The ultimate guide to Heatmaps

Have you ever wondered what your users do on your website - where do they click, what do they ignore, how far do they scroll, what makes them spend more time? Heatmaps let you dig deeper into visitor behavior and optimize your web pages, and thus, your website conversions. 

This guide will familiarize you with heatmaps and how you can use them on your website.

What is a website heatmap?

A website heatmap is a visual representation of visitor engagement on your webpage. It shows how users interact with different elements on a page.  Warmer color denotes higher engagement, and a cooler color means lower visitor engagement.

Here’s a heatmap for a search result page.

You can easily differentiate the areas of high, low, and no activity on the webpage by the intensity of the colors. You can easily see all the elements that are hot (effective) or cold (unpopular), scaled from red to blue. A heatmap tells you which section catches visitors' attention, whether they scroll further than the first fold, the elements they click the most, and the least, etc. You can categorize website heatmaps into multiple buckets.

Types of website heatmaps

Website heatmaps are categorized according to the elements they track on the webpage.

Click map

Click maps track the clicks on different parts of your webpage. The visual representation tells you the most, and the least clicked CTAs or elements on your webpage. In mobile devices, click maps are called touch maps and track the taps on the screen.

Scroll maps

Scroll maps visually represent your visitor’s scrolling behavior. A scroll map tells you how far your visitors scroll down the page. It also helps you track the time spent across different folds or sections of the webpage, and shows you the percentages of visitors moving down a particular page section.

Mouse tracking heatmaps

Mouse tracking heatmaps, also known as hover maps or move maps,  indicate the areas where visitors hover or pause their cursor. A hot spot on the mouse tracking heatmap means visitors pause at that section while scrolling. Since visitors tend to move the cursor as they browse, these heatmaps highlight the parts where visitors are spending the most and the least time.

Eye-tracking heatmaps

Eye-tracking heatmaps visualize the most attractive components of your website based on how many times a particular section was looked at, and for how long.

They are all used for very different reasons. To understand how each of these is analyzed, jump to ‘How to analyze a heatmap’. Let’s first try to understand why heatmaps should be used, to begin with.

Why should you use website heatmaps? 

If you've ever tried to address a user issue, chances are you've heard the golden advice of 'putting yourself in the user's shoes.' Website heatmaps allow you to do just that and improve your visitor's experience. Here are some of the benefits of using website heatmaps:

Quickly visualize your visitor experience.

Heatmaps offer a simplified, visual representation of an otherwise complex data. They're a first step in the journey to understand user behavior on your website. Even though heatmaps stem from a lot of quantitative data, their visual nature makes spotting issues and opportunities very intuitive and quick.

Get better visitor insights.

Understanding your user's behavior and expectation is half the battle won. Since the heatmap data comes from a real browsing session by the visitor in their natural settings, the insights resulting from the data are more accurate than the traditional visitor surveys.

Improve your website experience.

Heatmaps also reveal the gaps and roadblocks in your visitor's journey on the website. For example, a scroll map could indicate many people dropping off after scrolling up to a particular section. A click map might report a lot of visitors repeatedly clicking on a non-hyperlinked image. All these cues point to a mismatch in visitor's expectations and what the page offers. Taking action on these findings will ensure a better experience for your visitors.

Optimize your website conversion rate

When you improve your visitor’s experience, you make them engage better with your website. As a result, it increases the chances of them taking the action you want them to. Heatmaps are, therefore, an integral part of the conversion rate optimization (CRO) toolbox.

How to set heatmaps on your website? 

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of setting up heatmaps the right way on your website.

 

Identify a goal

Set out by narrowing down on the issue that you want to tackle. Identifying the problem area will help you decide on the kind of website heatmap you should be considering.

Setting a goal also makes your analysis of the heatmap data simpler and focused. For example, you want to know how visitors are clicking and interacting with the various elements on your pricing page. A click tracking heatmap will be the right one to set up here.

Use the right tool

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) technology, strategies, and practices have advanced over the last few years. It has led to a jump in the number of free and paid tools for heatmapping. Make sure to do detailed research before finalizing a tool. It should match your requirements, allow you to segment traffic, have the right technical infrastructure, and offer comprehensive reporting.

Set up the heatmap

Setting up the heatmap involves finalizing the webpage for the heatmap tracking. You should choose a page that has good traffic volume and is critical to your business - homepage, pricing page, product page, checkout page, and so on. Next, select the type of heatmap (scroll map, move map, click map, or eye-tracking map) depending on the goal you’ve set. Your heatmap tool may require you to install a javascript snippet on your website to track clicks and movements. Once done, select the sample size and duration for data capture. Ensure your selection is a good enough representation of your traffic volume and other seasonal trends. That’s it. You’re ready to launch your heatmap data collection.

