are driving. We can see if they are keeping their eyes on the road. We can also see if the driver is being easily distracted or taking their eyes off the road.
By being able to see what your subjects are looking at and concentrating on, you can make your content better. Eye tracking gives us another measure of what is going on beyond the old school tally of unique hits. Successful marketers use all the tools available to give the market the best possible product; well, at least the product most likely to sell. In conclusion, if you are currently looking at your analytics package and wondering where your users are staring at, this might be something to take a look at.
There are plenty of free trials online for you to get a taste of what data you can collect. If it is viable to you, then by all means, pay for it. On the other hand, you can have your internal programmer whip something up for you. Either way, eye tracking is a powerful medium for looking through your viewers’ eyes. If you have experienced any eye tracking applications or studies we would love to hear about them in the comments below.