Eye tracking - A short-sighted future?

by Trenton Moss on 8 December 2009

A trend that we’ve noticed this year in the user experience sector is a dramatic decrease in demand for eye tracking. When the recession first kicked-in at the start of this year we were warned that usability was going to be thrown out in view of reduced budgets. We’ve seen no evidence of this whatsoever – budgets have been cut and the amount set aside for usability and user research has decreased slightly, but no longer is an excellent user experience just a nice-to-have. Usability and user research are still at the core of good web design and development and companies are still investing heavily in these.

So what of eye tracking? Why does it seem to have fallen by the wayside? I have a few theories:

The novelty has worn off
There’s no doubt about it – marketing managers love eye tracking. They love being able to see where people are looking and they love getting back nice looking heatmaps. The thing is, eye tracking’s not that new anymore and there are far cheaper ways of getting images of where (lots of) people clicked on the page at far lower prices (think ClickTale and Crazy Egg).
It’s a nice-to-have
The recession has seen a lot of losers as nice-to-haves products struggle to maintain demand. Eye tracking is fantastic at evaluating the effectiveness of the creative design & execution, and for noticing whether users see those key messages and calls-to-action quickly. But this can anecdotally be picked up in regular usability testing, which will also provide a wealth of additional findings (which can be used to significantly increase conversion rates).
It’s too expensive
Eye trackers are very expensive to lease – with a virtual monopoly, the main worldwide supplier has had little incentive to economise. I suspect that many companies are perhaps not bothering to hold on to the kit anymore in light of the cost cutting that’s hit us all. This in turn means that less people talk about eye tracking studies and reduced word-of-mouth means less people are thinking about doing eye tracking.

By the way, I still think eye tracking can be really useful when used  for the right reasons and in the right context (see our article on the advantages and disadvantages of eye tracking). I’m not putting down eye tracking here, I’m just reporting back on something I’ve noticed this year.

I’d be really interested to hear anyone’s thoughts on this – have you seen any noticeable drop in demand like we have? My reasons are purely speculative – do you agree or disagree?

Finally, I’ll leave you with an eye tracking video featuring our PR & Marketing Manager, Jon using Amazon.


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