Simple Usability tapped into the insights of a very effective, discerning analytics and research tool to determine which elements of Facebook’s new timeline for pages are effective at drawing the attention of users and which aren’t: the human eye.

The company conducts market research by using eye-tracking technology, and it recorded the eye movements of users as they scanned the timeline pages of six large brands to come up with its conclusions:

Simple Usability said of its study:

By recording eye movements and actions while users browsed online, we could see exactly what elements each user was drawn to, distracted by, and engaged with. We then worked with the subjects to try to understand the decisions they made, replaying their activity to users, showing where and what they looked at, and asking appropriate questions to determine their behavior and choices.

Here are the conclusions about timeline for pages arrived at in the Simple Usability study:

  • The importance of the cover image is overrated: Simple Usability found that most users did not notice creative combinations of the cover image and profile image, and many thought of the former as advertising space, quickly scrolling down to view content.

  • Embrace history: Users were interested in the about section of pages, but they found the about link and shortened descriptions on timeline difficult to locate.

  • They were also interested in the history of brands, using the months and years in the sidebar to dig deeper, but many were confused at how brands were able to include content that related to events before Facebook was launched.

  • Keep current: Regular updates are more important than ever with the layout of timeline for pages. Simple Usability found that users consider themselves to be up-to-date on topics such as sports and music, and they expect Facebook pages to be the same way. Also, many users were distracted by the breaks that occur when new sections of timeline are loading.

  • Promote constant user interaction: Users showed a great deal of interest in the box that highlighted friends who liked pages, as well as status updates or comments from those friends, and they showed an inclination to interact with that content.

  • Pinning posts is ineffective: In the current layout of timeline for pages, it is difficult to differentiate between pinned posts and nonpinned posts. Users did not realize that pinned posts were intended to be highlighted.

  • Application stagnation: The majority of users failed to interact with the row of apps on timelines for pages, other than photo albums, and many did not see the arrow that leads them to available apps.

Simple Usability concluded:

While users get to grips with the new page layouts, brands must undertake an education process to help them understand what content and features are on offer. Brands should also make full use of new functionality — such as the timeline and cover image — to engage users, being aware that the latter has to be used imaginatively and not just considered to be a Facebook “billboard.”

Users are reluctant to scroll particularly far down timelines, and aren’t aided when they do by the slow loading times. Page managers should consider how promotions, competitions, and themed content can be contained within a specific time frame that doesn’t require excessive scrolling.

There is also no longer the opportunity to set a default landing tab or application, so brand managers should think about how the cover Image and pinned-post functionality can support and reinforce competitions and campaigns.

The relationships and interactions a user’s friends have with a brand are now more prevalent than ever before, and as such, brands should focus on nurturing positive brand mentions wherever they may be on Facebook.

Managing Director Guy Redwood added:

This transition is very significant for a number of successful brand pages. Facebook wants to create consistency in functionality and appearance between personal and brand profiles, and this change certainly achieves this aim — which does make sense from a basic usability perspective.

But is clear that the average user doesn’t fully understand the new layout, or interact with it in the way intended. This will likely change over time, but as the mechanics of obtaining likes has become more difficult for brands, they now need to drive engagement more than ever. Page editors no longer have the ability to set targeted landing tabs or applications for non-fans. In the past, you could direct people onto a particular tab to encourage likes or interaction with a promotion.

As such, I would encourage brands to help users with the transition and explain what is on offer in terms of functionality and content — you cannot simply assume they already know.

The reality is that people will either get used to using the timeline format, which still seems a big ask at this point, or Facebook will need to change it to encourage brands to continue to invest in the platform.

Readers: How have your experiences with timeline for pages compared with the findings by Simple Usability?