Google used to be criticized for providing little more than “10 blue links” in its search results that sent searchers to other sites. More recently, it’s getting lots of flack from companies and antitrust officials in Europe for the opposite–providing direct answers that make it less likely searchers will click through to the sources from which it drew the information.
Either way, Google is spitting out instant results on billions of our search queries a month in a way that’s radically different from how it used to do it. Not only has Google personalized results based on previous searches and myriad other things it knows about us, but it often presents direct answers to queries in the form of everything from maps, photo carousels and movie time listings to fact boxes from its encyclopedia-like Knowledge Graph and even spoken answers.
Now we have a graphic visual representation of exactly how we’re viewing these results, and the differences from a decade ago are striking. That’s apparent in a new study conducted by the digital marketing firm Mediative, which tracked eye movements of 53 people as they did a wide variety of Google searches on desktop computers and perused the results. The results of the study were presented today at the search marketing conference SMX West in San Jose.
Now, you may already sense instinctively how things have changed, since you probably do a gajillion searches a day. But the upshot for marketers, including the search engine optimization or “SEO” companies that flocked to the conference is both less obvious and more critical: In short, they can’t just try to get into the first few search results and expect that to send business rolling in. (A couple of caveats: The study didn’t look at how people do searches on smartphones, which involves an entirely different set of behaviors, and it was conducted only in North America.)
Basically, the study found that the “golden triangle” identified in a 2005 eye tracking study, which has served as the guidepost for search advertisers ever since, no longer exists. The golden triangle, shown in the heat map from the 2005 study above, showed that people’s attention on search results was focused almost entirely on the upper left side of the page. …