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Eye Tracking Study: The Importance of Using Google Authorship in Search Results

Authorship Snippets: The “Purple-Cow” of Search Engine Results?

Imagine being in a class, knowing the answer to a question and desperately attempting to be the one chosen to answer.  You wave your hands wildly, make sounds, and maybe even jump up and down in your seat just to draw the teacher’s attention.

Online, consumers are the teachers, and every listing in the search results is a kid desperately trying to get picked first. They want to stand out, much like a purple cow in a field of black and white.

Take a look at the search engine result below:

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Can you find the “purple cow” result?  Our gut tells us that it’s the result with an authorship snippet, and ever since authorship snippets first began appearing in search engines there’s been a lot of chatter surrounding their value. Even Google chimed in:, “[…] rich snippets help users recognize when your site is relevant to their search, and may result in more clicks to your pages.”

Testing Assumptions

Many have claimed that authorship snippets earned more attention, but most relied on their gut instinct.

Now, an eye tracking study from LookTracker has confirmed what most suspected: authorship snippets do, in fact, steal more attention than other results. In fact, in-context some of the findings are rather surprising.

How the Study Worked

Using a “point-of-gaze” accuracy of 0.5 degree, LookTracker monitored 15 test subjects as they conducted research for information on computers and tablets. The eye tracking outputs from the study used aggregated test subject data. The study included three different queries: “computer vs. tablet”, “top computer companies” and “tablet reviews”.

The results for the first query, “computer vs. tablet”, looked as follows:

Search result (no eye tracking):

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We can see that this result has a good mixture of results to draw the eye: paid, organic, authorship snippets, related searches and even a paid ad with a 5-star visual accompaniment.

Here is the same result, with an eye tracking heat map applied:

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Here, we can clearly see that the authorship snippet ate up the lion’s share of the attention; greater than the paid ads or even the first organic result. Interestingly, the order seemed to matter:  the first result with authorship got far more attention than the second, indicating position still matters.

On the next query, “top computer companies”, results were similarly compelling. Here’s the result without eye tracking:

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The only authorship snippet is buried down in no-mans-land, unlike the previous result where it was within the top 5. How would eye tracking be affected?

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In this scenario, the ads and top organic result held onto the bulk of the viewer’s attention. Remarkably though, despite poor placement near the bottom of results, the authorship snippet still drew greater attention than surrounding organic results.

On our last query, “tablet reviews”, visual competition was the most fierce. As you’ll see on the screenshot below, two authorship snippets appeared – but so did visual-based advertisements and a news result with a corresponding photo.

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How would authorship snippets compete against other visual stimuli like promotional photos?

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Quite surprisingly, the visual ads got very little attention, while authorship snippets still performed better than many of their organic counterparts. The lack of attention towards the product ads could be attributed to the mindset of the searcher and the type of search query. The searchers were looking to research tablets, and we’re not ready to actually click on one of the sponsored product ads to make a purchase. As one might expect, the first authorship snippet drew significantly more attention than the other located further down the page.

What Does it All Mean?

It would seem that the hype surrounding authorship snippets is justified:

Top organic results continued to get significant viewership, even without authorship – but importantly, lower-ranked results that implemented authorship were able to draw a disproportionate amount of attention in comparison to surrounding results without it.

Take Advantage: How to Implement Authorship Snippets

How can authors ensure their faces are aligned with information? The once-convoluted process has become much simpler over time:

  1. Create a Google+ profile, using a clear and recognizable headshot. Remember that this shot will be appearing in search results; you want your face to be easy to distinguish.
  2. Ensure that the websites you are publishing on include a byline containing your name on each page where your content is featured. The byline name should match your Google+ name.
  3. Verify authorship using email (if you have an e-mail that uses the same domain as your content) or by linking to your Google+ profile (process shown below via Google)

 

media9 Eye Tracking Study: The Importance of Using Google Authorship in Search Results

Every Little Bit Counts

So, are authorship snippets the be-all, end-all of attracting search engine attention?

Absolutely not. A click-worthy title, compelling meta-description and even other rich snippets like star ratings or info charts all combine to determine whether or not your rankings result earns a click-through or is passed over.

That said, in a game where eyeballs can equal dollars, authorship snippets have shown themselves to be worthy of a closer look by searchers – and that alone should be reason enough to implement if you haven’t.

 Eye Tracking Study: The Importance of Using Google Authorship in Search Results

Matthew Campion

Co Founder | Lead Analyst at LookTracker
Matthew Campion is the co founder and lead analyst for LookTracker, an eye tracking services company. He is responsible for conducting eye tracking studies and analyzing the eye tracking data for clients across many different industries. Matthew is also the Director of Analytics at Teknicks.
 Eye Tracking Study: The Importance of Using Google Authorship in Search Results

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11 thoughts on “Eye Tracking Study: The Importance of Using Google Authorship in Search Results

  1. Wow, what a great study find! Thanks for sharing this. It’s definitely important to stand out in the SERPs today, especially since there’s so much competition for the same information. It’s always best to be a few steps ahead of the game. I’m definitely working on this now.

    Thanks again, Matt!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed our study, James! I definitely agree that it’s important to always stay ahead of the competition. Good luck with incorporating more rich snippets into your results.

  2. People love images, things that attract the eye, so it’s no surprise that this study shows authorship snippets on top.

    But consider this, video ranks highly because Google likes video (and they own YouTube) and also when it does rank high it more likely to grab attention from the searchers eyes, for the same reason that authorship snippets do. But I’m certain that we engage more with authorship snippets, because they contain people’s faces, people’s eyes, and we as humans are naturally drawn to look at them – clever stuff Google!

    1. I completely agree, Graham, especially with what you said about people engaging more with an image of someone’s face. We’ve seen how test subjects tend to focus more on visuals in past eye tracking studies. For webpage or display banner ad studies, the data indicates the subjects will most likely first focus on the person’s face, and then move on to other sections of the webpage or ad. Not only would they start on the face, but they will usually fixate with the face longer than any of the other elements of the webpage or ad.

    1. Thanks, Aditya! I couldn’t agree more. Although Google Authorship is not currently a ranking factor in itself, using it can increase your organic CTR, which should eventually help your rankings.

  3. Thanks for sharing this information. I’d be curious to see the same study with every result (or nearly everyone result) containing authorship snippets and how that affects CTR.

    Cheers -alex

  4. It’s actually not surprising, as we were taught in art school that even in a large painting with a lot of “stuff” going on, such as a landscape, even the hint of a human will draw your eye to that as the most important part of the painting. The “focal point” of the painting. We are attracted to one of our own. This study just further proves the point. Now I just need to implement this! Thanks so much for the code!

  5. Really informative article, thank you. Eyetracking certainly is interesting but something else got caught in my eye, I was hoping on a clarification on that. At the bottom of the first/second screenshot you provided there’s the “paid ad with a 5-star visual accompaniment” you mentioned. These “seller ratings” are not actual reviews as in google places for example, just a visual element designed to boost credibility right? What’s your opinion on that? Another example of clever PPC (Like the ‘my dog ate my ppc’ ads) or manipulative?