Horizontal Attention Leans Left
Web users spend 69% of their time viewing the left half of the page and 30% viewing the right half. A conventional layout is thus more likely to make sites profitable.
My previous column discussed the distribution of user attention along the vertical dimension of Web pages. In short, people look at information above the fold far more than they do at information further down the page.
Here, we’ll do a 90-degree turn and look at user viewing patterns along the horizontal dimension. Using the same data set as my previous analysis, we find the following distribution of user attention from the left edge of the screen to the right:
In this chart, each bar shows the amount of time users spent on fixations within a 100-pixel-wide stripe running down the screen, starting from the very left.
People spent more than twice as much time looking at the left side of the page as they did the right:
- Left half of screen: 69% of viewing time
- Right half of screen: 30% of viewing time
The remaining 1% of viewing time was spent to the right of the initially-visible 1,024 pixels. Such information is visible only after horizontal scrolling, and the minute amount of attention it attracts confirms the guideline to avoid horizontal scrolling (mistake #3 of 2002).
Information to the right of the initially-visible area is in essence “below the fold,” except that they are beyond a right-hand fold instead of a bottom-of-window fold, and thus not literally “below.”