Using Science to Guide Web Design: 3 Key Takeaways from Eyetracking Research

By Denise Goluboff | Senior Web Strategist

Looking for additional insight? Check out our eBook: A 15-Point Checklist to Evaluate Your B2B Technical Website..

Maybe it’s because we work with so many engineers and techies, but here at TREW, we can be real skeptics. We take an “I’ll believe it when I see it” approach – relying on hard data and proof points when making decisions on the most effective ways to help our clients market their brand.

So when it comes to creating effective web layout and designs that get results, we rely on usability data from trusted sources to help us make sense of how people use the web. One type of web study we rely on – and prove out time and time again - is eye tracking research.

Eye tracking is a form of research that allows the proctor to track web visitors’ eye movements across a page, providing insight into what people truly spend time looking at on the screen, what order they look at it, and what their eyes avoid. Some of the key questions eye tracking research can address include:

  • Which area of the page draws a web user’s attention?
  • What do users tend to look at first, second, third?
  • Which areas of the page do users avoid or ignore?
  • What specific elements of content do users gaze at for more than a second or two?
  • Do web visitors notice key elements of the page or recall key messaging?

By incorporating what we learn from eye tracking research, we can determine the best format and placement for content, and establish optimal page layout. It’s truly an opportunity to apply hard data to marketing activities for improved ROI.

Below are 3 key takeaways that TREW has learned from recent eye tracking studies performed by Jakob Nielsen and the Poynter Institute and successfully applied to our clients’ web redesign efforts:

1. Follow the Zig-Zag

Eye tracking studies consistently show that most web visitors approach a web page similar to reading a book – we start at the top left and move right with our eyes. People’s eyes fixate first in the upper left of the page near the logo, then pause in that area before going left to right. This is often called an “F” layout or even a “Z” layout because our eyes zig-zag across the page as we skim it.

 Eye tracking F pattern

The heat map on this web page shows a distinct F pattern where web visitors eyes focused on the page


Incorporating the zig-zag viewing habit of web users into your layout means your highest priority content or messaging should sit on this F or Z eye line, to ensure your audience will notice it.Consider this layout technique when determining placement of headlines, calls to action, or buttons you want your audience to click on. Incorporate this approach when laying out any prominent web page, as it allows web surfers to scan content naturally and effortlessly.

2. Keep it Short and Sweet

When you have something to say on a page – especially a home page or a campaign page that serves as an entry point to your site – make it brief and impactful. Why? Because eye tracking research reveals the following about web users’ behavior:

  • You have only about 20 seconds to pique a web visitor’s interest before they lose interest
  • Web visitors only read about 20% of the words on a page
  • Users tend to gaze more at brief headlines in large fonts than any other words on a page

This means you have very little time to capture the interest of your very busy and distracted audience. Don’t waste it with lots of text in small fonts. The shorter and more actionable your headlines, and the easier they are to read, the better your success at communicating your message.

Notice the brevity of text and large fonts that help simplify this home page for TREW client Asuragen

3. Navigation is Power

Eye tracking reveals that the top action on any web page is clicking on buttons and links, and the global navigation – when situated at the top of the page – is gazed at and clicked on much more than sidebar navigation. What does this all mean?

Keep it simple - If you offer global navigation across the top of your site as well as section-specific navigation down the left, you may quickly overwhelm your web visitors. Unless your site includes hundreds of products and offerings, the top navigation alone can do the job. People are more likely to use it as their “anchor” on your site to find their way.

TREW client Parallon’s corporate site section relies on top navigation, freeing up the entire body of the page for relevant content

No dead ends
– When you get on a boat, you want to go somewhere, not just sit there. People coming to your site have that same need for movement. Make sure no page is a dead end, and that you offer links to compelling content or to related pages so users have the ability to carve their own path through your site.

These are just a few of the key points eye tracking data has revealed about web users’ habits and preferences. Knowledge is power, and eye tracking research provides a great deal of knowledge that allows TREW the ability to build the best and most effective websites around. Talk to the web usability experts at TREW today to find out how we can apply eye tracking research to your next web redesign.
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Looking for additional insight? Check out our eBook: A 15-Point Checklist to Evaluate Your B2B Technical Website.

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Denise Goluboff

Senior Web Strategist

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