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Plain-spoken Online Sales Newsletter - covering online conversion techniques, web design, usability, and consumer psychology.

The Eyes Have It!

You don’t need me to tell you that you can't always predict human behavior. Take “eye-tracking”- the way your eyes move as you search for information. You pick up a newspaper; your eyes go for the pictures first. So it should follow the same thing will happen when you sit in front of a computer screen, right? Well, the
Stanford-Poynter Project dudes discovered that when folks read news online, their eyes went for text first, particularly captions and summaries, and graphics only later. Sometimes much later. Sometimes not at all! This made a lot of commercial writers happy. It also heralded a new phase of inquiry: how do folks scan websites for information?

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Should you care about this stuff? Sheesh, am I green? If you know how folks gather information visually from their browser windows, you've got a powerful design tool you can use right now to support your mission of persuading your visitors to take the action you want.

When a user lands on a web page, she gives the display a quick scan that starts in the top left of the window, moves quickly across the center to the right, then returns leftward, again crossing center1. All this happens in seconds, without the user necessarily fixing her gaze until she reaches the center of the display as she's coming back2. It also usually happens without her being aware of it.

She's on a preliminary scouting mission, an effort to quickly orient herself within the context of a page, before she makes the conscious effort to engage with the information.

How Can I Use This?

· Your logo should be one of the first elements the user encounters at the top of the page (so make sure it's one of the first things that loads). This is your identity, and along with the url, lets your user know where she's landed.

· Global navigation schemes work well here, as do in-site search features (if you use them) - they provide the preliminary assurance of general organization and can serve as back-up.

· Make sure your USP is clear and prominent.

Jared Spool's User Interface Engineering group has discovered that a user's gaze ultimately fixes in the center of the screen, then moves left, then right, a pattern of visual fixation that was true of both new and experienced users3. A user fixed on areas other than the center only when she was looking for additional information. The team also found users pretty much ignored the bottom of the screen and seemed to interact peripherally with the right area (folks use their scroll bar without obviously looking at it!).

How Can I Use This?

· Clearly the center area of the screen is prime real estate, the "active window" where you will either succeed or fail in persuading your visitor. This is the first place your visitor makes a conscious effort to engage with you. When her gaze returns across the screen from its preliminary sortie, you want to make sure you present content that will capture her interest and motivate her through the conversion process. If anything on the page distracts her or requires her to disconnect from the center area, she is that much less likely to stay rapt in your powers of persuasion. And if you've learned the Stanford-Poynter lesson, you'll understand your copy is much more important than your images.

· The left side of the screen can function as a "stabilizing window," a place where people look for particular points of reference that can help them locate the items that suit their needs. Comprehensive navigation works well here.

· Even when they remain engaged in the central area, users peripherally attend to the right area. This becomes a valuable space to convey confidence through your assurances, guarantees and testimonials. Calls to Action do well here, too. Notice how Amazon has their Add to Shopping Cart and 1-Click action block in the top right, and below this is their Add to Wish List button. Because the user is peripherally aware of it, she knows it is there if and when she is ready to take that action.

Using this cool eye-tracking stuff, your general order of business is first to orient your visitor, then use your "active window" to keep her attention and persuade her to become a buyer (or subscriber, or whatever your goal is). The other graphic turf on your website is no less important to the overall effort, but your users are simply never going to give it the same visual priority. For an example of how the folks at Future Now integrated the full range of website composition elements in a way that acknowledges how folks scan, pay a visit to HiQhq.com.

If you know how folks scan, you have a template for placing things on your web pages so your visitors will find a) what they are looking for, b) where they expect to find it, c) in the way that engages them best. Don't think of it as limiting your artistic freedom, think of it as knowledge you can use to meet your customers' needs and thereby increase your conversion rate!

1 It is important to note that this is the pattern for Western culture. The point is cleverly and interestingly made in "What You See Depends On Where You're From." The Micro Computer Trainer. 
2 Human Factors International has a graphic of this pattern.
3 "Testing Web Sites with Eye-Tracking." Will Schroeder. User Interface Engineering.


