Finding the hot spots

Although a lot of attention is focussed on grabbing eyeballs through search engine optimisation and marketing, often too little consideration is given to what those eyeballs do when they arrive. I’ve referred a few times before to “web usability guru” Jakob Nielsen. Like many, and unlike himself, I don’t believe he’s God: some of his more recent guidelines are somewhat controversial. However, his latest Alertbox article deserves a read.

First take a look at this eye-tracking study heatmap of views of the US Census Bureau’s home page, showing in colours from red, through yellow and blue to grey, where users’ attention was most focussed.

You’ll note that, clearly:

  • users focussed on the left of the columns, primarily the top left
  • users focussed on text more than pictures (though the female grabbed some eyeballs)
  • users avoided anything that looked like an ad

On this particular page, the most important statistic is top right, but because the formatting is suggestive of an ad, users didn’t focus on the whole of it.

This behaviour is fairly typical of most other similar studies – and this is science, not some black art. So the message is clear. Feel free to make your web pages visually attractive with graphics and formatting, but make sure the important information and links are top left in plain text.