Summary. This study examines eye movement patterns of users browsing or searching a 1-column and 2-column news article on a web page. The results show a higher number of fixations for information in the second column of an article than for the same information in the lower portion of a single column. In addition, the typical "F" pattern appeared in the left column of the 2-column layout, but not in the right column. Users also fixated more on other page elements, such as ads, when they were browsing than when they were searching.
Fixation data captured by the eye tracker can effectively plot the areas on a web page where the users look. Fixations are defined as a static gaze fixated on one specific area lasting 200-300 milliseconds between saccades, which are rapid eye movements that reposition the fovea in the direction where user wants to fixate on (Rayner, 1998). More fixations on a specific area of the webpage indicate that it is more noticeable to the users and that information may be extracted from that area during fixation (Poole et al, 2004).
This study examines eye movement patterns on a text-heavy web page. We were interested in how these patterns change with (1) the columnar layout of the text presentation (1-column vs. 2-column) and (2) the user's task (browsing vs. searching the article).
Heatmaps and gaze plots were generated for the 1 and 2-column pages and for the search and browse tasks. The following is a summary of the results:
The "F/E-Pattern": There was a distinct "F" or "E" pattern for both the 1-column condition (see Figure 1) and left column of the 2-column condition (see Figure 2). The pattern was exhibited regardless of whether it was a browse or search task. This pattern has been noted previously by Nielsen (2006) and Shrestha, et al., (2007). The right column of the 2-column browse condition lacked any distinctive pattern (Figure 2), though, it is apparent that this column had more fixations in the search condition. It was suspected that the second column of the 2-column layout may elicit the similar eye movement patterns as the first column, but this did not seem to be the case." (Continued via Usability News 101, SURL, Shrestha) [Usability Resources]