Eye tracking: How do your visitors use your website?

What is eye tracking?

Eye tracking is the process of analyzing an individual’s optical focus to measure focus time, point of focus, and eye movement. Eye tracking tracks the gaze of the eye as it focuses on various objects or surfaces.

For instance, imagine you were sitting across a person. By looking at their eyes, you can determine what they are looking at, how long they focus on it for, and where they look after. This simple observation tells you a lot about an individual’s personality, or how interesting or boring the environment is around them. Similarly, eye trackers analyze a person’s visual gazes across a predefined surface such as a display screen or monitor.

How does it work?

An eye tracker estimates the point of gaze with extreme accuracy using image sensor technology that finds the user’s eyes and calculates the point of gaze with mathematical algorithms. (1)

Most eye trackers use corneal-reflection tracking, where several near-infrared illuminators create reflection patterns on the eyes’ cornea. One or more image sensors then register the image of the subject’s eyes and sends it to an image processor. The processor detects the exact position of the pupil, and identifies the correct reflections from the illuminators and their exact positions. (1) This information is then overlaid on top of the specific website image at that point in time.

Using eye tracking to answer website usability questions

Eye tracking can be used to research how users visually focus and interact with your digital content. In website usability testing, eye tracking draws the connection between the user’s attention and the website content. Eye tracking is a key tool for usability testing, and should be used alongside click monitoring to understand how users navigate across a website. While click monitoring can only tell you what webpages are popular, eye tracking can assist in determining why your users click on a particular link.

The user experience research process:

  • A subject is seated at a traditional computer workstation environment with a monitor, a mouse, and a keyboard (the eye tracker in most cases is integrated into the monitor).
  • He/she is given a specific task to perform on the website with an end goal. For instance, the subject is told that they are looking for a Spring Break vacation package to Honolulu, Hawaii for 2 adults.
  • As the task begins, the subject’s browser lands on the target website and the eye tracker begins to track the subject’s eye movements. Mouse tracking activity is also recorded to understand the correlation between eye and mouse movements.
  • In many cases, a webcam is used to record the subject’s facial gestures and speech to analyze mood and behavior as they perform the task.
  • After the subject is successful at completing the task, a video is generated that shows the subject’s movement across the website. Eye tracking activity is shown using lines and circles. Lines show the subject’s eye movement across the webpage while circles show where the subject’s eyes focused (as shown in the image below).

How do your visitors interact with your website?

If your company wants to go beyond just click data, performing eye tracking research will give you insight into how users visually interact with your website.

8 benefits of eye-tracking research:

  • Learn how users are navigating through your website
  • See what types of images get looked at the most (eg: images with faces)
  • See whether your visitors read or scan your content
  • Measure the clicks vs. views of your ads (a recent study shows ads are viewed 10x more than they are clicked)
  • Test if the “above the fold” rule applies to your website by monitoring how often your visitors scroll down on your webpages
  • Record the total time it takes a visitor to perform a certain task
  • Monitor the number of times the visitor hits the browser’s Back button while performing a certain task. If a user hits the Back button within a few seconds of landing on a page, it could mean:
    • the page’s content doesn’t match the visitor’s expectations
    • the link doesn’t point to the right destination page
  • Understand your website’s clickstream
    • How visitors move within your website
    • How long they stay on each page

How do I leverage this tool?

Eye tracking research can either be performed in-house or through a usability research firm.

If you are looking for an in-house solution, Tobii is a well-known developer of eye tracking solutions. For over 10 years, their devices have been used for usability testing and market research among other applications. Be warned that in-house eye tracking can be expensive and time consuming to implement.

If you would rather have eye tracking research done by a usability research firm, Mediative has performed eye tracking research for several companies to help them better understand their website’s usability. Here is a sample video to illustrate.