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2/6/2009
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Google Eye Tracking Escalates War For Eyeballs

The search engine's techniques cast some light on how it measures the travels of eyes across its search results pages.

Competition among Internet companies has been characterized as a war for eyeballs. And in this war, the weapon of choice is eye tracking.

Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo all conduct eye-tracking studies in an attempt to understand how users interact with their search results pages.

But it's not just search engines that find value in knowing what parts of a Web page get attention. Since the turn of the millennium, eye tracking has become a relatively common form of commercial research, particularly as a way to assess Web usability, advertising effectiveness, and automotive safety.

In a blog post on Friday, Google cast some light on how it measures the travels of eyes across its search results pages. And its findings show why Google's search engine continues to dominate the market.

"Based on eye-tracking studies, we know that people tend to scan the search results in order," said Google user experience researchers Anne Aula and Kerry Rodden in a blog post. "They start from the first result and continue down the list until they find a result they consider helpful and click it -- or until they decide to refine their query."

But Google's search results are generally so good that people are able to find that they're looking for. Based on the eye-tracking patterns of users, Aula and Rodden explain, "most users found what they were looking for among the first two results and they never needed to go further down the page."

It's hard to do better than that, which may explain why Google has so few serious competitors. The company's eye-tracking findings also may be instructive to advertisers, particularly those who might not realize that the first search results page is the only one likely to be seen.

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