Mouse Tracking vs. Eye Tracking

Note: I tried to make this article as unbiased as possible but being the father of a newborn mouse tracking service I highly doubt I achieved this. So please read this with an open mind and feel free to research both solutions.

Since the limited release of our Mouse Eye Tracking service we have had great feedback and we are now more excited than ever in future of this product. However some criticism has been raised over the statistics quoted on our product page, this critisism however came from employees of Eye Tracking companies so I take their comments with a grain of salt. These comments however led met to investigate the differences and benefits of each technology, that is, eye tracking and mouse (virtual eye) tracking. This blog is the result of that research.

Note: I will not describe the ultimate goals of both these approaches which is improved usability and increased marketing value of your online presence.

Firstly let me try to illustrate what I believe to be the pros/cons of each technology (Please comment if you believe I have missed anything):

Eye-Tracking Mouse [Virtual Eye] Tracking (MET)
Cost Prohibitive to SME Free
Sample Group Small sample group of people who may not be the regular users of your site. If you want targeted sample group the costs are significantly higher (and sample group smaller). Real users to your site
Environment Sample group in a research room, conscious of their actions being monitored. Some eye tracking companies still use tracking glasses which make the sample group even more conscious of their environment. Even when not using glasses current technology means that the head has to remain relatively still and within a reasonable location (Don’t lean back!!). Real users using the site normally with no knowledge their usage is being studied
Interpretation These companies usually provide analysis of results which is another addition to cost but it does provide you with insight that you may miss. Usually left to up to you. However PicNet does offer these services to customers that require it but since this is a technology comparison I will leave this red.
Used in mockups Huge costs Yes, for free and set up instantly.
Easy to set up Needs to be done by third party, requires expertise Can be up and running almost instantly
Accuracy Close to 100% Accurate representation of what the sample group is viewing. 84%-88% According to the only independent – scientific research I have found (http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=634067.634234).

Now, I think this table is redundant as it illustrates the obvious. But what I really want to do is dig into is the sample group issue. I think research done on a small unrelated group of uni students or unemployed people (huge costs otherwise) is a huge drawback to traditional eye tracking methodologies. For example. Let’s say you sell integrated controllers for onboard computers. Do you think that an untrained sample group will ever show you how your real customers (engineers) navigate through your web site? Offcourse not, all they will do is show you the standard usability glitches such as banner blindness, Inattentional blindness, etc. You do not need to use any system to show you this, just read a usability book or a free Google search.

In a week of usage we have had web sites that have upwards of 2000 recorded user interactions on some pages. This is 2000 real customers showing you how they use your website in a real day-to-day environment. Now whether this is 88% accurate or 60% accurate or whatever figure you can find in the statistical abyss that is Google it does not matter. This is highly valuable information. Information that will allow you to make marketing and usability decisions with a very high level of confidence.

Now, don’t get me wrong I still think that eye tracking is a very valuable technique for some companies out there but to say that mouse tracking is a ‘lesser’ offering I think is wrong. I initially did not think they competed (I actually thought it was the lesser/poorer option) but after researching this article I am now sure they do compete and my biased view is that the free alternative is better due to the ‘real users’ issue discussed here.

References:

http://glinden.blogspot.com/2008/01/cheap-eyetracking-using-mouse-tracking.html
http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/people/ryenw/proceedings/WISI2007.pdf
http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/02/eye-tracking-studies-more-than-meets.html
http://www.seobythesea.com/?p=874
http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.95.5691&rep=rep1&type=pdf
http://www.gmi-mr.com/documents/bylines/Quirks_Click-Testing_0408.pdf

Guido TapiaSoftware Development Manager
PicNet Pty Ltd

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About The Author

Guido Tapia

Chief Technology Officer – Software Development. Guido has led the development of Enterprise Risk Management system Risk Shield and the award winning web application, Mouse Eye Tracking - a usability tool that reveals website visitor activity. In addition has led numerous software projects for blue chip Australian organisations and specialises in Java, .Net and Javascript development.

5 comments on “Mouse Tracking vs. Eye Tracking

  1. The point about user groups you tried to make I think backfired slightly: how do you know you are getting real engineers to navigate through your site if you do not have restrictions on who is invited to test the site? The point with sample groups is that you have full control over who actually gives you feedback and you tend to choose representatives from the intended user group. The choice of who you invite to participate in your research when using sample groups is down to the researcher and/or site owner and whenever possible, that group then will be representatives of the actual users the site is aimed at.

    Your argument is now not about eye tracking vs. mouse tracking but rather quantitative research vs. qualitative research. Both have its merits and problems (of which cost is one). When doing qualitative research it is easier to get the context of the findings as each participant most often gets asked follow up questions after a task is done (or during depending on which methodology is used). This, of course, requires more time and resources, but gives another kind of data than quantitative testing. Quantitative testing, on the other hand, gives you information about what ‘a majority’ of the users does, but less details on each individual participant. Mouse tracking and eye tracking can be used both as a qualitative and quantitative method even if your site offers a more quantitative approach by default. It all comes down to what information you want to get from a study.

