How users navigate through search results has shifted over the years, and these changes are essential for businesses to understand in order to achieve the best results from their SEO. If you have Googled anything recently, you know that there are several types of search results that come up, including ads, images, maps, questions and answers, and your basic link results. The information gathered by the Nielsen Norman Group was completed by analyzing 471 searches made by the participants of the eye-tracking and usability-testing studies between 2017 and 2019.

The QUICK Facts

Images and Quick Answer elements got a lot of attention. Images draw the viewer’s attention and quickly tell them if the result is what they were looking for, the Quick Answer elements include featured snippets, knowledge panels, and “people also asked” sections which all provide them with fast answers. Even with the numerous results and variation of types, the participants in the study only took an average of 5.7 seconds to click a result. However, the first result on the page is no longer the absolute best placement; from 2006 to 2019, the percentage of clicks on the first result decreased from 51% to 28%- showing that there is more opportunity for businesses that are placed further down in the search results. When looking at results below the fold (listings seen after the user scrolls), they found that only 5% of users that were doing fact-finding and navigation tasks selected a result below the fold; and 20% of those users doing research tasks went below the fold for results. This information tells us that businesses that post informational content that could be used for research have a better chance that they will receive clicks even when placed below the fold.

The way in which users view the various styles of results has been named the “pinball pattern” by the Nielsen Norman Group. Users view the results in a nonlinear manner, as opposed to simply from top to bottom. The pattern of the user’s gaze resembles that of a pinball machine:

What do these new findings tell us? These studies provide us with an understanding of how users navigate search results and show the importance of optimizing for today’s search features and keeping up with changes as they come.

If you would like to read the full article and studies, you can find them here.

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