What is session replay?

Session replay is the replication of a visitor’s journey on a website. Also known as session recording, session playback, and user replay, session replays form an indispensable part of your optimization process and improve your conversion rates and CRO activities (conversion rate optimization). It assists in visualizing what anonymous visitor experiences in your website or your application. With session replays, you can record your visitors’ movements like clicks, taps, keystrokes, and scrolls in real-time and effectively improve customer experience.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF SESSION REPLAYS

Before session replays came into existence, marketers were unable to deep dive into user engagement metrics. In his book ‘Don’t Make Me Think,’ Steve Krug says companies used to spend $5000 to $10000 per test on user experience and website usability testing. With the advent of analytics and CRO tools in the market, you can perform these tests at a fraction of the above-mentioned costs.

Why do you need session replays?

Session replays do more than being a part of your optimization journey. They provide accurate, in-depth insights into visitors' behavior to help you provide the best digital experience for them. It fills in the void created by heatmaps and scroll maps by providing detailed information based on customer interactions within your website or application.

Traditional web analytics tools like Google Analytics track user metrics to a certain extent. Google Analytics uses cookies to provide the number of user sessions, bounce rate, exit time, etc. Though these are valuable information to get a hold of, this functionality does not provide any context on user experience or user engagement. For example, when Google analytics tells you that a visitor has spent 5 minutes of their time on your web page, this is a seemingly good metric from the analytics perspective. Still, we don't know if the visitor spent 5 minutes looking for something they wanted or unable to do. This is where session replays come into the picture.

Apart from letting you know the time spent by the users on a particular page, session replays also provide information on the complete user's experience such as taps, customer behavior, scrolling patterns, mouse movements, etc., including idle time. This gives you more insight into what they require and a glimpse of what their pain points are.

Where can session replays be used?

Session replays can be used in several ways as they contain rich insights into real user behavior. They are mainly used to improve website conversion rates, make better products, and provide excellent customer service.

Boost conversion rates

To make the most out of your incoming traffic, you are bound to adopt some CRO techniques like A/B testing and analyzing website Heatmaps. Session replays provide inputs for your conversion experiments by helping you understand what needs to be tested based on your visitors’ interaction. It also sheds light on where your visitors encounter issues, which prevents them from converting or frustrates them. By tweaking these areas, your conversion rates can improve while simultaneously pleasing your visitors, thus making it a win-win situation.

Identify bad UX designs

Bad UX designs can make your websites extremely hard to operate or navigate. This results in your visitors abandoning your site once and for all, leading to bad conversion funnels and high bounce rates. With session replays, you can

  • Understand how different design elements work best across different audiences, devices, resolutions, browsers, etc.
  • Identify bad UX designs and poor navigation across your website and improve customer experience
  • Detect the areas of your website that exert a cognitive load on your visitors and eliminate them.
Track web page issues

A perfect website doesn’t exist. The next best thing you can do to achieve a perfect website or a web page is optimizing it and ensuring no errors occur continuously. Session replays can identify page loading time, broken links, hidden CTA buttons, form-related issues, and more. Session recordings give a crystal clear view of the areas where your visitors’ interest drop-off on your web page.

Solve onboarding challenges

Once your visitor has converted into a customer, the next logical thing would be to onboard them into your product. Poor onboarding results in customer churn, ultimately leading to revenue loss. Session replays help in onboarding by

  • Tracking user behavior patterns
  • Detecting the most used/ignored product features
  • Identifying interest drop-offs, thus reducing churn
Discover feature adoption

Session replays can help you witness how your customers play about with new features. If your session replay tool can segment your users, it becomes easier to understand that particular feature's value to a particular audience. In this way, you can plan your promotions accordingly while increasing the discoverability of your new feature.

Improve customer support

You do not want to get on the wrong foot with an already frustrated customer. With session replays, pacifying a disgruntled customer can now be a breeze. The session recordings provide you with a context of your customer questions even before you ask them. In this way, you get to resolve your customer issues quickly and efficiently without having to go back and forth on these issues.

How does a session replay work?

Session recordings are not the exact videos of how a visitor interacts with your website. They are recreated from visitor ‘events’ like clicks, scrolls, taps, keystrokes, etc., to a video-like format. Let's dive deeper to understand this. 

There is a concept called DOM (Document Object Model), where an HTML document is treated as a tree structure. The elements in the HTML document are characterized as nodes, and these reside within the DOM.

These interactions are captured as events when visitors interact with the website via clicks, taps, keystrokes, etc. When events occur, the structure of the DOM changes accordingly. Session replays recreate these events to give a video-like representation of how a visitor interacts with your website.

What to look for in your session replay tool?

