At the recent SES conference in the Search Behavior session, we got a peek at some of the latest research studying how people view the top ranking search results. I've been looking forward to seeing a full report on the study and the ending data. They started by using eye-tracking to monitor how someone's eye move across the page and marking each spot the eye rested to read or observe. The study gave evidence to back up claims that the top results get the most attention from users. This study was done in part from Enquiro and Did-it and eye tracking firm Eyetools.
What the study found was that people search in an "F" shape as they scan the listings. Starting from left vertical column, working their way down, and looking for to the right column (paid search listings) if something caught their attention. What they additionally found was the most behavior was predominately very quick. People click faster than originally thought. Previously it was thought that users might take a moment to analyze the content and finally make a decision on what to click.
The researchers define an area called the "Golden Triangle" which implied the area that extended from the top result down to bottom or area above the fold as seen in the image below. For the full image please see here.
The study also produced some interested statistics on relating to the amount of people that actually viewed or paid attention to the search listing depending on rankings. Such as listings below the 5th position were only viewed by 50% of the participants in the study. For the paid search the numbers were a lot worse, if you were listed anywhere below the top 3 positions there chance that someone would notice your ad would be under 20%. Imagine the amount that actually clicked after that, very slim. For full report please visit the article on Enquire eye tracking study.