Web Usability and Eye Tracking: Location Really Does Matter

In the offline world, “location, location, location” is a common mantra. The same is true online. Where you place your most important messages, calls to action, video spokesperson, and other elements really does matter. This is due to how users interact with their computer screens.

Think about this for a moment from a Web user’s point of view. When you encounter a webpage for the first time, you don’t know much about it, right? You’ll quickly scan, from left to right (the way you were taught to read) in search of clues. Clues usually appear in the form of titles, headings, subheadings, and bulleted lists. These items tell you the page’s general focus. While your own experiences give you a general sense of how users view the Web, eye-tracking studies have demonstrated it.

In the Yahoo! Style Guide, Yahoo! discusses its own eye-tracking studies. Yahoo! concludes that there’s a general pattern to how people browse webpages:

  • First, users scan a page’s main sections to understand what the page is about and decide whether or not to stay on that page.
  • Users make decisions about the page within three seconds of viewing it
  • Users that stay on the page pay the most attention to the information located in the top part of the screen, typically the upper left corner.

Yahoo!’s eye-tracking studies and resulting heat map show that users tend to focus on a triangular section in the upper left corner of the screen. This upper left corner is prime real estate for your site’s most important content. Go to any Yahoo! page and see how Yahoo! puts this knowledge to work. For example, on the Yahoo! Personal Finance page, the Home and Investing tabs are located in this corner as are its most important categories (Banking & Budgeting, Career & Work, Family & Home, Insurance, Loans, Real Estate, Retirement, and Taxes). Less important information such as the date, “word of the day,” advertisements, and Yahoo! Answers appear elsewhere on the page.

In addition to the upper left corner of the screen, there’s another crucial piece of real estate: the area “above the fold.” Like a newspaper folded in half, the top section of a website, the section before it becomes necessary to scroll for more content, is extremely important. While users have become accustomed to scrolling, that first screen impression should contain the page’s most important element.

For example, if you want to feature a high-impact marketing video on a webpage, and that video is the most important element of the page, it should be located “above the fold.” A long textual introduction, advertisements, graphics, and other elements above the video could potentially push the video below the fold, leading to fewer views and poor results.

Location, location, location is a mantra that all Web property owners should adopt. What’s in the upper left corner of your website? What are you featuring above the fold? Share your thoughts and ideas with us!