Where Your Eyes Go When You Look at a Website

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Gaze tracking is always an interesting subject, especially since it’s usually accompanied by cool-looking heat maps with bright orange circles over the more curvy body parts of a bikini model and we all have a good laugh at humans’ dirty minds. But for web companies pushing a product, or trying to get people to click on ads and links, tracking eye movement can be the difference between a lucrative business and a waste of the $14/year you spent on domain hosting.

To that end, there are a plethora of marketing companies that provide gaze-tracking analysis for websites. One of the more interesting of these is EyeQuant, a German startup that recently scored a half a million dollars in funding and counts Google among its clients. EyeQuant figures itself as a neuroscience company that uses ongoing brain research to get predictive attention tracking down to a science.

At the Neurobiopsychology Lab at the University of Osnabrueck in Germany, the company studies where people’s gaze wanders while looking at various designs, either online or physical products. It then feeds the data into a computer to generate a predictive model, and uses machine learning to refine the model into an algorithm they use to evaluate clients’ websites. The long-term idea is to “teach computers to see the web like humans do.”

Today, the firm published the results of its latest eye-tracking study, which looked at 46 people shopping on 200 websites. The insights aren’t always what you’d expect—although it’s worth mentioning that busting assumptions is in the company’s best interest, seeing as it’s selling people expert analytics.

Interestingly, the study found that people’s eyes don’t immediately gravitate to faces or large text, as is commonly believed. Instead, smaller blocks of text designed to stand out, as well as navigation tools, tended to catch the eye.

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Other insights weren’t so surprising. Guess which part of Victoria’s Secret’s website attracted the most eyeballs.
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Like I mentioned, this is just the latest of many attempts to use the eyes as windows into the brains of consumers that browse the web. Business Insider has a great roundup of some of the funniest insights from various neuromarketing companies over the last few years. It’s like a peephole into the human psyche. In sports ads, men look at the athlete’s torso and butt; women look at the face and the shoes. Less is more, it found—a few words can attract more attention than a huge random face. And no one ever looks at banner ads.

The future of eye-tracking technology is even more interesting. The CEO of EyeQuant, Fabian Stelzer, told Fast Company that attention-based insights could be used to determine which websites have more relevant versus distracting content, and that evaluation could go into search engines’ algorithms. Users’ eyes would size up websites like beauty pageant judge, and a low grade knocks you down in the ranks of search results.

What’s more, the eyeballs are making the transition from datapoint to remote control. For a while now companies have been working on developing gaze-enabled video games, laptops, and mobile phones.

Controlling your cell phone by just looking at would certainly be convenient, especially for the fat-thumbed or gloved hands. But I shudder to think what would happen to the hardcore gamers who are already suffering hand injuries from 14-hour stretches fingering the knobs on controllers at a rapid clip.

Screenshots via EyeQuant

By Meghan Neal 

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