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Eye Tracking Bing vs. Google: A First Look

by Aga Bojko , 08.06.2009

This article is re-posted from User Centric’s blog.

The  User Centric, Inc. team (now GfK’s User Experience team) took a closer look at the newly launched Microsoft's Bing and find out how it stacks up against powerful incumbent, Google. Eye tracking technology was used to capture 21 participants' eye movements as they completed two informational (e.g., "Learn about eating healthy") and two transactional (e.g., "Book a last minute vacation") search tasks in each engine.

The goals of the research were (1) to compare the distribution of attention on equivalent areas of Bing and Google and (2) to assess how much attention is captured by elements that are unique to Bing.

Bing v Google 2009

Distribution of attention on Google vs. Bing:
• Google and Bing did not differ in terms of the amount of attention on the organic search results. In each search, all participants looked at the organic search results, spending an average of 7 seconds in that area.

• Attention on the sponsored links located above the organic results was similarly high for both Bing and Google. Over 90% of participants looked in that area during each search. As expected, during transactional searches, participants would spend more time looking at the sponsored results on top (~2.5 seconds) than they did on informational searches (~1.5 seconds).

• However, sponsored links on the right attracted more attention on Bing (~42% of participants per search) than they did on Google (~25% of participants per search). The participants who fixated on these links spent approximately 2.5 seconds looking at the area during transactional searches and 2 seconds during informational searches. These times were similar for the two search engines.

• Another difference between Bing and Google involved related searches. On Bing, related searches are shown on the left, right below the categories, while on Google, related searches are below the organic search results, towards the bottom of the page. Bing's related searches had a much higher visibility than Google's, attracting the attention of 31% of participants per search. Google's related searches attracted the attention of only 5% of participants per search.

We also investigated three additional features that differentiate Bing from Google: Flyouts that appear when users hover over individual search results, a category list displayed on the left, and sponsored links at the bottom of the search results page.

• Most participants (67%) triggered a flyout at least once during the study, which shows that they are easily activated. Nearly all of these activations were categorized as accidental because participant's attention was away from the mouse pointer which triggered the flyout. Usually, the sudden appearance of an element in the visual field attracts attention but this was not the case in this study. Only 14% of participants (a quarter of those who activated at least one flyout) looked at the flyouts. Users' tendency to ignore the flyouts was likely a result of the learned strategy to devalue motion as a source of information on the Web. This behavior may be compared to "banner blindness.”

• Bing's categories displayed on the left attracted much more attention than the flyouts. Half of the participants discovered the categories and three participants even selected a category to refine their search. Each of these three participants chose to use the categories on subsequent searches, which suggests potential value.

• The sponsored links at the bottom of the search results page did not generate any attention. None of the 21 participants looked at the bottom links on any of the four searches. This does not mean that users never look at the bottom sponsored links. Rather, the incidence rate of this behavior may be too low to detect with our sample size.

This study represents preliminary research on the user experience associated with the Bing search engine. Read our follow-up to this study, “Eye Tracking Bing vs. Google: A Second Look.”