Eye Tracking vs. Mouse Tracking Analytics

October 14, 2010

Usability studies have been and continue to be a key method for testing and optimizing website usability.  Both laboratory eye tracking and remote mouse tracking studies offer businesses accurate and actionable results. Eye tracking, as used by top enterprises such as Google, uses cameras and specialist software to track where the eyes of internet users land on a webpage. Mouse tracking analytics follows the mouse movements of an internet user to simulate eye movement on a webpage.  Over the last few years, mouse tracking has greatly matured, developing features and achieving accuracy that make it a credible alternative to eye tracking.

mouse or eye tracking Eye Tracking vs. Mouse Tracking Analytics

Heatmaps created using traditional eye tracking (left) and mouse tracking (right)

Research has shown that when both methods of testing are conducted simultaneously, there is an 84%-88% correlation in the results1. In addition, both the eye and mouse move to relatively the same rhythm and focus in on the same page content2. Both eye and mouse tracking analytics deliver valuable information about how your visitors are engaging with your website. This is vital to work out what changes you need to make in order to benefit your visitors’ experience and your ROI.

mouseeye tracking Eye Tracking vs. Mouse Tracking Analytics

Example of the mouse following the eye in the vertical direction on a Google search page, plotting the Y coordinate against time. ©Google, 2008

Pros & Cons

As with any process, each method of testing comes with its advantages and disadvantages.

Eye Tracking Analytics

Advantages Disadvantages
  • 100% accuracy. Find out exactly what the testers look at on the page.
  • Controlled environment. Your visitors are asked to carry out pre-determined tasks. You can therefore define exactly what to test and know the objectives of your testers.
  • Open Dialogue. Visitors can give in-depth feedback and answer any questions you may have, removing the guesswork regarding visitor motive and satisfaction.
  • Cost. Comes with an extremely hefty price tag, requiring specialist equipment and staff. The cost can increase with more participants and higher frequency of testing.
  • Limited scope. The number of participants, screen size measurements, and variety of participants is limited. Your data results are based on a small sampling of unique visitors.
  • Strong Observer Effect. Visitors know that their every move is being monitored, therefore cannot be expected to act naturally. High chance of the Hawthorne effect.

Mouse Tracking Analytics

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Natural environment. Tests take place in the visitors’ own home or office, providing accurate usability results with a wide array of browsers/operating systems/screen sizes etc…
  • No Observer Effect. Visitors navigate your website naturally, completely unaware they are being tested.
  • Global participation. Test visitors from all over the world. As long as there is traffic coming to your site, you can be continually testing, any time you want.
  • Low Cost. Mouse tracking analytics is a fraction of the cost of eye tracking, requiring no specialist equipment or skills. Free solutions are also available in the market.
  • No pre-define tests. You cannot specify what you would like to test. You have to rely on the visitors’ own objectives.
  • No research control. You cannot change or control the environment in which the tests take place.
  • No visitor feedback. You cannot directly ask your visitors questions about their experiences, and cannot know exactly what they are thinking.

There still exists a cloud of debate between eye and mouse tracking camps regarding the value of gauging subconscious thought versus that of actionable intent. Eye tracking does capture significantly more involuntary eye movement than mouse tracking, providing abundant information into a visitor’s subconscious.  However, the mouse tracking camp contends that, for many websites, it is more valuable to understand customers’ intent rather than their subconscious behavior, which is often subjective and can be misleading. Let us know what you think about the debate in the comments below.

What should I use?

In an ideal world, every website would use both eye and mouse tracking analytics, as each method delivers valuable and actionable information. Research conducted by Google3 concluded by saying that BOTH mouse and eye tracking should be used when evaluating and optimizing website usability. However, only some of the world biggest websites can afford to conduct regular eye tracking studies. This is therefore not a viable option for small or mid-size businesses, which should still rely on inexpensive and frequent mouse tracking studies.

We all deserve to know what our visitors think of our websites as well as with what elements our visitors are engaging, for your benefit and theirs.

References / further reading

1 http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=634234
2 http://www.stcsig.org/sn/PDF/Cooke_mouse_eye_tracker.pdf
3 http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/people/ryenw/proceedings/WISI2007.pdf – page 29

Related posts:

  1. Education in Usability – EduLocator’s Experience
  2. ClickTale on ClickTale.com
  3. ClickTale’s Website Heat Map Holiday Give-Away Winners
  4. E Commerce Optimization Case Study: Fugees.ru
  5. Case Study: The Organic Dish


  1. Mouse Tracking is better than Eye Tracking « Open Web Analytics Says:
    October 17th, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    [...] folks good folks over at ClickTake have posted a great piece on how eye tracking compares to mouse tracking in terms of analyzing web page [...]

