A recent study conducted by a Swedish research group used an innovative method to track the attention of users when viewing pages on social media sites Facebook and Google+. Web cams were paired up with special software and used to track the eye movements of fifty four study participants, pinpointing the screen locations they were looking at. Surprisingly, study subjects had nearly identical eye movements when viewing pages from the two companies.
Close examination and comparison of the pages can explain why this behavior was seen in participants. Both Facebook and Google+ use almost exactly the same layout for their pages. The main information, or “news feed” in Facebook speak, is displayed in a descending column in the center of the page. An option menu is placed at the top in a thin bar, with links to additional features in a column on the left of the page. The upper right corner contains a block of links to information regarding other users, and below that is a column of small advertisements with thumbnail images.
Viewers of both pages immediately looked at the main content, and then shifted their focus to the links in the left column. After a quick scan of the links, they moved to the upper right block and then to the top menu, finishing with the advertising column on the right. In both cases, the greatest amount of attention was focused on items at the top of the main content area and the links in the upper right of the screen.
The similarities can probably be attributed to the success and ease of use of Facebook. Google may have mimicked Facebook’s layout both to take advantage of an efficient design and to provide users with an already familiar interface, allowing them to feel more at home on Google+.
The software used in the study was EyeTrackShop, a leading eye tracking system used to analyze page layouts and facilitate their optimization.