Seeing Search Go Social: Oneupweb’s New Eye Tracking Study on Social Media

Social media is right now, and everyone is using it. But can marketers take advantage of this online trend? Can social media actually garner business for companies? And how receptive are users to paid advertisements on these social channels?

The results might surprise you.

Oneupweb recently conducted an eye tracking study on social media, and after digging through a stack of heat maps, one thing is pretty clear — search is going social.

Back in the day, search was restricted to search engines such as Google and Yahoo!. (Okay, if we want to talk about way back in the day, search actually took place in the pages of a Yellow Book. But that’s way too 1989.) People wanted to search for a product, a service, a business, an answer, whatever. So they would go to a search engine, type their search into the search bar, and then they would see a bunch of results. Someone did an eye tracking study that determined that people actually viewed those results first in the top left-hand side of the screen, progressively moving down and a little bit to the right (just like we read books). And so then it was decided that the best place for a brand to be on these search results was at the very top.

But something changed. And social media sites like Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter had everything to do with it. People started to use social media sites like they were going out of style (and they’re not, actually.). They used them to connect with friends, make new friends, check out what ex-boyfriends were up to, post pictures, share videos, and on and on and on. They started searching for things within those sites. And then brands jumped on board, setting up profiles and buying paid advertising to try to target people on social media. And people are interacting with these advertisements just like they do on search engines, right?

Wrong. Here are a few things we found in our study that might surprise you:

  • Scan paths do not follow the order of search result positions. Often, sponsored ads were looked at before the third or fourth result.
  • 65 percent of study participants engaged with sponsored ads within the first 10 seconds of their search.
  • There is not a significant difference in gaze fixation duration across the first four results or sponsored ads on both Facebook and YouTube. Check out the heat map below. It shows normal viewing behavior recorded on Facebook. Areas of high gaze intensity are shown in red.

And while Twitter does not currently offer paid advertising, we did find that 50 percent of study participants were satisfied with their brand search on Twitter. Many like that they could find the most current opinions about a product.

And there we have it. People are going to social networking sites to be social. This means they are entering searches with a different frame of mind than when they are on actual search engines. Their behavior is different, and it’s important for marketers to understand why.