As in everything we do when visually communicating, we focus on meeting the users needs.
Eye tracking studies for the web reveal valuable information on how visitors take in a website. Studies path a users visual direction on a web page with software that uses heat mapping.
Shown here, heatmaps from user eyetracking studies. From Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, 4/17/06
The areas where users looked the most are colored red; the yellow areas indicate fewer views, followed by the least-viewed blue areas. Gray areas didn’t attract any fixations.
It is very interesting when you look at this and follow how a visitor scans the page. This gives us valuable research on how to build a user-friendly website.
Other variables such as the type of website and its visitors do make a significant difference — the same rules do not apply to all.
What are visitors coming for? Is it for information or to purchase a product or service they need? Is it business- or consumer-based? Is it a niche audience?
Reading an article referencing the most recent eye-tracking study by Jakob Nielsen brings up some interesting results on images that we can all learn from.
The study shows people photos are good to include, but only if they are of real people. Viewers skip over generic photos if they are not directly relevant to why they are coming to the site. Poor design and cluttered content is a factor that is clearly to be considered vital in making this case. Jakob Nielsen refers to this as “visual bloat”. I love it!
So, if photos are being added to a website without much thought to their relevancy, they are of no value. If an image is not relevant, how can it make the emotional connection to the user?
The example he uses is, on the Amazon website, people “mostly” ignored generic images of televisions because they didn’t offer real information. But on the Pottery Barn website, people engaged with the product photos for extended periods of time. Yes. When we are purchasing a product online we have set criteria that helps us make the purchasing decision and the biggest is, we need to SEE if it fits our needs.
There are also people who need to actually touch the item they are purchasing so they may never actually buy a television online.
If a website is selling products, it is most important to have a photoshoot with a professional photographer so the products can be best showcased for their selling advantage. It is important that users are able to see alternate views and enlarged images.
Tip: Jakob Nielsen says when users click to view a larger version of an item, the one that appears should be at least twice as big, preferably more.
Eye tracking studies are just another way for us to support and improve our efforts of visually communicating effectively.