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Eye tracking: What David Ogilvy knew about web design

One of my favorite blogs on the Internet is published by a software company we are quite fond of: InVision. In short, InVision gives our team the ability to quickly design prototypes of apps and websites, and test our ideas to get feedback. 

In a recent InVision blog post by Crazy Egg's Neil Patel, Neil talks about the human mind's ability to focus on something to the complete exclusion of everything else that might be in its frame of vision. There's a fancy word for eye movement: Saccades.

"Every time a user moves their eyes from one fixation point to another, it’s considered a saccade," explains Patel.

The best demonstration of a saccade is a now classic video, in which a user is asked to count a number of similar items in a scene. No one ever even sees a gorilla that walks through the back of the video. Why? Because the human brain has an amazing ability to focus on what it thinks is important.

Good old David Ogilvy

Historically, print experts always knew of the idea of saccades. In David Ogilvy's classic book on the science of print advertising, Ogilvy on Advertising, he laid out exactly how research proved one should lay out a print ad to get a response. Big image, large centered headline, aligned left body copy, call to action in lower right hand corner.

Things have changed dramatically since Mr. Ogilvy first crafted that book. (Full disclosure: It was the only college text book I still have to this day!) But the human eye has not.

Now not too long ago, we all may have understood that this is what everyone does. But we couldn't really document or prove it. Now we can, through some really nifty (and pretty affordable) software that we can quickly plug into a client's website.

Crazy Egg

Patel's company, Crazy Egg, does just that. It's pretty awesome, and gives design firms like ours live data about what users are actually doing right now at a client's site. We can formulate opinions about what users are doing, but now we can know. For sure. No questions, no guessing, no arguing.

InVision and Crazy Egg don't solve the problems. But they do tell us what the problems are.

Don't forget email

Odds are pretty good that email is a forgotten part of your marketing plan. It's not sexy, it requires a level of code expertise to do well—and, well, people tend to dismiss email in meetings.

Everyone hates email, right? Wrong. 

Everyone hates bad email. And now you can tell what you're doing right, and wrong, with email, just as you can with your website or app.

One email company we love is MyEmma Email Marketing. Emma is based in our hometown of Nashville, and they have almost single-handedly pioneered many of the coolest advancements in email marketing.

Among other things, Emma provides what they call a Click Map for every sent email. Similar to Crazy Egg for websites, a Click Map shows you a clear, graphical layout of where people clicked in your email message. Emma even allows you to drill down to specific users, one at a time, to see exactly who did what.

Like Crazy Egg, Emma's Click Map won't tell you what to do—but it will tell you when you're doing something right and wrong. With some savvy experience on the back side of your design, it's pretty easy to figure out how to design the kinds of emails your customers want to receive, which leads to bigger email lists and more sales.

What is all this real-time data telling us?

Images of human faces nearly always capture our attention and focus more than products, logos, or text.

Size doesn't always matter. Visual leading (like a red number next to a little shopping cart icon) is a great way to take the user’s gaze where you want it to go.

Just as Ogilvy discovered 50 years ago, we still tend to process information visually in an F-shaped pattern, and large, centered, to-the-point headlines make it easy to “get the gist” of your page without scrolling around looking for answers.

With the rise of video in search engine results, eyes are immediately drawn to the image as a visual cue that we’ve successfully found what we were looking for. I have a friend in health care who told me with great embarrassment about having printed a stock photo on a brochure that he literally saw published three other times by competitors. 

Here's my takeaways:

  1. Design pages with one and only one message.

    Design content that features a strong, clear message, that features an image that has a human face. This won't always apply, particularly for food, but it's a good rule to design by.

  2. Consider using a huge H1. 

    It's not uncommon for designers to set H1 headings at 56 points or larger (the H1s at our site are set at 70 on desktop). That's because Google tells us that users are surfing faster, making quicker judgments about what's on a page, and visiting multiple sources before making a decision. More than ever, you have to get to the point fast. Big headlines convey your key message quickly and clearly, and they imply you have a very clear, singular idea to communicate.

  3. Don't skimp on photos. 
  4. People share great stuff on the web, and conversely they ignore (like the gorilla) what they don't find compelling. I know it's tempting to just go to iStock and grab a photo, because it's cheap and fast. But when it comes to your brand, you have to stand out. 

  5. Install Crazy Egg

    Ask your trusted marketing advisor to install Crazy Egg at your sites, and require monthly analysis of the results with action plans. Some months will be nothing more than high fives, while others will put the entire team in lock down. But those are the times when you know you are hearing your customer, and giving her what she is looking for. And inevitably, she will reward you with dollars in the bank.

Would you like to know how your site performs with real, live visitors?

With quick access to your site's admin, we can quickly install Crazy Egg and give you a complete report on where you're succeeding and failing in eye-tracking. Just fill out our Tell Us More form, and we'll give you a ring within 24 hours to set aside some time to get acquainted.

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