How do we search for web information?

Several eye tracking studies found how we search through keywords. Higher positioned results are also the only results likely to be reviewed by most users. Along with the design and user interface the position of results heavily influences what we click and do not click.

Ranking of results matters

Some eye tracking studies seem to find that searchers concentrate on the top results and, mostly, ignore lower ranked websites. So the position of your website / result on search engines, for example being in the top four position on Bing or Google, does matter because the top results are the only results likely to be reviewed by the searcher.

A photo of a person searching for information.

Person searching for information. Source.

Search engines find information

One study found that users of search engines were likely to use Yahoo!, Bing and Google first for medical information rather than searching on specialised search engines. General and popular search engines are worth concentrating on because your highly ranked website on Bing, Google and Yahoo! is more likely to get more visitors. But it is also worth noting that less popular search engines, in particular Bing, get higher conversation rates for PPC compared to Google. So search engines themselves heavily influence user interactions because the design and user interface is different for every search engine.

Evaluating results

Other eye tracking studies found that relevant results are read from top to bottom (i.e. position one followed by position two and three etc). If the top results were irrelevant searchers were likely to review more hits. Bad searches means bad results which results in the searcher reviewing more results until they find a relevant hit.

A good search experience goes hand-in-hand with an appropriate choice of keywords. So it is not just about getting your website to rank high but to also allow people to find your website for a range of keywords. It is also worth noting that eye tracking studies are not frequently employed because they are tedious, requiring extensive data, and they can be too narrow to generalise. However, eye tracking studies allow user behaviour to be better understood.

What way do we search for information?

We tend to focus on the top, usually the first four, results. If these results are irrelevant then we are likely to review more results. Ranked results means that we read top-down rather than bottom-up. Furthermore, choosing a website at a random position is unlikely to occur due to this user behaviour.

Posted by Gerald Murphy


  1. Bing. (no date) Bing Ads Drives Higher Conversion Rates and Lower CPAs for Agency Clients. [Online] [Accessed on 09th August 2013]
  2. Goldberg, J.H. Stimson, M.J. Lewenstein, M. Scott, N. and Wichansky, A.M. (2002) Eye Tracking in Web Search Tasks: Design Implications.
  3. Granka, L. Joachims, T. Gay, G. (2004) Eye-tracking analysis of user behaviour in WWW search. In Proceedings of the 27th Annual ACM SIGIR Conference on Research and Development in Information Retrieval. SIGIR ’04. ACM. New York: NY. pp. 478 — 479
  4. Guan, Z. and Cutrell, E. (2007) An eye tracking study of the effect of target rank of Web search. In CIII 2007, ACM. New York: NY. pp. 407 — 416
  5. Lorigo, L. et al. (2008) Eye tracking and online search: Lessons learned and challenges ahead. Journal of Americian Society of Information Science Technology. 59(7) pp. 1041 — 1052

One response to “How do we search for web information?

  1. Pingback: How do we search for web information? | Kenneth Carnesi

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