Much fuss has been made about Google’s real time search feed, and its flashy new Twitter statuses. But a new user eye-tracking study is calling Google out, and suggests users don’t care much for it. The thing is, the study’s only half right.
The research comes from online marketers OneUpWeb, who recently studied the way a sample set of 44 people interacted with search pages. The group was divided in two, a “consumer” group told to search for a product they wanted to buy, and a “forager” group who were tasked with simply finding out about a project. The volunteers were then monitored as they beetled around in Google, with particular attention paid to where their eyes were looking on the page.
One of the most easily accessible conclusions are that the “consumers” averaged just nine seconds before settling on the real-time results presented in Google’s feed for the first time, whereas the “foragers” took 14 seconds–demonstrating the different attention spans needed to quickly scan for relevant product info, or forage among the feed for more ephemeral data. Once they’d discovered the real-time feed, the consumer group clicked on one of its elements 10% less than the foragers. Again, this is demonstrating the two differing thought processes in action: If you’re shopping for something, real-time data on it may not be the most useful thing, and instead you’re more likely to look for a more static shopping or e-commerce link.
Perhaps the most surprising stat is that only 55% of the participants could “easily” find the RT feed. OneUpWeb’s other result plugging into this is the “heat map” below, demonstrating where user’s eyes spent most time peeping at Google’s spartan Web page.
It’s clear from the heat map that little time is spent further down the search results, which is another reinforcement of the old above the fold/below the fold thinking. The foragers were obviously perusing the data more thoroughly, and that’s evidenced in the greater amount of time they spent further down Google’s page, including scanning the RT feed box. You could conclude from this that the real time feed doesn’t matter too much to the sample users in the study, and a questionnaire by OneUpWeb underlines this: Some 74% of the participants hadn’t heard of real time data before this study, and when they discovered it it generally left them indifferent.
Here’s the thing though. Google doesn’t always place the real time feed way down the page. As the image at the top (for a search on the current Pentagon shooting event) shows, Google places key Twitter feed data right in the hotspot for user attention that the eye-tracking revealed. It’s also hard to ignore the feed here, as it’s the only element of the search page that actually moves without any user interaction. Had OneUpWeb studied the way users access this hot-topic real time data, I’m certain their survey would’ve revealed a different dynamic among user’s click-throughs to real time or static data.
And that’s actually the most interesting conclusion from this survey–what you’re looking for will probably relate extremely closely to how interested you are in a real time data feed on Google. Google could also do a better job of promoting its real time powers, apparently, since a 75% ignorance figure is pretty large even among a small sample group of 44 members of the public.
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