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News Site Readers Look at Headlines and Skip Static Ads, Study Finds

By Tania Valdemoro

Readers focus on a Web site’s headlines and navigation functionality and they typically skip over static ads and mug shots, according to preliminary findings from a study that examined how people read news online.

“They’re reading headlines and breaking news, but they’re not going down the page,” said Laura A. Ruel, executive director of the Estlow International Center for Journalism and New Media at the University of Denver.

The study—Eyetrack III (http://www.poynter.org/eyetrack)— also found that multimedia presentations don’t necessarily help users remember the content of a story, she said.

Participants in the study were asked to look at mock Web sites modeled after sites like The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune. Researchers controlled such elements as headlines and blurbs, fonts and type size, and pop-up ads. The study group read a multimedia story edited from The New York Times’ series “Dangerous Business.” Researchers then tested their recall of the story.

“It was like reading any newspaper on a Web site,” said Gil Asakawa, executive producer for DenverPost.com, who tried out the testing system just before Ruel’s presentation. “Right away after I sat down, [the machine] could follow my eye movements.”

The goals of Eyetrack III are to determine the most effective ways to present editorial content and when it makes sense to use multimedia presentations, said Colin Johnson, CEO of Eyetools. His company has developed an apparatus to track readers’ eye movements as they read.

Eyetools has teamed with the St. Petersburg-based Poynter Institute for the third time since 1990 to develop and administer the study to 50 people.

Researchers are still analyzing the data, but Ruel said findings from Eyetrack III would be published at the end of May and will be available at http://www.poynter.org/eyetrack.

Resources

Watch the video of Ruel's speech (41 minutes)

See Ruel's PowerPoint

Other Resources:

EyeTrack III study

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