    I’m not arguing against the percentages in the comment on LinkedIn – only the interpretation of them. Even if mouse tracking gives the feedback from a lot of users it only tells you where the mouse has been, i.e. according to the research from the year 2000 where most have pointed with their mouse and then with most probability also looked and not where they have looked but not pointed their mouse. What the research says is that where the mouse had been, the eye had also looked in 84% of the cases and where the eye had not been, the mouse cursor had not been in 88% of the cases either. It doesn’t say that where the eye has looked the mouse has also been which means that mouse tracking potentially might only highlight a small part of what the user has actually seen on the site. Then calling it ‘Mouse Eye tracking’ is not really accurate unless the mouse actually has an eye painted on it.

    Mouse tracking can be valuable on its own as it shows where users clicked and hovered, but it is not eye tracking. I suggest you look for papers showing the value of mouse tracking and how it can be interpreted instead of trying to sell it as cheap eye tracking. Mouse tracking is a tool as well as eye tracking. As a tool it is useful in some circumstances and not in others. Instead of selling it as something it is not, it would be more interesting if you could give examples of papers where mouse tracking has been used in its own right.

  2. I think the issue many of us have is not with the product itself but with the NAME!! If you called it mouse tracking or mouse move like clicktale do that would be legitimate, but you call it mouse EYE tracking.

    This assumes you track the mouse and eye, which as you yourself have pointed out, you do not. I appears to me, and many others I have seen comment on and write about this issue, the word EYE in the product title is clearly false and inflammatory. I don’t know about Australia, but if you were to launch this product in America you would be sued immediately for false promotion and forced to change the product name.

    Again, tacking on the eye-tracking community with a product called *anything* eye-tracking that DOES NOT ACTUALLY TRACK THE EYE is a bad idea and will only get you into trouble. May I suggest "simulated eye tracking" or "mouse tracking" instead?

  3. jAcOb, if you find the word ‘eye’ inflammatory you should perhaps turn off your computer as its a jungle of ugly words out there.

    Also I will point out (I don’t know why as I don’t want to seem to be defending the name to a bunch of competitors) that mouse tracking has been commonly known as virtual eye tracking for a long time.

    Let me think about this……… Yes, I’ll keep the name. Thanks for the comments tho

  4. Hello there!
    good article the comparison between the 2 is very close to my heart given I run with my colleagues an eye tracking data collection and analysis company.

    I find the information you posted not 100% spot on:
    - Cost: not affordable to SMEs. Not so nowadays the cost for an eye tracking study can be as low as £ 5000 on a 50 person sample and looking at 2-3 different sites. Also some qualitative questions can be included. The prohibitive costs is something that has come down in the last 3 years or so.
    - Small Group: we work on a sample of 50 because we have shown that heatmaps above 40 do not deliver any additional information. if you are looking at sub group behaviour comparison (Male Vs female you need min 30 in each). If the need for more participants is present we can deliver 300 if needed. This is not in the same league as large survey data but the extra sample is not necessarily needed when looking at eye tracking data.
    -Interpretation: if you are doing qualitative analysis then yes you can take advantage of a psychologist that can ask the right questions and understand the "true" answers from participants. If you are working in quantitative analysis then setting up a correct test structure and looking into the results more does not need heavy or specialist interpretation. Usually the tasks being analysed are not of a super complex nature (find an interesting article / buy the camera / purchase the plane ticket etc) any deviation from the desired and planned path is what needs focus and attention on and the reasons for these deviations are not complex to derive from the reports and data.
    - Used in Mock ups: about 50% of our work is before go live. What you say there is plainly wrong. The cost of a go live with the wrong page setup can be huge and this also applies to SMEs.
    - Accuracy: 100% accuracy would be if we sampled all the real customers. This is still a sampled based testing and therefore needs careful consideration.

    a separate note: a direct eye Mouse comparison
    - the average distance between eye position and mouse position has been proved to be about half a screen lenght. The Mouse usually does not move till a decision has been taken, making time based information pointless.
    - The ubiquity of input mechanisms on computers such as scroll balls on mice or touch pad also cause the mouse to move only when a decision is taken. The mouse data is therefore has a % of dirty data that cannot be taken out (long vertical streaks with no horizontal movement).

    I think the 2 are very difficult to compare, and eye tracking vastly superior. Even if mouse data where available in 100% precision I doubt it would really help a web designer over and above what a simple page execution count or funnel analysis could.

    On a side note to the blog editor, I would carry out more research with links and references before posting such assured comparisons.

    Best Regards,
    Niall

  5. Also being a founder of a mouse tracking software (http://mouseflow.com) I find this article very interesting. I often wonder if there are any other more recent studies that can confirm the 84% correlation between mouse movements and eye gaze. By experience is that people often have the mouse near the scroll bar as the read the page.

    Lasse

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