The Eyes Have It: Study Tracks Google Real-Time Search Users

Linc Wonham
by Linc Wonham 03 Mar, 2010

Digital marketing firm Oneupweb set out to determine the early consumer reaction to real-time Web search, hoping to get a glimpse into its long-term implications and the future of Internet marketing. The Michigan company recruited 44 volunteers and tracked their eye movements as they performed a variety of searches on Google Real-Time Web Search.

"We wanted to know if the average user is recognizing and understanding what real-time results are," said Oneupweb CEO Lisa Wehr.  "If they are finding and actually clicking on them, and what they think about real-time results overall."

With social networks like Facebook and Twitter luring traffic away from traditional search engines, Google and others have responded with real-time search results-live updates from pages on social sites, as well as headlines from blog posts, for the most up-to-the-second information related to the subject of a query. With real-time search still very much in its infancy, Oneupweb attempted to find out how much attention consumers are paying at this point.

To get the answer, the tracking study was divided into two different groups using Google Real-Time Web Search. The consumer group was told to search for a product they might purchase, and the forager group was told to search for information on a product.

The study's results revealed the following trends:

-    The consumer group averaged 9 seconds before the first eye fixation on real-time results, whereas the information foragers took a full 14 seconds.

-    The consumer group had 10 percent fewer clicks on the real-time results than their information foraging counterparts.

-    Only 55 percent of the participants could easily find the real-time results.

-    Only 25 percent of the participants were familiar with the real-time component prior to the study.

"Search engines are feeling the pressure to better meet real-time demands, and the evolution of search is headed toward a higher degree of social integration," said Wehr. "It's early yet, and everyone is still learning to adapt. It may be slow going at first, but those businesses that are the first to embrace this new kind of search will be the ones that succeed in the end."