Flight Search Engines: who's got the most attention-friendly landing (page)?
Using EyeQuant's instant attention predictions for websites, we'd like to know: which flight search engine provides the most attention-friendly (read: least frustrating) user experience?
Image by skyseeker
Flying is fun! Especially, when it involves a successful landing. The same is true for online flight search: booking a flight online can be either terrible or pleasant, all depending how much love providers have put into the user interface of their landing pages.
If you've ever booked a flight online, you probably know that traditionally it resembled more airport security than the nice feeling of lifting off: cluttered and complicated websites seemed to be the norm, and you might have come to accept it as an inevitable part of flying, a little bit like that peculiar moment when you're ordered to take off your shoes while trying to keep your macbook and belt-less pants in a safe place.
Luckily, a new generation of startups has decided to take the pain out of flight search, with Hipmunk emerging as the most popular one of them - especially, since they innovated both the UI and ditched the 'cheapest flights first' dogma: Hipmunk instead is sorting flights by 'agony', by default :)
In this post, we'd like to compare the initial user experience of some of the traditional and new flight search websites.
Great UIs start where your consciousness starts: they go easy on your most valuable mental resource - your visual attention!
To test how attention-friendly the websites actually are, we'll be using EyeQuant - a neurotechnological web service that predicts within seconds where people will look on a website initially. The science behind it is based on hundreds of Eye-Tracking studies that were conducted in our lab over the last few years - and will now help us to determine how frustrating or great a web design really is without having to actually track it with real users.
With no further ado, let's look at some of the more established contenders first!
Classical contender #1: Expedia
Expedia has been in business for quite a while - they're definetly one of the BIG players, offering comprehensive travel search. This is their flight search site. What will people see in the first 3 seconds, EyeQuant?
Hm. Don't get me wrong, I love New York, I love to customize my trip and I love to search for flight and hotel deals. The best price guarantee sounds good, too. But do you realize that all these things are drawing the user's attention away from the search form and the "search" buttons? This is the very reason why they visited your site! They're not exactly hidden, but given the huge amount of distractions and deals on this landing page, its main functionality would need a lot of design work to be able to still stick out. All in all, not an optimal landing!
Classical contender #2 Orbitz
Orbitz is another big player in the online travel world - again, we're on their flight search site. EyeQuant, do your job!
What starts quite nicely with the Logo and the fact that I will "never overpay" on their website, eventually leads the viewer's eye towards the...FREE APP for iPhone and Android! I do think it's great that they're offering these - but am I really going to pull out my phone, download the app and book my flight from there? I'm kind of afraid that the app might loudly point out the fact that they're also offering a website...but seriously: again, the search form and buttons simply aren't salient enough to attract a user's attention right away.
Challenger #1: Hipmunk
As mentioned before, Hipmunk is one of the promising startups that try to take pain out of flight search. We've pointed out some problems with the big players above, let's see if and how Hipmunk does things better!
Heh! Quite a different picture, isn't it? Logo (+ "flight search" tagline), *the search form*, the mascot and the *search button* are salient enough to catch your eye immediately.
In fact, the only "distraction" from the purely functional elements is the cute hipmunk itself, but given that people really love it, that's actually a benefit!
Besides...neuroscience legend Christof Koch, who is one of the scientists behind EyeQuant, could actually show that the human brain contains neurons that fire specifically when a person is presented with - yes, a cute rodent! (his team found many more of this weird neurons, the most famous being the "Jennifer Aniston" cell)
Now, is there any way to improve Hipmunk's already pretty good landing page? Of course, there's always. One thing they could possibly A/B test is to have a version where the Hipmunk is looking at the form (a known driver of eye gaze called joint or social attention).
But all in all, Hipmunk has already done a tremendous job of being attention-friendly towards their users.
Challenger #2: Swoodoo.com
Swoodoo.com is a German startup based in Munich - and one of the few startups that actually runs TV ads! However, we're only interested in how attention-friendly their home page is - after all, they're mission is similar to that of Hipmunk. Let's go!
For a moment, one might think that the left, red box might actually steal all the initial attention - however, the blue "flight search" box containing the form is actually pulling it off: users are clearly seeing right away where to search for a flight, plus the call to action sticks out nicely, too! Great job. They even managed to get the navigation bar with the other options (hotels and cars) visible enough without distracting too much from the core functionality of flight search.
In summary, it's pretty clear that the big companies have to watch out for the UI-focussed startups in that space - the more time we all spend online, the less patient we have become with cluttered and complex websites. If your main product is unable to catch your user's eyes right away, they'll be gone in a snap - possibly booking flights with Hipmunk or Swoodoo.