As a marketer, wouldn’t you love to know what really goes on in the minds of your customers? Of course you would, but maybe their eyes would be more telling. There’s no doubt that a new era of eye tracking has begun. Marketers are now faced with the challenge of developing a better understanding of the data it produces and making good use of it.1
Eye tracking is a groundbreaking new way to monitor brainwaves and responses of individuals. The process involves the use of a device,
such as a video camera or sensor, for measuring eye positions and movements.2 The device may be mounted on a lightweight headset or
a ball cap.
The movements are then analyzed through computer applications for:
- Scan pattern – indicates what features are noticed first, second and so forth
- Dwell time – the amount of time spent looking at specific areas
- Latency – the lapse of time between the presentation of an image and the time for it to be noticed
- Fixations – the number of times a visitor’s eyes change from one area to another
Researchers into human consciousness believe that fixation points are where important cognition or thinking occurs. Marketing researchers take this a step further, deducing that fixations and the eye track point directly to likes, dislikes and preferences.3
The method described above is a relatively inexpensive method of eye tracking and the most common. However, there are two other methods that are more invasive.
A second method involves participants wearing special contact lenses that feature an embedded mirror or magnetic field sensor. Even very sensitive eye movements can be tracked. Still a third type of eye tracking places electrodes around a person’s eyes. The eyes have a steady electric potential field, which can be tracked to produce information on how the eyes are moving.
Eye tracking was once an undersized niche market, comprised of a few early adopters and university labs, but is now used in many diverse industries.4 Uses range from correction of vision problems and reading disorders to development of military systems that help helicopter pilots maneuver in battle.
The technology has been available to marketers for some years, but it has traditionally taken days or even weeks to receive reports. This time lag can be risky, especially when pre-testing new designs.
Today, eye-tracking reports are available almost immediately and being used to demonstrate returns on investments. The promise is that marketers will be able to meet the deep-down genuine, unspoken needs of consumers at a level of accuracy never before possible and without spending a fortune.
It would be nice to know exactly what parts of your painstakingly designed and planned website appealed to consumers. Are visitors drawn to the beautiful images, the engaging copy, or perhaps the small print.1 The new era of eye tracking can quickly provide quantifiable answers by following the journey a visitor’s eyes take around a website.
Marketers are only just beginning to explore the benefits of the technology, but experts believe the future looks promising. “This technology captures the objective behavioral response,” says Colin Johnson, CEO of Eyetools Inc., a San-Francisco-based software developer. “Our clients have documented a tenfold increase in click-throughs as a result of the proper application of the tools and methodology.”3
Online stockbroker E*Trade, auctioneer eBay, search engine Yahoo! and Microsoft are some of the early adopters of eye tracking. Google uses eye-tracking data whenever it redesigns its pages, in an attempt to maximize both consumer use and marketing opportunities. Its data reveals that most people concentrate on the first two links of a page.
However, Anthony House, a public affairs manager for Google, warns that eye tracking should not be used as a marketer’s only research tool. Reports often need skillful interpretation. Is the website successful? Do people understand the content? Can new users find what they are looking for quickly? Eye tracking depends on what consumers hope to achieve, not just a standard eye movement, and many conclusions can be interpreted from the same data.
1 “Campaign data reaches an eye level” by Ruth Mortimer, MarketingWeek, August 20, 2009.
3 “Eye of the Buyer” by Richard F. May, a director of Japan Consumer Marketing Research Institute.
4 “Beyond the heat map” by Mike Bartels, Quirk’s Marketing Research Review, January 2009.