In honor of Embrace Your Inner Geek Day, I'm doing an extra-nerdy post--so enjoy!
I find it ironic that the results of this study claiming ads on social networks actually do well in eye tracking studies are published on a page that is such a usability nightmare...and I also am skeptical about the study's findings.
"We found that not only do users spend time viewing paid ads on social networking sites, they often look at these ads before actual search results. And that's not all. Oneupweb's social media eye tracking study revealed some other surprising statistics about searches conducted on social media sites, including: A whopping 65% of participants engaged with sponsored ads within the first 10 seconds of their search."
I'm sorry but I have a hard time believing either of those things for three reasons:
1) Jakob Nielsen--internet usability deity--would almost certainly disagree with the idea that users look at ads before actual search results because users almost never look at anything that looks like an advertisement, whether or not it's actually an ad. I find it hard to believe that the horrible ads on Facebook have managed to trump banner blindness.
2) I've read too many other things that point out that social ads are a failure to believe that it's not true.
3) Look at the study--it included only 25 participants and the task the participants were given was basically to search for ads! It wasn't to just look at pages and track what their eyes were or weren't drawn to--it was to look up a brand and check out the ads. OBVIOUSLY they looked at the ads. But even looking at the screenshots in the study proves Nielsen is right--notice how few--if any--hot spots are anywhere near any of the images and/or ad blocks.
Ok, I'm climbing down off my nerd platform now...but in parting I offer you the gift of nerd knowledge that is Jakob Nielsen's blog, Alertbox.