Eye-Tracking Google SERPs – 5 Tales of Pizza

Posted by Dr. Pete

A while back, we got an offer we couldn’t refuse. The good folks at Mirametrix asked if we were interested in custom eye-tracking data (which traditionally costs a small fortune) for any Google searches. Um, does Matt Cutts like cats?

Since I once worked down the hall from an eye-tracking lab, I was the obvious choice to lead this shopping spree at the nerd candy store. So, we picked 5 different Google SERPs, representing the diversity Google has created in the past couple of years, including the newly expanded site-links. This is the story of those SERPs. They’re all about pizza, because I’m from Chicago and was apparently hungry when I made the list.

The Equipment & Methodology

Mirametrix S2 eye trackerFirst, a little bit of background. Mirametrix produces affordable, portable eye-tracking systems for researchers. Our data was collected using an S2 Eye Tracker (shown to the right), which looks a little bit like an Xbox Kinect. Each SERP was shown to 8 subjects between the ages of 18 and 30 for 30 seconds. Subjects were told the search term of interest and then were allowed to view the full-screen SERP freely. All SERPs were de-personalized and localized to Chicago, IL.

Heat maps were created by aggregating the subject data. Subjects saw the full-screen SERP, but I’ve cropped each image below the point that activity trails off. I should note that this is actual eye-tracking data, which should not be confused with “click maps” or heat maps created from mouse movements. These patterns come from people’s direct visual interaction with the SERPs.

(1) Local #1 – "best pizza in Chicago”

I’ll start with a query for “best pizza in Chicago”, because the results are probably closest to what you would expect. I picked this particular SERP because it had strongly integrated Local/Places results, along with maps on the right. The eye-tracking data looked like this:

Eye-tracking data for "best pizza in Chicago"

You can see a modified “F-shaped” pattern here, with most activity centering on the top results and some eye movement toward the map. As you might expect, the top listings attracted the most attention.

(2) Local #2 – "pizza"

Next up is a local search for “pizza”. These results were more varied, with a couple of organic results followed by an integrated 7-pack that more clearly separated Local/Places results. This data got a bit more interesting:

Eye-tracking data for "pizza"

The impact of the Local 7-pack appears to be very powerful, drawing attention from the top 3 organic listings. Even map fixations appear to be toned down from the first SERP. Whether this is because people are familiar with Google’s local results format or are attracted to the distinct formatting, it’s clear that they were biased toward this part of the page.

(3) Video Thumbnails – "how to make a pizza"

This one was a special request from the Big Boss – Rand was interested in the impact of video thumbnails in organic SERPs. I found that the query “how to make a pizza” brought up video thumbnails for the #2 and #3 spots. Here’s what the data had to say:

Eye-tracking data for "how to make a pizza"

Although individual results are a bit hard to separate, it does appear that subjects’ eye movements focused on the first video thumbnail, possibly even at the expense of the #1 organic result. Especially with something as visual as a pizza (who doesn’t love pizza?) the attraction of an image could really tip the click-through scales.

(4) Product Images – "pizza cutters"

The next search was for “pizza cutters” – this brought up brand and store searches at the top, along with images for shopping results after the 3rd organic listing. The eye-tracking data looked like this:

Eye-tracking data for "pizza cutters"

There’s definitely some pull toward the product images, although the top organic results still do fairly well. The “Related Searches” seem to get relatively little attention, even though they appear where the first organic result would usually be.

(5) Expanded Sitelinks – "Pizza Hut"

Finally, we decided to test-drive the new site-links. A search for “Pizza Hut” brought up 6 expanded site-links. Not surprisingly, this search also triggered some local results. Here’s the visual:

Eye-tracking data for "Pizza Hut"

Although the Pizza Hut listing gets some fixations, there seems to be a strong pull toward the local listings. Even with a full pack of expanded site-links, the main Pizza Hut site got much less attention than I would have expected. When you want pizza, you want pizza, not a corporate history.

Some General Implications

I think the first and most obvious implication is that, as Google moves away from 10 plain listings for more and more searches, it is definitely having an impact on search users. You need to be familiar with your competitive space and take advantage of SERP enhancements, like video thumbnails. Ranking #1 might not be pulling the weight it used to if your competitors down the page have more visually interesting results.

These results also suggest that the in-page Local/Places results are having a strong impact, even if they fall in the middle of the page. In these limited cases, they seemed to pull attention away from the top organic spots. If your query has a local flavor, you need to be aware of how your Google Places page is competing.

Of course, these are exploratory results, and more data would be needed to back up any given finding, but I hope the general observations are interesting. I’d like to thank Ben Yoskovitz for setting up this opportunity, and Anton and Amineh at Mirametrix for managing and running the eye-tracking studies.

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BT to roll out 300Mbps FTTP by spring 2012

The broadband speed war is hotting up, at least in the more concentrated population centres of the UK, as Virgin and BT strive to outdo each other with their next-gen fibre roll outs.

While Virgin has been rolling out its 100Mbps service for some time now, BT is also underway with fibre-to-the-cabinet (40Mbps) and fibre-to-the-premises 110Mbps services have just been launched.

