A new eye-tracking study suggests that people searching with the intention of buying and those looking for information view search engine results in different ways.

The study, released by Dutch market research firm De Vos & Jansen in conjunction with Checkit, revealed that people searching to buy viewed more search results and were more concerned with brands than information searchers.

The report used 50 consumers as guinea pigs, all aged between 17 and 24, who use the internet on average six days a week. All of them had made at least one online purchase before.

The respondents searched five popular products across five search engines, Google, MSN, Ilse, Lycos and Kobala. They searched for loans, a second-hand car, car insurance, airline tickets, and an mp3-player.

This produced some interesting results:

  • Organic results were viewed most often – 98% viewed these results, while 95% looked at the sponsored results at the top, and only 31% the sponsored results on the right of the page.
  • On average, 9.2 search results were viewed before the first click. The average number of organic results viewed was 6.6. Of the sponsored links, 2.6 views was the average for those on the top of the page, and 0.6 for those on the right.
  • On average, consumers spent 10.4 seconds on a page to view the search results. Organic results were viewed 8.8 seconds on average. The sponsored results at the top and on the right attracted less attention, and were viewed for 2 and 0.2 seconds respectively.
  • The average viewing time for a search result was 1.1 seconds. For organic results this was 1.3 seconds, for sponsored result at the top this was 0.8 seconds, dropping to 0.2 seconds for those on the right.

Another interesting point raised by the research was the difference in searching patterns between those merely looking for information, and those searching with a view to buying:

  • Searchers looking to carry out a transaction viewed more results, 9.9 on average, compared with 8.5 for information seekers.
  • Buyers also spent more time viewing results, 11.4 seconds compared with 9.4 seconds for searchers.

The report emphasised the importance of a high search ranking, preferably organic, the presence of keywords in the search results, the familiarity with the website or brand, and the importance of avoiding aggressive advertising with too many capital letters or exclamation marks.

An interesting read and one that questions some fairly common beliefs regarding how users interact with search engines.