Have you seen the eye tracking heat maps that show how a user views a website? This technology has been around for about 10 years but big online publishers only started using it for usability testing and online consumer behaviour research maybe 5-6 years ago (well, that was the case for me when I was working for News Digital Media in Sydney Australia). As far as I know this is still a technology where you need to engage a specialist company to review your website, there’s no free tools out there where you can enter your website domain URL and it tells you how users view your website.
Eye tracking is done by using a camera to track a user’s eye movements and where they look and dwell on any given web page. I have seen it done in two ways. The first using a webcam style camera placed on the top of the screen that in trained on the users eye while they view a webpage. The second is using a mounted camera that is placed like a helmet on the users head with a camera eye-patch type thing over the users eye to track their exact eye movements. The result is a heat map, like the one of the left.
The heat map shows the amount of time that a user spends looking at different parts of a web page. The red shows the longest dwell time the user spends looking at or reading the content on your webpage. The green and yellow show glances.
When you look at an eye tracking heat map of a Google search results page, it is very clear how and why google chooses to layout their page as they do. The organic search results on the left of the page get the most views while the paid search results on the right get less dwell time. Because of this, Google changed their paid search listing to start to randomly present at the top left of the page so that users would click on paid links more often, simply out of habit at looking at this part of the search results page and expecting to see natural search listings.
Eye tracking is an incredibly reliable and useful usability testing technique but its not cheap. Eyetracking software is available but I suggest you read more about it from the investors of eye tracking who can tell you in their own words what you can learn from eye tracking for your websites usability.
I see Microsoft’s Kinect technology as a progression of sorts from the eye tracking website usability research. Kinect will engage a consumer in a totally different way as they use their whole body to interact with a website. Kinect is already being used to see what shoppers are looking at or picking up in stores before they make a final product choice. I can’t wait to see what type of research, testing and usability optimisations will be required from online publishers once this Kinect technology has started to fulfill its potential.