Mouse Eye Tracking – How useful is it?

January 3, 2011 5:08 pm

Mouse Eye Tracking – How useful is it?

Mouse eye tracking seems to be a popular topic on the internet with analytics people – regularly promoted as a cheaper alternative to real eye tracking by a range of companies. It’s interesting to note that these companies don’t have eye tracking equipment, so we’re always amused at how you could make such a claim that, when you really think about how you use the web, shouldn’t work.

We’ve been running eye tracking studies for over 5 years now and can honestly say, from a user experience research perspective, there is no useful correlation between eye movements and mouse movements – apart from the obvious looking at where you are about to click.

If there was a correlation, we could immediately stop spending money on eye tracking equipment and just use our mouse tracking data from websites and usability sessions. We’re all for saving time and money in research where possible.

Does mouse eye tracking actually work?

In word – NO. We have many ways of illustrating why mouse tracking fails to show us where people have looked, but here’s our favourite three.

1. Right now, where is your mouse and where are your eyes?

  • As you read this article, is your mouse cursor following your eyes?
  • Have you ever tried to follow your eyes with a trackpad? It’s really hard!
  • Are you following your eyes with your mouse?

Most people use a wheel mouse or track pad and simply don’t track their reading with the mouse. They will naturally look somewhere and then click if they want to click, but there are only a few special cases where users will track their eyes with the mouse.

2. What do Google say about mouse eye tracking?

Dr Anne Aula, Senior User Experience Researcher at Google, presented some data at the 2010 eye tracking conference in Leuven. They have lots of data, regularly use eye tracking, and would also like to save some money and time by using mouse tracking data to replace eye trackers.

A few highlights from the research data Google shared was:

  • 6% of people showed some vertical correlation between mouse movement and eye tracking (that’s 94% with NO correlation)
  • 19% of people showed some horizontal correlation between mouse movement and eye tracking (81% with NO correlation)
  • 10% hovered over a link and then continued to read around the page looking at other things.

The figures speak for themselves. No basic correlation for over 80% of users. It’s quite simply a non-starter for telling us where people look on the screen – even on highly functional google SERPs.

3. We don’t see this behaviour in research sessions.

If you still have some doubts, watch one of our video clips on youtube of live eye tracking and note where the user is looking and where the mouse cursor is.

This video shows lots of scrolling with the wheel mouse, cursor stays in one position whilst the eye darts around the screen, reading relevent information.

If  mouse eye tracking worked, we’d be first inline to buy it – but sadly, mouse eye tracking absolutely fails.