What’s a Google Web Page “heat map”?

I’ve been reading everything I can about optimizing Web pages for both usability and ad traffic, and just recently came across the term “heat map”, referring to some method of tracking what area on a page people look at, I guess? Can you tell me what it’s all about and perhaps give me a clue about where I can find more information about how to apply heat map data to my own site design?

Aggregate heat maps are rather Orwellian, somehow, and also remind me of a rather disturbing scene in Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant A Clockwork Orange: researchers use pupil tracking equipment to identify and map exactly where people look when they’re presented with visual information. In this case, it’s a specific Web page, but it can really be used for just about anything.

I’m not much of an expert at this, however, but my colleague Anne Holland’s company “Marketing Sherpa” just this week released a fascinating — through somewhat expensive — research report on heat maps and what they tell us about Web site design and usability. Anne’s given me permission to replicate some of the content of this new research paper, the Google Eye Tracking Report