Everyone knows clear and easy to use design is important for web sites and pays well to have in the competitive online environment. How exactly to achieve that goal and how to measure the user friendliness of your web design is often much less clear…

“What can’t be measured, can’t be managed” thinking is clearly gaining ground online, but how to measure something as ‘soft’ as a design?

The most common approach is to rely on someone’s expertise. Yet personal opinions about design, no matter how professional, can be a dangerously blindfolded way to measure/manage the customer facing part of your operations.

Eye-tracking studies objectively quantify and visualize the voice of your customer. One recent example about online electronics retailers conducted by Realeyes is available here (pdf). A quick look over the results shows how strongly Argos’ web design outperforms its competitors like Comet, Curry’s and Ebuyer.

At first this might come across as bad news for underperformers: they are likely to lose significant business on a daily basis due to a worse-than-Argos page design. But eye-tracking studies can show you what should be changed to improve the current results, win back competition and draw more customers online.

For example, have a closer look at how people navigate on a well performing design and see if you can pick up ‘tricks’ to deploy on your own page. This heatcast (click here) on the Argos page shows how people’s attention is instantly grabbed by prominently placed pictures that directs them to correct links. The result: highest success rates, fast completions times and a more pleasant customer journey (high ease of use scores).

Comet’s heatcast (click here) on the other hand shows how people lack focus on the page. Attention is scattered across the whole page and only a few people engage with the top menu, a key navigational item for the task at hand. Instead people are forced to focus on a offer about a particular Sony camera in the bottom left corner. This ‘user journey’ is the preference of only a few customers, others are forced to restart their search and spend more effort to seek out what they really want.

Eye-tracking provides rich data and almost every study reveals numerous key insights. My eye-tracking benchmarks column in E-consultancy is published every month  and explains how different eye-tracking measures can help to improve the design of your web pages. We’ll show you more data from a range of sectors in the coming months.

Mihkel Jaatma is co-founder of eyetracking specialists Realeyes.it.