• User Research

3rd Dec 2014

6 min

There is no doubt that eye tracking technology is an innovative and exciting piece of equipment for anyone involved in user research, online or otherwise. Eye tracking technology goes above and beyond what users say and do, giving us a glimpse into their unconscious and providing quantitative data to strengthen research findings.

I’m a big advocate for what eye tracking can offer to user research, however, with experience of conducting research both with and without, I see valid points on both sides of the eye tracking debate. This article outlines what I see as the key pros and cons of conducting eye tracking usability tests, to help you come to your own decision.

Pros of Using Eye Tracking Usability Tests

  1. Eye tracking makes it difficult for users to ‘fake it’
    One of the most cited flaws in more traditional methods of user research is that research participant’s will say whatever they think the moderator wants to hear. Another is that research participant’s are self-conscious about the way they will be represented in the research, causing them to answer questions in a way which they perceive to be ‘accepted’ as opposed to being totally honest. Eye tracking data provides strong evidence about what users actually did on the website, such as where they were first drawn to or what type of content they focused on the most, making it difficult for participants to embellish the truth.
  2. Eye tracking appeals to business stakeholders
    There is no denying that the outputs from eye tracking research projects are sexy. This appeals directly to client’s necessity to impress the key stakeholders and decision makers in their businesses. The glamour, novelty and the sophistication of the technology tends to make stakeholders sit up and listen in a way that is not always the case for traditional methods of user research.
  3. Eye tracking speaks for itself
    There are pros and cons of both concurrent and retrospective think-aloud methodologies. Using eye tracking technology as part of moderated user research provides the ideal combination to conduct a retrospective interview. This allows the participant to concentrate on using the website naturally without thinking-aloud, which can sometimes cause them to over think their actions in a way that they wouldn’t ordinarily.
  4. Eye tracking provides insight into participant’s expectations
    Eye tracking data gives a strong indication of participant’s expectations in terms of page layout and the positioning of specific element’s. The gaze plot shows the route they expect to take around the page and where they expect to find the next step. A simple example of this could be the positioning of an ‘add to bag’ call to action on a retail website. The call to action might be positioned beneath the size selection functionality but the eye tracking data from your research sessions show that participants look to the right hand side of the size selection functionality after making their selection. This gives you an indication about where they expected the call to action to be positioned, and would give you a strong argument for conducting an A/B test on the positioning of the ‘add to bag’ call to action.

Cons of Using Eye Tracking Usability Tests

  1. Eye tracking is expensive
    Eye trackers are not cheap pieces of equipment. Unless you want to unnecessarily throw away budget, it is imperative that you don’t include eye tracking in your research just for the sake of it. Eye tracking should only be used in instances when it will bring added value to a project. This essentially means eye tracking should only be used when it will uncover actionable insights that when implemented as part of an A/B test, will result in an improved user experience and conversion rate. When this is the case, eye tracking will pay for itself.
  2. Eye tracking technology can freak participants out
    One of the most important elements of a successful one-to-one moderated user research session is that the participant feels relaxed and at home. This is the best recipe for gathering honest and open feedback. Depending on the particular model you use, eye tracking technology can be intrusive, requiring participants to wear a headset or pair of glasses. Even with models that just require collaboration, the idea that the technology can ‘see where you’re looking’ has the potential to make participants feel uncomfortable.
  3. Eye tracking data is open to interpretation
    Let’s say your eye tracking data shows you that all participants in your study spent significant time looking at a specific area of text on your website. So what can you learn from this? This may suggest that participants read, understood and found the text interesting and engaging. Similarly, it could suggest that participants found the text confusing and therefore had to read it multiple times. Similar to website analytics, it is important that raw eye tracking data is backed up with qualitative insights to provide context and ensure you are not misinterpreting the data. This is where remote eye tracking solutions tend to fall short, offering predictions or mouse tracking with no indication of why the data is how it is
    eye tracking usability test results from the PRWD Website
  4. Technical problems
    Due to the sophistication of eye tracking technology, it is understandable that technical issues will occur. However, when you have participants lined up and expectant client’s observing, a technical issue can put a downer on a research day and potentially put unnecessary pressure on the moderator. Obviously, when conducting any type of research on websites, there is always a chance that there will be a technical glitch, however the necessary fix for an issue with eye tracking technology is rarely ‘turn it off and on again’.

Summary

Before conducting any user research it’s important that you are clear about what your research objectives are. The next step is to consider a number of potential user research methods, weighting up the pros and cons of them all and mapping them directly onto your research objectives. The decision about whether or not to include eye tracking technology as part of your research must be a well informed decision, made for the right reasons. This will ensure the research is successful in answering your key research questions, gathering the actionable insights you need to get results for your business.