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8/22/2011
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Google+ Eye Tracking Study Shows Potential

Would Google+ ads would perform at least as well as those on Facebook? One study says yes.

Whenever Google+ begins to make room for advertising, those ads are likely to perform at least as well as those on Facebook, according to an eye tracking study that modeled the instinctive response of consumers to the layouts of the two services.

The study was conducted by EyeTrackShop, a firm that measures response to media and advertising using panels of consumers who agree to let a webcam app track their response to visual stimuli. The idea is to objectively measure how viewers react to a layout or application, rather than merely surveying them about their reactions.

"We did mock up an ad on the Google+ site to test if they did a similar ad placement, what would you see," said Jeff Bander EyeTrackShop's senior vice-president of client services. "What we found is people look at them almost the same, which for Google is very good."

Not that Facebook is really the king of attention-getting advertising. In fact, test ads on other sites are typically seen by 74% of viewers, compared with 53% for Facebook. "It also takes about 5 seconds for them to see the ad, which is a long time," Bander said. So from an advertiser's perspective, Facebook leaves room for improvement, he said.

The eye tracking study showed that the typical pattern of response to a Google+ page is almost identical to the way the eye moves around a Facebook home page. That's not terribly surprising. Even though Google+ has drawn praise for many innovations, the basic layout with left and right sidebars and an activity stream down the middle mirrors that of Facebook. When EyeTrackShop placed ads in positions in the right hand sidebar mirroring those on Facebook, the results were similar, with about half of viewers drawn to focus on those ads. EyeTrackShop also tested ad placements in the upper left hand corner that did even better.

All of this is speculative at the moment, given that Google has given no indication when it might start running ads on Google+, even as advertisers are eager to see it do so. Google has a history of allowing time for new products to find their audience before settling on the most appropriate way of introducing advertisements.

"One thing Google does very well--and Facebook, too--is maybe sacrificing maybe a little exposure of the ad to keep the user experience strong," Bander said.

Google+ is also developing a reputation as a strong driver of referral traffic. The Internet marketing company WordStream recently reported that even in its current test phase, Google+ beats LinkedIn and makes a respectable showing against Facebook and Twitter as a traffic driver. These conclusions were based on measuring traffic driven by the company's report Where Does Google Make Their Money?, which generated about 1 million unique visits to the Wordstream blog in the course of a week, about half of them from social media.

In other words, this was traffic driven by social posts and link sharing, outside of WordStream's direct control. The rankings:

-- 1st Place: Facebook with 47.26% of visitors.

-- 2nd Place: Twitter with 27.51% of visitors.

-- 3rd Place: Google+ with 15.42% of visitors.

-- 4th Place: LinkedIn with 9.81% of visitors.

"How is it possible that Google+ with just 20 million users could beat LinkedIn with over 100 million users, and be closing in on Twitter with 175 Million Users?" WordStream CTO Larry Kim asks in a blog post. He speculates it might have something to do with the young service being less cluttered by spam and more packed with highly engaged users.

While that mini-study was based on one particular surge in traffic to his blog, Kim said by email that this pattern has held up over the past few weeks.

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