Tracking eye movement on news Websites

When Internet users view news Websites, their eyes first focus in the top left quadrant before moving right and down. That’s one of the key findings of the Eyetrack III project by The Poynter Institute, the Estlow Center for Journalism & New Media, and Eyetools. Here’s the priority for a news Website design, according to the study:

As with previous studies, Eyetrack III shows people are drawn to text first on news Websites, not graphics, and the report also notes that people skip over a home page story’s blurb, if the headline is much bigger than the text or underlined (which describes nearly every news Website out there). I was shocked when the first Eyetrack study was released, because I’d underestimated the value of text on a Webpage, thinking that graphics and pictures were the way to go.
Dominant headlines most often draw the eye first upon entering the page — especially when they are in the upper left, and most often (but not always) when in the upper right. Photographs, contrary to what you might expect (and contrary to findings of 1990 Poynter eyetracking research on print newspapers), aren’t typically the entry point to a homepage. Text rules on the PC screen — both in order viewed and in overall time spent looking at it.
Poynter’s Steve Outing tells me in an email that the methodology they used for this study differed from the others.
…this is the first time we’ve been able to do eyetracking without the test participants having to wear awkward camera headgear. We used the latest generation of eyetracking hardware, which uses a small video camera positioned underneath a typical-looking PC monitor. While testing was still done in a lab environment (an office with desk, PC, and no other distractions), this represents a far more realistic Web viewing environment than past studies.
So it’s time to go back to the drawing board and redo all of our Web designs. Is anybody paying attention?


  1. Mark Shepherd says

    The study sounds like it’s all backwards. But I’ve visited pages and found myself unable to find a certain story. After minutes of looking, I realized it was right in front of me all along.

    Unfortunately, we’ve all trained ourselves to overlook anything that looks like a commercial. Big graphic? Must be an ad.

    That’s a lesson for new media and old.

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