The Eyes Have It: GazeHawk Introduces Low-Cost Eye Tracking Studies for Web Designers

This is the third in a series of profiles of companies emerging this summer from Mountain View, CA-based startup incubator Y Combinator.

In e-commerce, understanding the psychology of the all-important click is more art than science. No one knows for sure what stimulates Web page visitors to click on certain links and not others; all Web usability experts can really do is quantify the way people behave, and experiment from there. And for that purpose, the most valuable kind of research, apart from tracking actual clicks, is studying where users direct their gaze on a Web page. After all, as GazeHawk co-founder Brian Krausz puts it, “The first step in getting people to click on an ad is to get them to look at it.”

The mission at GazeHawk, a Mountain View, CA-based startup funded by Y Combinator this summer, is to make so-called “eye tracking” data more easily available to Web publishers, through what might be called a quick-and-dirty approach to data capture. The gold standard in eye tracking, says Krausz’s fellow founder Joe Gershenson, is “bright pupil” technology, in which an infrared beam is aimed at a user’s eye, and the reflections are measured to calculate the eye’s angle with respect to a computer screen. From the angle, it’s possible to derive what part of the screen the user is looking at. Bright pupil systems create lots of pretty data—heatmaps showing where users’ eyeballs traveled across a Web page and where they lingered—but the equipment costs $40,000 or more, and eye-tracking consultants charge $5,000 or more per study, according to Krausz. GazeHawk’s innovation is to get that cost down to $49 per study, using equipment no fancier than a conventional webcam.

GazeHawk heatmap for WakeMate.comThat could not only put a lot of expensive eye-tracking consultants out of their jobs, but give small Web publishers and e-retailers access insights into the performance of their own websites that only bigger Web companies could afford up to now. “All of the big companies, the Yahoos and Googles, do [eye tracking studies] because $40,000 is nothing to them,” says Krausz. “It’s been distinctly relegated toward this niche, and that’s what we would like to change.”

At, Web publishers can get an eye-tracking study going simply by entering the URL of the Web page they’d like to analyze. GazeHawk will outsource the study to as many testers as the customer wants—one tester for $49 per Web page, 10 testers for $490, 20 for $780, and so forth. (Editor’s Note: As an exclusive offer for Xconomy’s business readers, Krausz has set up a temporary 50 percent discount. The code for the discount is XCONOMY10.) The startup has recruited a panel of several hundred testers who conduct the studies remotely from their own desktop or laptop computers.

Testers are paid $4 per page, Mechanical Turk-style, assuming they return usable data. Customers get back a heatmap showing where the testers’ eyes roamed, and for how long. (See the graphic above, which summarizes eye tracking data for the home page at WakeMate, a sleep analysis gadget from Y Combinator-backed Perfect Third.) In theory, that data tells website owners whether … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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