There are many session replay tools available in the market today. Choosing the one that’s best for your organization need not be complicated. We have outlined the five most important criteria while evaluating a session replay tool to meet your needs.

Filters

This is the primary criteria on which you will need to evaluate your session replay tool. Without appropriate filters, it is almost impossible to arrive at meaningful conclusions from your session recordings. Filters help you sort your session recordings based on numerous visitor inputs like date, traffic, device type, etc., and lets you focus on your goals, one at a time. Make sure that your tool allows you to search, segment, and apply filters to your recordings.

Speed and performance

Some tools use complex code to record your website visitor sessions. This may affect your site speed and result in sluggish performance. Most tools offer a trial period to check them out, and using them will help you recognize speed issues beforehand.

Storage

Not all tools support storing your sessions indefinitely. You must know how your vendor will retain many days, weeks, or months of your data. Sometimes, this may depend on your plan. Choose the plan that will suit you wisely.

Installation and setup

You cannot be bogged with too many details on installing and setting up your session recording tool. The complexity involved in the implementation of a session recording tool varies from one to another.

Getting the maximum value out of your investment

Session replays are just the start of your optimization journey. While it is good that you have decided to invest in a session replay tool, other tools in the market today provide a complete optimization platform for the same price or lower than that of your investment. Marketing tools like Freshmarketer are packed with powerful features like heatmaps, A/B testing, qualitative analysis of the funnel, form analytics, and more, apart from its session replay feature.

Session Replays - a breach of privacy?

Session replay tools are often touted as privacy-threatening tools and are vilified. But the truth is, they do not disregard your visitors’ privacy. Normally session replay tools are GDPR compliant, and they anonymize their visitor recordings, making it difficult to identify who the visitor is.
Freshmarketer values privacy and goes to great lengths to ensure that privacy laws are never violated. All sensitive and personally identifiable (PII) data can be concealed inside Freshmarketer. We urge our users to safeguard their customers’ privacy by marking data like passwords, payment information, medical information, etc., as ‘sensitive’ to never record such data. These data can also be protected manually with ‘classes’ that mask individual fields as well as the content on your website.

Freshmarketer masks your visitors’ keystrokes to protect their privacy. This means that your visitors’ keystrokes are captured as * (asterisks). Also, sessions are captured as anonymous visitor experiences, and you will be able to identify a particular visitor’s experience only if you have their details.

Analyzing session recordings

Once you’ve collected visitor recordings from your session replay tool, the next step would be to process them into actionable data. Though there is no single systematic approach to analyzing these session replays, a heuristic approach is recommended. A heuristic approach, in this case, signifies focussing on one complex issue while ignoring the others.

Session replay recordings contain huge volumes of raw data, and going through each one of them is simply arduous. To make sense of the collected data, it is best to develop a standardized segmentation methodology that works and that can be adopted and reused until this becomes obsolete. Here are a few use cases that will help you get started:

Set definite goals

Would you participate in a race that has no finish line? Simply viewing hundreds of recordings without a specific goal is akin to that. The first step in analyzing your session recordings is to understand why you want to examine them in the first place. With goals, you will be able to track a particular action completed by your visitors. For example, you can use session replays to see the number of pages that a user has visited on your website or identify a particular action that drove users to convert.

Create filters

Once you know your goals, the next step would be to categorize your session recordings based on your goals. Creating filters simplifies this for you by grouping sessions based on user inputs or a combination of them. With session replay filters, you can segment visitor sessions based on time, the type of traffic, the number of pages, device or browser types, and more. This will provide more clarity while figuring out the best way to optimize your site and increase conversions. 

Freshmarketer’s session replay filters provide advanced filtering of visitor recordings that lets you segment and target a particular user group. 

Review your website

With the data obtained from session replays, it should be easy for you to identify how your visitors navigate your website, what distracts them, why they convert, or why they do not convert. Organize this data into spreadsheets, use tags to make a note of your findings. Similarly go through the session recordings of the main pages on your website like landing pages, campaign pages, payment pages, etc., where the visitor has to complete an action and structure the available data. 

Identify patterns

Once you’ve organized your data from session recordings, spot emerging patterns in your videos; for example, your mobile visitors might be fumbling around your website looking for a button that might otherwise be visible on your desktop page. This might cause most of your mobile visitors to drop off on that particular page. This can be fixed once you optimize the button on your mobile page. Similarly, experiment with different goals using different filters to achieve more conversions.

Session replays are a great start to your optimization journey, and it contributes a lot to customer retention. A mix of a powerful SaaS tool and a systematic approach for analyzing your recordings would be the perfect recipe for sure-shot success in all your conversion-related experiments.