As the name suggests, FTTP is when the fibre is run directly from the exchange to the home or business premises, with no copper phone line involved (as with FTTC, where the last section of the connection to the fibre street cabinet is the phone line).

This FTTP service will be available in six locations in the UK later this month: York, Chester South, Bradwell Abbey in Milton Keynes, St Austell, Ashford in Middlesex and Highams Park in North London.

BT notes it’ll be open to all ISPs on a wholesale basis, with speeds reaching downloads of a potential 110Mbps and uploads of up to 30Mbps. Two packages will be available this month, 100Mbps download with 30Mbps upload, or 110Mbps download with 15Mbps upload.

However, speeds are expected to be hugely boosted next spring, when BT promises download speeds of up to 300Mbps coming. And this will get faster, BT points out, citing the current 1Gbps trials which it’s holding.

Those on FTTC aren’t being left out of the broadband acceleration either, as BT has announced that fibre-to-the-cabinet speeds have had regulatory approval to be doubled. In others words, FTTC will become an up to 80Mbps service. This will happen “at some point” in 2012.

BT Openreach chief executive Liv Garfield said: “Today is a significant step in the UK’s broadband journey. These developments will transform broadband speeds across the country and propel the UK up the broadband league tables.”

She added: “No-one is keener than us to extend these super-fast speeds to rural areas and so we will be bidding for public funds to help extend these services even further. The challenge is a tough one but by working with the public sector it is within our reach.”

They weren’t quite so keen, of course, when public funds weren’t on the table.

Need for societal change to address cybercrime

Many IT security experts and even government officials now acknowledge the need for better education on cybersecurity on all levels, but it seems that nobody quite knows where to begin.

A paper published by Chatham House last month found that “there was considered to be an absence of an authoritative ‘rich picture’ that could help to develop a more comprehensive and urgent sense of the cyber threats that need to be tackled.”

The UK Cyber Security Strategy has recently been put back to later this month, in order to attempt to create links between government and law enforcement groups.

Security expert John Knowles of DMW Information Security says: “Virtually everyone acknowledges the dangers of cybercrime, but few, if any, have a clear idea of what to do.”

There exists a need to educate from the bottom up and a strategy must be reached to protect the national infrastructure.

With crimes against individuals still on the rise, there is also an ongoing danger to corporations and government, especially from botnets.

However, it is a mammoth task to change the surfing habits of users and the gaps in the understanding of company leaders and their ICT departments.

Although awareness of the affects of cyber crime is growing, “there is still limited understanding of the nuances of the debate”.

The government recognise that they can’t change things by themselves and so there is a need for private and IT security companies to get involved too.

However, research and funding in the area of cyber security is still sadly lacking in both the public and private sector, although it is recognised that more is needed.

This can be addressed within organisations by identifying future threats and budgeting accordingly.

It is more important now than ever that corporations understand the risks and allocate funds and implement plans in order to tackle the problem.

On a societal level, greater public awareness needs to be achieved and this can be done by first of all ensuring more understandable terminology.

The problem with addressing society as a whole is that it is made up of such a diverse mix of people.

Not only does information have to be accessible to everyone, but it needs to be put across in such a way that gives it “value” to people.

“One of the key areas to address is influencing human behaviour, because humans can be the weakest link in cyber-defence,” Knowles continues.

“Our industry has thrown posters, mug mats and beseeching hope at a problem that needs, what behavioural scientists call, ‘choice engineering’.”

The difficulty in getting both companies and individuals to adopt good security practices is recognised.

As the report points out, “a more fundamental cultural change may be necessary to drive large-scale transformation in cyber security outreach and awareness.”

Whilst awareness surrounding the issues is improving in both government and organisations, this is not in any uniform manner and there still exists a basic lack of understanding and in many cases, inadequate response measures being put in place.

“Additional work is also needed on improving the culture of cyber security at the societal level, with clearer guidance on what it means to be a ‘good internet citizen’,” the report says.

“Progress towards improving this culture would serve to establish a kind of immunity to the most widespread and common threats, while also educating a broad group of users about emerging threats.”

Conficker worm still poses a threat, new book theorises

Mark Bowden, the author of Black Hawk Down, is to release a new book next month based on the Conficker worm, which infects Windows operating systems.

Whilst Conficker has now been inactive for some time, it is thought to still be installed on PCs all over the world.

This isn’t a worm that, like many before, destroys Windows and creates bizarre errors that alert users to its presence. An average user wouldn’t even know that it was there and as many users around the world still use older operating systems, this allows for re-infections.

The malware was first discovered in 2008 and managed to infect around 12 million computers in over 200 countries.

These included government and military computers, and the author of the worm has never been found.

In theory then, it is possible that the author still controls a huge botnet and in his book, Bowden uses that theory to explore the possibility of “the first digital world war”.

According to the International Business Times, who looked at Conficker in a special report in January this year, the malware might be a few years old, but it is still potentially dangerous.

This is due in part to the sophistication of the worm – whoever wrote the software knew what they were doing.

The report states that the worm “wakes up” each day to check certain domain names for commands. This, the Times says, means that it could be told to perform certain actions at specified times in the future.

