Everything You Need to Know About Heatmaps

Wouldn’t it be great to know exactly how a user experiences your site? Just think of all the guesswork you’d save yourself when optimizing site features, redesigning, or improving UX.

Well, as it turns out, you can find out with a heatmap.

These helpful analytical tools can give you incredible insights into the user experience and allow you to up your game. We’re here to tell you everything you need to know about heatmaps.

What Is a Heatmap?

We’ll start by answering the obvious question — what’s a heatmap?

Like many things, heatmaps didn’t start with the internet. They’re believed to have origins in the 19th century. In this early form, manual shading was used to discover patterns in tables and matrices.

Nowadays, you don’t need to whip out the coloring pencils.

Put simply, a heatmap is a visual representation of data. At its most basic level, a website heatmap shows you how users interact with a page.

The maps use different colors to show which aspects of a page get the most attention. The areas with more attention will be a warm color like red, while ignored areas will be a cooler color like blue.

There are a few common types of heatmaps, each that reveal unique insights. They’re as follows:

  • Click tracking heatmaps
  • Mouse tracking heatmaps
  • Scroll maps
  • Eye-tracking heatmaps

We’ll look at them all a little more in-depth.

Click Tracking Heatmaps

These are the most common type of heatmap that marketers use. As the name suggests, these heatmaps track where a user clicks on a page. This data is then collated across all users to a site and represented in a heatmap.

Warm areas are the most clicked, while cool areas are the overlooked parts of a page.

Click tracking heatmaps can help you understand how visitors are interacting with a given page. You can make sure they’re finding the elements you want them to, as well as follow this user journey.

For example, if you see a cool colored CTA, you may want to test changing elements or the positioning of that CTA and see if the clicks increase.

Mouse Tracking Heatmaps

These are quite similar to the above, except all mouse movements are tracked. This can show where users are hovering over elements of a page.

Mouse tracking heatmaps are a little more controversial regarding the data they may reveal. This is because, unlike a click, hovering over an element doesn’t definitively mean anything.

A click shows a user has chosen to interact with that element. Whereas a user’s mouse may hover over a headline for a few minutes, but this doesn’t mean they’re reading the headline for that time.

In fact, a senior researcher at Google found that only around 6% of people showed a vertical correlation between mouse movement and eye movement. This was a little higher for horizontal correlation at around 19%.

This isn’t to say these heatmaps are pointless. They can still reveal valuable information. But that information may not be as reliable as other types of heatmaps.

Scroll Heatmaps

Hundreds of different studies have all revealed a similar insight. Users spend barely any time at all on pages. Though the average time on a page varies depending on the study, most can agree the average time on a page is less than 15 seconds.

So if you’ve got pages and pages of copy to scroll through, chances are your users aren’t reading it.

Scroll heatmaps can help you understand where most users get to on a given page. This can help you optimize pages to the ideal length for users and place your CTAs in the best possible positions.

Scroll maps are best utilized for long-form sales pages and forms.

Eye Tracking Heatmaps

Last, but by no means least, is eye-tracking heatmaps. Like all the other types of heatmaps, the name is a dead giveaway. Eye-tracking heatmaps track eye movements on a given page.

It can all sound a bit ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, but this data can give incredible insights into how users are experiencing your site. Unlike mouse tracking, you know that users are focused on one aspect of a page and for how long.

It’s quite an intensive process. Most often, eye-tracking studies have to be conducted in lab environments because users must wear special eye-tracking devices for accurate movement measurement. Though this can also be achieved through web-cams.

Eye-tracking heatmaps can help you understand the natural visual hierarchy of your page. By this, we mean there will be clear patterns of user behavior that show where eyes first land and scan across a page. Putting your most important elements here can help increase conversions.

It sounds great because it is, but it isn’t without a high cost. It can be very expensive to utilize reliable eye-tracking software.

Why Use Heatmaps?

As you’ve probably noticed from the examples of different types of heatmaps, they come with a lot of benefits for businesses.

Heatmaps let you see exactly how a user understands and interacts with your page. In fact, the more different kinds of heatmaps you use, the better you can understand user behavior.

This makes it very different from the data we get from other digital analytic platforms like Google Analytics. Google Analytics will only reveal quantitative data where you guess the reasoning behind the user behavior. Heatmaps and other digital experience analytics allow for insightful, qualitative data that can be actioned.

Once you’ve identified an area to improve from the data, you can A/B test a change and track user experience again. This lets you know for sure which changes are and aren’t working for your site. So no more guesswork for re-designs and optimizations.

There are lots of different options for digital experience analytics software, but we’d suggest decibel.com.

Make Data-Driven Decisions

A heatmap can help you make better decisions about improving your user experience. There are a few different kinds, but the most popular option is click tracking heatmaps. However, a good mix of different kinds of heatmaps can give you the best insights into how to improve your user experience.

We have lots more digital marketing optimization advice available on our blog, so be sure to have a look.

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