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Bing vs Google: an eyetracking study: more staring at Google (and organic search beats paid)

16 March 2011 BY

How I love eyetracking studies. It gives you an insight on what users are actually looking at, if something which is so carefully positioned on a webpage actually works. I also love eyetracking studies which show how people look at search engines. Add in the paid search – organic debate and on top of that a battle between Google and Bing and I’m sold.

A recent eyetracking research performed by User Centric focussed on the differences between the two search engines. It was a follow up research from a study they performed right after the launch of Bing.

The study showed that even though there was not a lot of difference between the two, Google “won” slightly based on time spent looking at the results. Even though you can interpret that in different ways. It also showed that organic search still beats paid search by miles. Where everybody looks at the organic results paid search is being looked over in many of the searches. Only 28% of people searching on Google actually notices the paid results on the right…

Bing vs Google

Let’s first look at the battle which was the main purpose of this research: Bing or Google, which one wins?

The original study, which was performed in 2009, showed a lot of attention value for Bing. But the search engine then had just started so the searchers might have been biased or needed to get used to Bing first.

The current research shows that Google and Bing are not that far apart. Every participant on the researched made eight searches: four on Google (without Google Instant) and four on Bing.

User Centric specifically focussed on five areas:

  • sponsored results at the top
  • sponsored results on the right
  • organic search results
  • left pane
  • on-hover flyouts (on Bing only)

We off course also added in the difference in general between paid and organic.

Sponsored results at the top
The sponsored results on the top in both engines are the best looked at positions for ads. More than the results on the right. Important with eyetracking studies is also the amount of time people spent looking at a particular area. This study shows people take more time looking at Google’s top ads than at Bings. At Google they look for 2.8 seconds per search task, on Bing 1.9 seconds. They also ‘gazed’ longer: 0.9 seconds opposed to 0.7 seconds.

That might indicate that those would convert better, but you have to be careful drawing that conclusion. Google produced more information per link so people needed more time.

Sponsored results on the right
Where there was a clear difference in the top results, the sponsored results on the right hardly showed any differences. People took 4.4 seconds on Google to look at them and 3.0 seconds on Bing and stared a bit longer: 0.16 seconds on Google and 0.11 seconds on Bing. But there was a difference in percentage of people actually looking at the paid results on the right. Only 28% of people searching on Google looked at the paid results. On Bing that number was even lower: 21%.

Organic search results
Every searcher on both Bing and Google looked at the organic results. And Google seemed ‘favorite’. People spent 14.7 seconds looking at the Google results and 10.7 seconds at Bing.

But again this doesn’t have to be what it might look like. A longer look at the page might indicate more content to look at, but it could also mean they can’t find what they are looking for. That is one of the things you cannot measure with eyetracking, which does sometimes make it dangerous research.

Left pane
I myself am a vivid user of the left pane. I make filters all the time, but I know that that is me and not the average searcher. And this research shows that again. Only 17%-18% of the participants actually looked at the left pane, let alone use it.

Bing’s left pane however seems much more useful than Googles since they spent 2.9 seconds looking at it and with Google only 1.2. This might have something to do with the fact that in Bing’s left pane you can see your own history, which makes that you recognize what you see and therefore look longer.

On-hover flyouts (on Bing only)
Yesterday and last week I talked about Google’s preview options. Bing has had that for a long time. In opposite to Google that is triggered by a mouse over. This research only looked at Bing’s “flyouts” because Google didn’t have them yet when the research was done.

It turns out that most of the participants (75%) don’t use them, or use them by accident. 67% said they had never seen one before the study.

So who won?

Looking at this study you cannot really say that somebody actually “won”. It seems as if people are taking more time looking at Google’s results, but does that make them better? It could also make them worse, depending how you look at them. So a winner is hard to announce in this battle.

Searchers overlook paid search almost entirely

Finally we can conclude something about that other ‘battle’: paid or organic. It’s a debate which has been going around on many search platforms, both online and offline on several events: which is better, paid or organic search? In some cases it is a difficult debate to actually have because a combination of the both probably is the best way to go. But when numbers are thrown in it seems as if sometimes the discussion cannot be won.

The research clearly shows that organic wins. All participants look at the organic results. “Only” about 90% of people look at the top organic results. But the most shocking part is that not more than 28% on Google and 21% on Bing actually look at the paid search results on the right. That is extremely low. Even though we have to take into account that this is a small group of people performing searches.

AUTHORED BY:
h

Bas van den Beld is a speaker, trainer and online marketing strategist. Bas is the founder of Stateofdigital.com. -- You can hire Bas to speak, train or consult.
  • http://www.personalinjurydefenders.com pidefenders

    It is surprising that Bing is getting into Google’s level. Based on my experience, I can say that Google is more preferable and trustworthy when it comes to search engines

  • http://www.CliXelerate.com Tamara Meier

    Excellent distillation, thanks! Very interesting to see how the “local” listings on the Google results hotmap seemed to get very little eyeball time.

    Also – it would be interesting to see the focus differences between an information-based search, and a product-based search, and whether the paid listings received more attention when the search related to products vs. news, general information, etc.

    Also interesting to see that the flyouts get little attention, and somewhat positive, from an SEO standpoint – as we’ve found that the sitelinks in the Bing flyouts can be challenging to control, whereas undesirable sitelinks in Google can be managed / blocked.

  • http://www.searchengineoptimizationjournal.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    Interesting study. This goes to show that if you are going to run sponsored ads in the search engines, you want them to be at the top of the page. Search engine users are smart and they know that there are paid ads on the page, the ones up top just flow more naturally with the organic results so they are more likely to catch the eye of the user.

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  • http://www.websitebiz.com Greg Flewelling

    I listen to your podcaat and read your blog, Keep up the good work.

    Surprised you understated the obvious and more surprised your co-host hasn’t squashed the value of this research in the comments.

    Beyond the general “what do people look at” question, there are too many unknowns to draw any conclusions. A paragraph on the methodology should be required and would likely provide more insight than some of the observations.

    For example, how many participants were regular Google users and how did that affect their use of Bing. If they don’t like Bing, they may spend less time looking at the SERP.

  • Bas van den Beld

    Yes Greg, it is difficult to draw conclusions, but I do try to point at that (for example “But again this doesn’t have to be what it might look like”), but maybe not enough.

    Even though conclusions might be difficult, I do think there are some valuable insights that can make you at least think.

    Keep listening and reading and being critical, it helps us :)

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