'Sneak Peek' Into Net Surfers' Brains

  • Kevin W. Shockey

    Survey Offers a 'Sneak Peek' Into Net Surfers' Brains
    USA Today (03/27/06) P. 4B; Baig, Edward C.

    The difference between the Web content surfers claim to look at and what they actually view was measured by Nielsen Norman Group using eye-tracking technology, and the results were reported today. The firm requested over 230 participants to research specific tasks and companies on the Internet, and the survey's outcome demonstrates that companies still have a considerable amount to learn in order to be able to present a Web site or online image in a way that attracts the most attention. Randolph Bias of the University of Texas at Austin's School of Information says companies would do well to subject their sites to more thorough testing before rolling them out. The Nielsen study reveals that individuals read Web pages in an "F" pattern, in which they tend to read longer sentences at the top of a page and less and less as they scroll down; this makes a sentence's first two words of prime importance. "People are extremely good at screening out things and focusing in on a small number of salient page elements," says Nielsen's Jakob Nielsen. In addition, surfers establish a good connection to images of people that appear to make eye contact with them, although pictures of models and other excessively attractive people can turn surfers off. Also, pictures in the middle of a page can impede a surfer's progress; people respond better to pictures that are informative instead of just ornamental; and consumers will glimpse ads in search engines as a "secondary thing" because they are usually targeting specific products, according to Nielsen. The study shows that poorly designed Web sites are rampant, and cases where the site was so confusing that its status as an official company site could not be determined were also reported.


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