What Users Do: The Eyes Have It

Paul Thomas
CSIRO and Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

Falk Scholer
School of Computer Science and Information Technology, RMIT University, Victoria 3001, Australia.

Alistair Moffat
Department of Computing and Information Systems, The University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia.


Proc. 9th Asian Information Retrieval Societies Conf., Singapore, December 2013, pages 416-427, LNCS volume 8281.


Search engine result pages -- the ten blue links -- are a staple of document retrieval services. The usual presumption is that users read these one-by-one "from the top", making judgments about the usefulness of documents based on the snippets presented, accessing the underlying document when a snippet seems attractive, and then moving on to the next snippet. In this paper we re-examine that assumption, and give the results of a user experiment in which gaze-tracking is combined with click analysis. We conclude that in very general terms, users do indeed read from the top, but that at a detailed level there are complex behaviors evident, suggesting that a more sophisticated model of user interaction might be appropriate. In particular, we argue that users retain a number of snippets in an "active band" that shifts down the result page, and that reading and clicking activity tends to takes place within the band in a manner that is not strictly sequential.

Published paper