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Hey Everyone,
Join me in congratulating usability guru Jakob Nielsen for finally letting his own readers know how important it is to go "Beyond Usability". Our regular readers know this is something I've been preaching for over a year and a half. The July 22, 2001 issue of Jakob's usability newsletter is titled "Tagline Blues: What's the site About?" and stresses the importance of developing a tagline or USP for your site. What do taglines have to do with usability? Uh...nothing <grin>.  For a great discussion about developing your tagline or USP from someone who's really an expert in writing for the web, read my friend Nick Usborne's article "Let Them Know What Your Site Is About".

PS On September 3rd, my good friend Roy William's Magical Worlds of the Wizard of Ads: Tools and Techniques for Profitable Persuasion is being released. I just finished my preview copy and I recommend it highly (it's a wonderful preview to the Wizard Academy). Get yours today and enjoy some of the Wizard's magic.

Its’ NOT the Price, It’s the VALUE!

I just read a funny urban legend the other day about an apocryphal statement any number of former astronauts are said to have made. The comment went something like this: "It really makes you think when you realize you are hurtling through space in a craft built by the lowest bidder!"

Humans have some interesting notions about what constitutes value. If they pay a lot for something, they either think they've purchased a high-quality product or just got ripped-off. Stuff with bargain-basement price tags is considered … well … bargain-basement. Find a high-quality product at a substantially-reduced price, and, hey, you've just found value!

But that's not remotely the complete picture. And online, it's still an e-commerce legend that value is all about price even though that balloon was popped in the offline world long ago (can you say “Nordstrom’s”?). Sure, you might get lucky and make a few sales based on a super-discounted price alone. But if that’s all you’re offering, you're building zero loyalty and you’re begging for competition. If you want lots of delighted, loyal, repeat customers, you have to realize superior value goes way beyond price, and it’s superior value that keeps ‘em coming back.

You are not just offering your customers a price proposition; you actually are offering them a value proposition. It's a complete package, filled with lots of human-friendly usability elements, attractive but fast-loading and functional design, great information, great products, appropriate prices, top-notch customer service, plus lots of nice little guaranteed-to-make-'em-smile extras you devise to set yourself apart from the guys and gals that just offer, well, price.

Think this new medium isn't about sustainable value? Then have a look-see at the results of an MIT study of online buying that discovered "only 47% of the consumers … bought from the lowest-priced seller … in fact … price was the least important factor."1 And what beat price? The biggest factor was whether the customer had visited the site before (see why I go on about making the right impression with your site?), followed by the company's familiarity, then shipping time (think “service”).

Truth is, value is so subjective you can often be more successful charging higher prices, provided you pay close attention to all the other factors that influence the buyer's perception of the value your product.2 A lot of that perception hinges on your market position: if you’re selling coffee, are you a Denny's or a Starbucks?

Remember image alone ain't gonna cut it, particularly online, where it's that much harder to enable your prospects to bask in fancy ambiance. Folks flat out require real substance, and they consistently vote with their mice.

Want to make more money? What are you doing you make the shopping experience delightful? What is the long-term nature of your guarantees and customer service? How responsive are you to problems or concerns? Are your shipping policies reasonable? Do you meet expectations, fall short or them, or go way beyond?

"(Successful) business people engineer value equations. And they don't care whether it's about more or less cost: They only care about whether there's more or less value. And if they can charge for the value they create, that's where the successful business lies."3

So, if you want real long-term success, set the issue of your price aside for a moment, and take a long, close, hard look at your comprehensive value proposition. That’s where the path to your goal lies.

1 "Service beats price on the Web, study finds." Melissa Solomon. 6/14/00.
Dr. Witt's Marketing Psychology Report, January 2001.
3 "An Interview with Jay Walker." Randall Rothenberg, Strategy & Business, Issue 19, Second Quarter 2000


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P.S. If you enjoyed this issue, why not share it with your colleagues and friends? They'll appreciate it.

GROK is taken from the landmark novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert A. Heinlein. It is a Martian word that implies the presence of intimate and exhaustive knowledge and understanding. Our "GROK" is a keen observer of the world around him and he takes a particular interest in the World Wide Web. The folks at Future Now like him a lot because he's taught them that "sometimes the price of clarity is the risk of insult."

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