  2. Peter Potter Says:
    November 2nd, 2010 at 11:13 am

    In the past I have used both “Eye Tracking” and “Click Tale” and have to admit that Click Tale is far superior.

    I think there are some issues with clicktale but that out weighs the process I experienced with eye tracking.

    Eye Tracking Process
    The company we used found 8 people who had an interest in the product we were selling and invited them to a test. As we watched in a room we saw them tell the guest to buy our product – “this is not a typical journey”. In the end they showed me lots of heat maps and gave their opinions “NO FACTS” on site improvements.

    Id rather watch clicktale and see where customers scroll, hover and ultimately get frustrated and leave the site. This is far more beneficial than pre-empting the journey and charging a fortune for it!! Keep up the good work ClickTale !

  3. Rob Kingston Says:
    November 2nd, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    That’s a very strong correlation. I’ve been wanting to use eye-tracking on campaigns at work, but this shows there’s relatively little value in doing so. Probably best to spend the budget elsewhere.

    In eye tracking’s defence though, I think it does give you a bit more control and provides the opportunity for feedback which is a feature that would be highly desirable in ClickTale.

    Imagine if you could detect when someone is about to leave the site and ask them to leave feedback? You could attribute that feedback to the user’s session and it could give you some context for their session.

  4. Ron Spinner Says:
    November 3rd, 2010 at 5:59 am

    We find that Clicktale is more useful than eye tracking. There is a lot more data that can be segmented that results in actionable items to do.

    However, eye tracking prices are now affordable for everyone due to new technology (see my review of these services: http://www.aims.co.il/blog/eye-tracking-review-of-gazehawk-%E2%80%93-a-useful-website-marketing-tool/ ).

    And they provide additional insights. I recommend doing both.

  5. Peter Says:
    November 4th, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    More and more people are using netbooks, notebooks without a mouse. In that case their behavior is different compared to ones who uses a mouse.
    And we dont even think on touchscreens.
    So each of research methods has its place.

  6. Mouse vs Eye Tracking | martinkovac.com Says:
    December 14th, 2010 at 9:09 am

    [...] Pros & Cons of Mouse and Eye tracking can be found on ClickTale blog. [...]

  7. tracking Says:
    January 3rd, 2011 at 11:48 am

    I agree with you that every website would use both eye and mouse tracking

  8. Is Eye Tracking Going Mainstream? | ClickTale Blog Says:
    March 15th, 2011 at 7:25 am

    [...] Research has shown that when both methods of testing are conducted simultaneously, there is an 84%-88% correlation in the results. In addition, both the eye and mouse move to relatively the same rhythm and focus in [...]

  9. Tracking Says:
    April 25th, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    I have a question: Whatever we do with out mouse, why is is not where the eyes goes the only factor? I still don;t get it. BEcause if i never look where my mouse is, then it doesn’t matter where it points, no?

  10. Clay Says:
    May 9th, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    Mouse tracking has come a long way. I sometimes use it in my market research.


  11. Greg Zobel Says:
    May 31st, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    Great visual presentation of the information. It’s great seeing good visual principles in support of your discussion.

  12. hydroponics Says:
    July 19th, 2011 at 2:41 am

    Great write up – if only we could get some analytical data on customer intent. Would love to see differing search types segmented by intent (i.e. purchase inquiry, info searching etc).

  13. Mouse Out 2 Says:
    September 24th, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    [...] Cursor for ActionScript 3Color Perception In PostproductionDoes Depression Alter Color Perception?Eye Tracking vs. Mouse Tracking var _gaq = _gaq || []; _gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-17226134-1']); _gaq.push(['_trackPageview']); [...]

  14. Ben Says:
    September 27th, 2011 at 1:41 am

    sure, mousetracking is a neat, passive way of tracking user behaviour on a site when compared to eye tracking. But the main bit of data in this post is that there is a 84-88% correlation between the two.

    Does anyone else have a problem with that number? Are we really saying that a users eye follows their mouse ~85% of the time? I find that quite hard to believe.

    A simple test: as you read this line of text, is your mouse hovering over this line of text? Unless I am a total freak, most people were probably like me and have the mouse off to one side, occasionally using the scroll wheel to move down the page. My mouse was nowhere near where I was looking.

    I’ve had a look at the study that is referenced here, and I can’t see how that number got pulled out.

  15. Talya Rachel Judovits Says:
    November 2nd, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Hi Ben, thanks for your comment. All the information we put in this blog post has been mentioned in more than one study, including that of Microsoft and Google. The popularity of this report shows that it is working for customers and we would not continue promoting our tool if this was not the case :-)

  16. NataliePyron.com » Observe Customer Interactions with ClickTale Says:
    December 19th, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    [...] [...]

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