Interesting data has been released as part of an ongoing campaign to persuade regulators that they should force Google to change the way it displays results and services.
A study commissioned by ICOMP (Initiative for a Competitive Online Marketplace), an organisation admittedly pushing the European Commission hard to force Google's hand in this area, put a relatively small sample size of 35 users in front of 45-inch plasma monitors to measure eye movements and clicks.
Nevertheless, the results, produced by an independent body known as the Institute of Communication and Media Research (housed with the German Sports University in Cologne), shine a bit of a light on behaviour when it comes to how users evaluate and click on content in SERPS.
The eye-tracking found:
- Sponsored results consistently attract the largest amount of the users' total visual attention
- So-called "alternative search sites" do not draw enough visual attention to prompt the users to click on them
- Visual attention for organic links is negligible compared to image enhanced Google elements placed above them
Two travel-related pages were included in the study.
Flight search result pages, for example, showed that most users on Google Flight Search-hosted sponsored links area (43%) and alternative search sites attracted "little visual attention" with just 11% of clicks.
A look at results for search query "map London" found, inevitably, users were focused on the displayed map but also the Google Images served immediately below.
In comparison the first organic link on the results page received two clicks and the second placed site received no clicks.
Google proposed in April this year that it would change and test new display options, as a result of the ongoing pressure it is facing in Europe.
ICOMP legal counsel, David Wood, says:
"These results give a clear signal of what we can expect from Google's rival links proposal - an ineffective remedy and the potential for increased abusive behaviour by Google.
"Acceptance of these proposals by the Commission will serve to further and irrevocably entrench Google's dominance.
"What is more, these new proposals give Google the power to further monetise its abusive behaviour by forcing small and large competitors to pay Google for the right to feature in these 'rival links' listings.
"The most relevant search results will be replaced by preferential slots either reserved for Google itself, or sold to the highest bidder."