Recent algo changes by Google, news of the JC Penny penalty and attempts by all of the search engines to hamper SEO efforts have combined to put pressure on decision-makers designed to make 'sponsored links' seem more attractive. Why bother working diligently to acheive quality organic ranks when you can 'just buy an ad on the side of the page' right?
A recent study by UserCentric.com gathered data from twenty-four Internet users between the ages of 18 and 54. Each participant conducted an average of 48 online searches per week using both Bing and Google, with at least five searches per engine. The participants’ eye movements were recorded with the Tobii T60 eye tracker integrated in a 17-inch monitor to record metrics capable of allowing researchers to determine what human page visitors look at most or least during searches.
As the study points out: "Overall, Bing and Google were comparable in terms of participants’ hit rate on the different areas of the search results interface. Regardless of the search engine, visual attention was mainly focused on the middle column of the page, with all participants looking at the organic search results and almost all at the top sponsored results. The right and left panes attracted considerably less attention. Only about a quarter of the participants looked at the sponsored results to the right, and very few looked at the left pane which contained filters, related searchers, search history and other links."
Put simply, whatever number of impressions you are getting on the sides of search pages, your placements are likely being ignored by more than 3 out of every 4 human visitors. Similarly, ranks toward the bottom of the page also tend to be mostly ignored which provides anecdotal evidence that being 11th may in fact be perferable to being 9th or 10th for most search terms.
According to the UserCentric website, this research was managed by Aga Bojko, Associate Director and any questions about the study should be directed to Pamela Stoffregen-Gay at 630.320.3900.