Online Eye Tracking: See Your Consumers’ Screen Through Their Eyes

(By John Rindone, VP – Client Relationships & Shawn Wicker, Manager – Client Services)

Prior to the rapid growth of digital marketing, reaching consumers with a meaningful and differentiated message was much simpler given the limited set of communication media for advertising – TV, print, radio, in-store promotion, etc. And the research techniques used to evaluate marketing communications were well developed.

But that era is long gone. Today’s crop of advertising Mad Men have grown up in a world where customers and shoppers have so many more choices in how they consume media, leaving the communication choices fragmented beyond recognition. Measuring the effectiveness of any marketing campaign is more challenging than ever.


An Evolving Measurement Tool

Tools to measure advertising effectiveness have evolved in response, and one notable development is in the area of “eye tracking” – a technique that has been used for decades to help evaluate marketing efforts and to understand how consumers navigate the store environment, shop a shelf, and engage with packaging. The technique itself hasn’t recently changed, however it can now be executed online using a webcam which improves accessibility and speed.

Online eye tracking has benefits over traditional eye tracking done in a lab or in-store: it can be cheaper due to new technology platforms that leverage webcams on any device (e.g., laptop, mobile, tablet), respondents can complete research studies very easily in their own home, and it’s usually faster, enabling results to be shared quickly.

At MMR, we have been working with our clients to develop our online eye tracking capabilities. Typical marketing questions that we are addressing include:

 – Are consumers even seeing our digital advertising? Is it engaging?

– Are we delivering the key brand message?

– Is our e-mail campaign effective?

– Which websites are most effective at delivering our advertising?

– How well is our website working? What are the pain points?

– Are our YouTube videos helpful?

Typical metrics used to assess effectiveness are noticeability, engagement time, viewing patterns, recall and message registration.


Recent Project

We recently had a client who wanted to know if their digital advertising on a major webpage was getting noticed. In other words, were consumers spending time with the ad, and did the marketing message break through.

We conducted a test in two phases:

First, respondents were exposed to a webpage in which the ad was embedded. Online eye tracking was used to capture what they saw and how long they looked at each part of the webpage – including the advertising. Custom questions were asked after ad exposure to assess ad recall and communication. What we learned was that while most respondents do see the digital ad, the time spent on the ad is very low.  Since they are not engaging with the ad the brand, the product and the message are not coming through. However, a different ad placed in a more prominent space on the webpage generated stronger engagement.

In the second phase of the study, respondents were exposed to the digital ad by itself and eye tracking was used to monitor what was seen and the viewing pattern. We found that the marketing message was coming through but the brand and product registration was not optimized. In the end, the implications were to optimize ad creative to do a better job of breaking through the clutter and to test ad placement/location to maximize viewing and message delivery.  In this case, online eye tracking generated strong insights the client could use to modify marketing plan execution and improve ad effectiveness.


Watch outs:

While online eye tracking has some very useful applications, there are some cautions when considering using the technique.

 – Not everyone has a digital camera on their computer and some feel uneasy allowing researchers to track their eye movement. Therefore, getting a representative sample can be tricky. Make sure you’re checking sample profiles for responders and non-responders.

– A respondent must have the required software to participate. Furthermore, they must be willing to follow some rules: glasses, lighting glare, and movement can cause problems.

– Sample size planning should account for respondents that don’t opt-in to participate, quit during the exercise, or provide eye tracking data that’s not usable due to environment issues (i.e., poor lighting, glare, too much head movement).

– Not all marketing issues are appropriate for online eye tracking. For, example, measuring shelf impact and shopper behavior – especially in a complex category – is difficult to do with this online tool. These more complex shopping environment questions are best addressed with in-store or lab based eye tracking.


When to Use?

Online eye tracking can be a useful technique to help monitor and optimize many aspects of the marketing plan. As a general rule, if consumers typically interact in the online environment with what is being evaluated (i.e., digital ads, online videos, websites) online eye tracking is appropriate. Be careful trying to apply this online technique in more complex scenarios like store shelf assessments where an in-store or lab based approach is more appropriate.

2 Responses to “Online Eye Tracking: See Your Consumers’ Screen Through Their Eyes”

  1. […] MMR invested our own time and money to pilot test eye tracking via web cams in online surveys [See more here.] Additionally, we continued to develop and use Graphic-based videos to bring static slide […]

  2. […] combination of MaxDiff and Online Eye Tracking returned the most actionable results and the client is currently revising the message as a response […]