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Eye Tracking Study Documents That The First Listing Photo Is The Most Important

May 27th, 2013

GrabAttentionAccording to a WSJ article that reports on an eye tracking study done by Prof. Michael Seiler, Old Dominion University at Norfolk, VA:

Researchers tracking the eye movements of subjects who looked at online home listings found that more than 95% of users viewed the first photo—the one that usually shows the exterior of the home—for a total of 20 seconds. After that, their eyes tended to flit all over

I know, you already knew that (it’s #4 in my 10 essentials of real estate photography). It’s not hard to figure out by just watching yourself when you look at online listings. But like most of these things it doesn’t hurt to have some scientific data that documents home buyer’s behavior.

In my Photography For Real Estate ebook I have a whole chapter on this subject and explain how to put more time and consideration into the front exterior shot and how sometimes the front exterior is ugly or obscured so you need to be flexible and be willing to use the rear, or side exterior rather than the actual front exterior. And how it may make sense to do an elevated or PAP shot or a twilight shot to help grab buyers attention. Listing agents should be thinking about this and demanding it, but they don’t all understand the importance of the “Front” shot so this is an area where a savvy real estate photographer can help agents marketing out a lot.

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10 Responses to “Eye Tracking Study Documents That The First Listing Photo Is The Most Important”

  • I’ve had a thought (!) Is the lead (feature) shot getting the attention simply because it’s first and larger, and not because of its content?? The author seems to assume that the subject of the lead photo is always a front shot. That’s probably a reasonable assumption, but I’m wondering, if the test subjects were all shown photo sets where the lead shot was always a bathroom, then probably the results would show – hey – bathrooms attracted the most attention! 🙂

  • I don’t know about the other MLSs around the country but the NWMLS requires the first listing photo to be the exterior or a view shot.

  • Something I experimented with a while ago was adding an inner stroke in red to set a border around the listing image or adding a red “sticker” 4 beds, great view or whatever just to make the images stand out. It worked, the click through rate on those images was way higher.

  • If I were a home buyer, I’d probably spend the most time on the first image just because it took me 20 seconds to figure out how to navigate to the next image!

    I agree with Jon that the first photo will tend to get the most average eye time regardless of the content (unless it’s a really bad image). But it’s still good info to have when selling your services because it reminds your clients that the front exterior (the MLS standard first image) is critical to capture attention. That’s when you bring up the fact that you offer elevated photos, or twilight exteriors.

    If any of you use TourBuzz, I encourage you to pay close attention to the weekly viewer stats. It always fascinates me to see what images are the most viewed. The #1 shot is always front exterior, but sometimes the #2 spot goes to the master bath even if the bathroom really isn’t anything special. Sometimes it’s the back deck, or even the neighborhood shots. It’s great data and a useful insight into both buyer focus and the impact of your work. If everyone tends to skip over your kitchen images, it might be a good idea to focus more on improving your kitchen shots.

  • As a real estate agent, I think Larry’s post is more directed towards real estate agents. I call the main listing photo the “money shot”. Both my 2-page and 4-page listing brochures always have only 1 large photo on the front page – the “money shot”. And, that’s the first one I post in the MLS. The same for my virtual tours. Everything else followings in the order similar to a walking tour of the home. But, the money shot is not always the front of the home…it needs to be the home’s most appealing feature. It may be a view or an open patio or…a bathroom…? Would love to see that one! Some homes from the front are just not that pretty, especially in a subdivision with only 5 – 8 models…each home pretty much “looks” the same as its neighbors. I always try to pick the one that best represents what the home has to offer. Sometimes the front of the home is my last photo in the tour….as if you’ve just completed your tour and are leaving but take one look back at the front of the home. I’ve even left it out when it really has no curb appeal, neither from the street nor above…not even during the blue-hour. Unfortunately, Malia’s note proves some MLS’s don’t understand how to market a home.

  • A lot of the MLS’s make you put the front of the house as the first (or only) picture. This skews the ratings quite a bit.
    By the way, not only TourBuzz but RTV can show you which pages were open and how many times.

  • Our MLS isn’t as strict on front shots as the first image. I’ve found that many times it’s best to go with a view shot (if there is a view). As an agent, I get a ton more showings having the “money shot” as the first shot, whether it’s the front, living room, kitchen, view, etc. But I’ve seen a few crazy ones lately on our MLS. One agent’s first photo of a listing was of a kitchen faucet running… no view, just the faucet running. And surprisingly enough, it sold quick. But I think that’s because of our crazy market and not his marketing.

  • @Dylan – Yea, when the market gets crazy marketing becomes secondary. I heard yesterday that in some neighborhoods in Portland the demand is so high agents are going door to door asking people if they want to list their home.

  • In my area, one MLS ‘requires’ the primary image to be a daytime front exterior while the other MLS has no such rule. For a lot of my listings, I would put the daytime front shot on the MLS that required it and a twilight shot on the other. Because there are two different MLS, there are two different MLS numbers and when they each syndicate there is often two listings on the syndicated sites. I did a non-scientific experiment a while back and tracked which one got more clicks. Without exception, the twilight shot always had more…

  • This might be a compelling argument for something like a twilight shot for certain properties. To be honest, there are a million photos out there with a bright blue sky against a ho-hum house. Making the shot somewhat different (in a good way) might capture all eyeballs and attention.

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