The Appeal of University Web Pages: An Eye-tracking Study

Fails, Ebony N, Brittany M Polisuk, Bryce A Paradis, Harold H Greene, and Minelle Toussaint-Greene

Many universities use the World Wide Web as a major recruitment tool.  While many prospective students  probably go to a university’s home page in search of specific information (irrespective of the home page’s visual appeal),  universities may benefit from attracting the casual browser (who may not pause to explore an unappealing  web page).  Recent research findings suggest that the bulk of  potential applicants to universities (i.e. 18- 31 year olds) prefer web pages that include a main large image, little text, and a search feature.  We wondered about the initial visual impact of  UDM’s home page relative to home pages of (i) universities in Michigan, (ii) universities outside Michigan, (iii) Jesuit universities/colleges, and (iv) Mercy universities/colleges.  Home page images were presented at random for 5 seconds each on a computer monitor, and participants were asked to rate the pages on visual appeal.  Additionally, eye-tracking data were collected to gain access to participants’ spatiotemporal processing of the home pages.  By examining where participants devote visual attention during the initial seconds of viewing, we plan to identify characteristics of university web pages that are immediately attractive.  Presumably, knowledge of these characteristics may be of use to university web page designers. We shall present (i) visual appeal-rating data for home pages of various universities/colleges, and (ii) maps depicting areas that attracted visual attention  in the same home pages.   The present eye tracking study represents the beginning of our efforts to contribute to the Human-Computer Interaction literature.