Bowden’s book looks at the possibility that the botnet could potentially control so many computers that it could become a weapon of mass destruction.

The book explores how the worm was discovered and the potential that it could take down the net.

In an interview with US radio station Fresh Air, Bowden explains that the botnet is still “out there and very, very dangerous.”

He says that a large DDoS attack could take down internet services and this could lead to it being overwhelmed and effectively going down.

This, he says, would lead to loss of life as air traffic, telecommunication and health services would be affected.

Whilst he thinks that the worm was probably created by cybercrooks in order to make money, it is the potential that it has as a weapon that is worrying security experts.

It’s unknown where Conficker originated. The IP was tracked to Argentina, but this is likely to have been routed and it is thought that its origins may be in the Ukraine.

Bowden says that a Ukrainian group were recently arrested using the botnet to drain US bank accounts of all their funds, stealing over $70 million overnight.

However, it is thought that they leased the botnet, rather than being the original creators.

Another reason that the malware is suspected of originating from the Ukraine is that it’s capable of checking which language is used on an infected computer, and it destroys itself if it finds it’s on a Ukrainian machine.

Whilst the group that got together to stop it had some initial success in fighting the Conficker worm, the writer of the malware soon brought out a new version designed to fight back.

This meant that they could write more complicated generation software which the worm uses to generate web addresses through which it can communicate with its controller.

Bowden believes that the creator of the malware has a thorough understanding of the IT security industry and was able to stay ahead of the game because of this knowledge.

Government agencies were apparently ill-equipped to deal with Conficker as they had neither the knowledge, nor the equipment, to deal with such a sophisticated attack.

Bowden also points out that the later strain of Conficker was due to contact the controller on April 1st 2009 and had access to the TLD of every country in the world.

Whilst nothing happened, it certainly could have and if nothing else then its arrival and subsequent infection rate has woken governments up to the real risks of botnets.

While governments in this country and the US seem to be concerned that hackers are the real risk, it seems that they should be more concerned with educating both themselves and the public about the issues surrounding computer security and botnets.

Conficker worm still poses a threat, new book theorises

Mark Bowden, the author of Black Hawk Down, is to release a new book next month based on the Conficker worm, which infects Windows operating systems.

Whilst Conficker has now been inactive for some time, it is thought to still be installed on PCs all over the world.

This isn’t a worm that, like many before, destroys Windows and creates bizarre errors that alert users to its presence. An average user wouldn’t even know that it was there and as many users around the world still use older operating systems, this allows for re-infections.

The malware was first discovered in 2008 and managed to infect around 12 million computers in over 200 countries.

These included government and military computers, and the author of the worm has never been found.

In theory then, it is possible that the author still controls a huge botnet and in his book, Bowden uses that theory to explore the possibility of “the first digital world war”.

According to the International Business Times, who looked at Conficker in a special report in January this year, the malware might be a few years old, but it is still potentially dangerous.

This is due in part to the sophistication of the worm – whoever wrote the software knew what they were doing.

The report states that the worm “wakes up” each day to check certain domain names for commands. This, the Times says, means that it could be told to perform certain actions at specified times in the future.

Bowden’s book looks at the possibility that the botnet could potentially control so many computers that it could become a weapon of mass destruction.

The book explores how the worm was discovered and the potential that it could take down the net.

In an interview with US radio station Fresh Air, Bowden explains that the botnet is still “out there and very, very dangerous.”

He says that a large DDoS attack could take down internet services and this could lead to it being overwhelmed and effectively going down.

This, he says, would lead to loss of life as air traffic, telecommunication and health services would be affected.

Whilst he thinks that the worm was probably created by cybercrooks in order to make money, it is the potential that it has as a weapon that is worrying security experts.

It’s unknown where Conficker originated. The IP was tracked to Argentina, but this is likely to have been routed and it is thought that its origins may be in the Ukraine.

Bowden says that a Ukrainian group were recently arrested using the botnet to drain US bank accounts of all their funds, stealing over $70 million overnight.

However, it is thought that they leased the botnet, rather than being the original creators.

Another reason that the malware is suspected of originating from the Ukraine is that it’s capable of checking which language is used on an infected computer, and it destroys itself if it finds it’s on a Ukrainian machine.

Whilst the group that got together to stop it had some initial success in fighting the Conficker worm, the writer of the malware soon brought out a new version designed to fight back.

This meant that they could write more complicated generation software which the worm uses to generate web addresses through which it can communicate with its controller.

Bowden believes that the creator of the malware has a thorough understanding of the IT security industry and was able to stay ahead of the game because of this knowledge.

Government agencies were apparently ill-equipped to deal with Conficker as they had neither the knowledge, nor the equipment, to deal with such a sophisticated attack.

Bowden also points out that the later strain of Conficker was due to contact the controller on April 1st 2009 and had access to the TLD of every country in the world.

Whilst nothing happened, it certainly could have and if nothing else then its arrival and subsequent infection rate has woken governments up to the real risks of botnets.

While governments in this country and the US seem to be concerned that hackers are the real risk, it seems that they should be more concerned with educating both themselves and the public about the issues surrounding computer security and botnets.