Eyetracking websites hot spots

Once users visit your homepage, where do they look first, and what drives them to look there? Not surprisingly, our left-to-right reading behavior in Western culture seems to greatly influence these responses. In Eyetrack III, we observed that the upper left corner of a page seems to be the preferred starting point for most online news users. However, the location of key elements -- such as headlines and the flag -- also seem to be powerful forces in determining reader attention.

Overall, the upper left-hand side of a homepage -- especially when dominated by headlines -- seems to be the consistent spot where online news users look first. We observed that several factors contribute to this scanning pattern, but among the most influential are the placement of main story headlines and the website's flag.

After viewing content in the top left corner or the main headlines on our prototype homepages, participants' eye movements usually involved scanning back and forth across the homepages and ending in the upper right-hand quadrant.

Our participants scanned headlines that were in the upper left first. However, once there, they generally took only a quick look at the first few words before moving on. We found that the first 1-2 inches of each headline is where most eyes fixated, suggesting that the first few words are key in drawing reader attention. This situation is particularly true when headlines are in a list format or when headlines and blurbs have a similar look and feel.

As seen on all heatmaps of our test homepages, concentration of viewing is left-sided when participants are perusing a list. (A heatmap is an aggregate view of all participants' eye fixations on a page; a fixation is where the eye paused to look for at least a fraction of a second.)

Data also suggest that approximately five headlines are viewed on a homepage before viewers move on. This observation does not seem dependent upon the number of headlines available to view.


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