Local Search Heat Map

Nico Brooks

January 13, 2011

Local Search Heat Map

Notes on Google Search Mapped Results: Eye Tracking Insights, by ionadas local and Sentient Services.

I saw Mike Blumenthal’s post on this study a few months back, but shame on me, I didn’t click through to read the actual research. Well, I did read the research last night, and it was well worth the effort.

User interface heat maps are eye candy for those of us obsessed with user experience and search behavior, but in reality they aren’t all that useful. They give you a feeling for how users experience a page, but not much more than that. The part about this study I like most is the quantitative analysis they did to accompany the heat maps. For example, here is a heat map showing how users’ eyes tracked the results page for the search “Austin Eye Doctor”:

Local Search Eye Tracking Study

And here is a quantitative analysis of that same view, showing average total fixation for each element on the page:

Eye Tracking Quantitative Analysis

Eye Tracking Quantitative Analysis - Key

I won’t repeat ionadas’ insights, read the study if you want those. It’s not very long (lots of pictures) and well worth it. But a few things struck me as I read it:

  • Web search results (as opposed to map-based local results), hardly matter at all for local search, unless they show up above the map results.
  • Yes, the top organic local search result is the place to be, but in the case of the “Austin Eye Doctor” query, the ad above the results performed better than all but that first result. Unfortunately, only two out of the four queries in the study had ads placed above map results, so best not to generalize too much.
  • Searchers actually seem to understand what they are looking at! This study made me realize that my thinking has been stuck in the past. In the early days of search advertising, a couple of studies showed that searchers didn’t know the difference between search ads and organic search results. Since then, I’ve been assuming that most people don’t understand what makes up a Google search results page, and how the sources of information differ. This study clearly shows that people do have a feel for how the information sources vary, and favor those that are more rewarding.

Note that Google changed the layout of local search results shortly after this study was completed, but I don’t think that significantly impacts my comments or ionada’s findings.