How to analyze a heatmap?

Analyzing a heatmap gives you actionable insights about the visitor’s interaction on the page. Your approach should depend on your goal and the kind of heatmap you’ve used. Here’s a quick summary.

Click maps

While analyzing click maps, you should focus on the click trends on CTAs, images, and other links. Make a note if the visitors are missing the crucial CTAs that are important for conversion. If you notice your website visitors are clicking on non-hyperlinked elements, you should understand that they expect more information (and hence a clickthrough) there.

Scroll maps

With scroll maps, start with reviewing the average fold position. It is the part of the webpage that your visitors can see without scrolling. It helps you identify the actual top fold of your page to ensure most of the critical information falls within it. Check the percentage of visitors who scroll or don’t scroll beyond a particular section. It can help you determine the ideal page length. The scroll map insights essentially help you with a better placement of essential elements on the webpage.

Mouse tracking heatmaps

Mouse tracking heatmaps help you track the mouse movements of the visitor across the page. An in-depth analysis of the mouse movements could tell you how to structure your website content and the placement of key elements. 

Eye-tracking heatmaps

While analyzing eye-tracking heatmaps, identify the most and the least looked at areas. Now, evaluate if the visitor is paying attention to what you think are the right spots. There could be instances where one section or part of the webpage distracts them from looking anywhere else. It could mean the visitors are ignoring critical information or a CTA. In other cases, the most looked at parts of the webpage could help you optimize by placing the key elements there. You can also use it to determine how users engage with the different images on the webpage.

Your analysis should guide you to the optimization goals you’ve set for the heatmap exercise. It must be validated using A/B testing and then applied.

When should you use a heatmap?

Heatmaps can be a relevant tool to gather visitor insights across your website. The use of heatmaps is not just limited to conversion rate optimization. They can come in handy at various points of your website design, development, and optimization. Here are some examples.

Redesigning your website

Your website redesign should always be an increment in terms of the visitor experience. It takes time to decide what to change and execute website redesign. Heatmaps make it easy to set up a roadmap for the redesign. You can understand the visitor’s pain points and keep them in mind in your design iteration.

Running A/B tests

Running an A/B test will tell you which version of the page has a better conversion. Heatmaps for the two variants will help you understand why one version converts better than the other. Using them in conjunction gives you better insights on how visitors are engaging differently with your web pages.

Improve your website experience

Heatmaps reveal the gaps and roadblocks in your visitor's journey. For example, a scroll map could indicate a lot of people dropping off after scrolling up to a particular section. All such cues point to a mismatch in visitor's expectations and what the page offers. Taking action on these findings will ensure a better experience for your visitors.

Optimize your website conversion rate

When you improve your visitor's experience, you make them engage better with your website. As a result, it increases the chances of them taking the action you want them to. Heatmaps are, therefore, an integral part of the conversion rate optimization (CRO) toolbox.

Common mistakes marketers make

It's relatively simpler to get started with heatmaps. However, overlooking some of the basics can lead to incorrect implementation and findings. Here are a few of the common mistakes marketers make.

Selecting too big or small a sample.

Just like any other statistical experiments, heatmaps also need to be provided with the right sample size. The sample size should be the correct representation of your website traffic. You should select the sample size, keeping in mind the goal you've set for the heatmap, average monthly traffic of the webpage, and the percentage confidence level for the sample.

Picking the wrong kind of traffic.

Your website traffic can be divided into first-time visitors and repeat visitors. The behavior they exhibit on your website could be quite different because the returning visitors are already familiar with your website. Failing to segment your traffic could result in incorrect heatmap findings. For example, if you are using a heatmap to identify the gaps in your webpage design, you should exclude the repeat visitors. Exposing your heatmap to the right kind of traffic is crucial to its effectiveness.

Not accounting for external factors.

Your website traffic could have a natural surge or dip during certain times of the year. If you are an eCommerce player, your traffic is likely to increase multiple times than the average during Thanksgiving or holiday season. The visitor behavior is also expected to be different than the usual. The traffic during such periods is an outlier and not the correct representation of your actual traffic. You must avoid running a heatmap on these occasions as it will not give you a clear picture of your visitor behavior.

Jumping to conclusions

The reason you use heatmaps is to let data guide you in understanding the gaps and optimization opportunities on your page. Stopping a heatmap too early because you think you have identified the trend defeats the entire purpose. Using a heatmap is like running a scientific experiment. The only thing that you should rely on is comprehensive data.

Conclusion

Heatmaps are powerful tools for any conversion optimization strategy. They are a crucial component of holistic user behavior research on your website. Now that you know what heatmaps are and how they work, start improving website visitor behavior today!