As new features in the SERP change user behavior

Nielsen Norman Group company has studied how users interact with the Google search results

Because modern search results page has a lot of different and complex patterns, users do not always handle the search results in succession. Currently, they distribute their attention on the page is more diverse than in the past. This is evidenced by results of a study Nielsen Norman Group. Below - a report of the company.

Gone are the days when Google returns a simple list of the "10 blue links". Today began the search results page is much more complex. Most of these pages in the major search engines contain at least one information interactive features.

Left: page extradition request [George Brett], 2009. Right: SERP for the same request in 2019.

The continuing evolution of the SERP template creates a new user behavior and impact on the way their attention is distributed across the page.

In the old days of web search users initially focused its attention on the first few results in the top of the page, and then could consistently move from result to result down list.

So, in the first edition of the report « How the People on the the Read the Web », we found that 59% of users scan the SERP sequentially - first the first result, then the second and so on, are not missing anything, and not looking at the right side of the page.

This linear pattern exists today, but it is the exception rather than the rule. Today we can see that the attention of users distributed across the page and that they process the search results are more chaotic than before. The new pattern of eye movements while scanning SERP we called "pinball-pattern".

Approx. Ed .: pinball - type of arcade game in which the player is gaining game points by manipulating one or more metal balls on the playing field is covered with glass, using tabs.

In this pattern, the user scans the search results page entirely nonlinear, constantly "jumping" between organic results and search functions.

In a conventional machine for playing pinball user uses to move the foot metal ball on the playfield to give a score for entering a different purpose. In the case of pinball pattern in the search behavior of the user's eye as "jumps" between the visual elements and keywords in the SERP.

Our findings regarding the modern features of user behavior based on Search the Meta-an Analysis by Project - the analysis of 471 requests made by participants in the study to test the usability and eye-tracking, we conducted from 2017 to 2019.

What causes pinball patterns in user behavior

Today's SERP often contains not only links, but also images, videos, built-in text content as well as interactive features. When you search for any of the specified Google search can return assortment of different visual elements. A variety of information formats and search results presentation plays a critical role in the distribution of the user's attention on the issue page.

One of the study participants was trying to figure out how to self-install the drain pipe in the backyard. If you search for [drains] in the SERP containing a text results, post product listings knowledge panel unit with similar requests and block the video. Her eyes followed the pinball pattern - moving between page elements.

Page scan patterns issuing controls visual weight elements. Since these elements are distributed throughout the page, and some have more SERP such elements than others, eye movement patterns of users are no longer linear. The presence and location of a visually appealing elements often influences the appearance of the organic results that are near them.

This illustration shows how the user's eye moves when looking to buy a refrigerator.

Complex, dynamic content on the search results pages gets a lot of attention. In our study, when the search functions (such as favorites snippets - featured snippets) are present in the SERP, they received attention in 74% of cases (95% confidence interval - in 66-81% of cases).

Even organic results is now more complex than ever before. Some of them (meaning the extended results) provide additional links to parts of the site, and the site search box.

Since the search results page can now look different depending on the query, users are often forced to estimate the page before you delve into the results presented and make a choice. This means that the SERP template can determine which links get the visibility and clicks.

Impermanence SERP template means that users will need to do more work for the processing of the results than ever before. Possible so the search engines are trying to entice users to not be limited to the first result. But people quite quickly choose the desired result - we found that users spend on average is 5.7 seconds, taking into account the results that they have watched a choice (with a 95% confidence interval - for 4.9-6.5 seconds) .

However, if you develop a SERP layout for internal site search, it is best to use a continuous pattern that does not radically change from request to request. Your goal should be to allow visitors to use the features of the site as a whole, rather than hold them in the search section.

You do not always have to be the first

With this new pattern of eye movement means for digital-content creators and marketers?

In the old days in search engine optimization (SEO) main task was to take the first position in the issue: "If you are not the first, then the last."

If the page are not ranked at the top of the list, then click on the link to get it was unlikely - even if the users on it looked. Now times have changed: we found a wide distribution clicks and views down the page.

In 2006, the first result of any request received 51% of the clicks. In our recent study, we found that the first position in the SERP (the first result is located under the search box) receives only 28% of the clicks - almost half of what it was before. This is a huge change in user behavior, for which it took only about 10 years. 59% of clicks are still focused on the first three positions, but lower positions received more clicks than in 2006.

The chart compares the distribution clicks according to Search Meta-Analysis Project and a similar study conducted in 2006.

In the distribution clicks also plays the role of the type of task. When you perform simple tasks, such as searching for facts of common knowledge (the tallest building in the world), users rely primarily on the first few results on the page, and are less likely to see the results below it.

For complex, more research tasks (eg, how much gravel you need to fill up the yard), users are more likely to deepen and to review the results, below the issue on the page.

In a study of eye movements conducted in 2010, we found that 59% of people do not look below the third result on the page. In our project, we later found out that even the 6th position gets the user's eye in 36% of cases.

The chart shows the percentage of cases where each position in the search results received opinion or cliques. For example, the first position was 19% of all views and 28% of all clicks.

Thus, if your site is not ranked first in the issue, it's not the best situation. But if it appears at the top of the page (within the first 5 results), then the probability of getting click is 10-20%, and sight - 40-80%.

Look - in comparison with the click - may seem unimportant, but it can be quite valuable. In our study, we have often observed how in the search for users discovering previously unknown resources. Even if the user will not go to the site for the first time when he sees he can memorize it, which increases the chances of a transition in the future. Thus, views are helping to raise awareness.

We observed several cases when the user clicks on a result, and while the page is loaded, continued to scan the SERP (a phenomenon that we call "continuous playback"). If the selected result is not responding, then some users back in the SERP and chose a different result, which they saw earlier.

With regard to recommendations for SEO, today you still need to rank on the first page of search results. In our analysis, users have visited for the first page only 2% of the requests.

In general, more complex SERP with a lot of different elements leads to tougher competition among content creators. But when performing simple tasks, search-related information, users often get a ready answer right in your search results.

Main conclusions

  • When the search results page contains a sophisticated and visually appealing elements, users tend to distribute their attention across the page.
  • If a site is in the top 5, he has a good chance (40-80%) to gain valuable in the long run the user's eye.
  • Thus today it is still important to rank on the first page of search results, because many users still just do not tend to move to the second page.
  • Consider adding some of the new features in the site search (if that makes sense for your content). But remember: when the search results page too to separate from request to request, users have to each time anew to overestimate the page, making it difficult interaction.

About company

Nielsen Norman Group since 1998, is a leader in the field of usability: conducts research, evaluates the interfaces of all types and sizes and create a guide to improve the user experience.

Source: Nielsen Norman Group
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