As search engine algorithms continue to adjust and place a greater and greater emphasis on user experience, the need for robust insight into how human beings, not robots or spiders, interact with the websites they visit. For many website owners, it can be difficult or intimidating to collect the information needed to gain true insight into their sites’ effectiveness. Focus groups, eye tracking studies and user surveys are great at collecting this type of information but they have several drawbacks. Cost is typically a concern as it can be difficult to generate participation without some sort of financial incentive. User bias also comes into play for people who know that they have influence over the user experience. Furthermore, it might difficult to even get the right people involved in providing feedback and analysis. Fortunately, there is a cost-effective solution that can provide robust insight into user behavior without biasing them or stringing them along with an incentive, that being heat mapping.
Heat maps are not really a new concept in the field of web presence management. They’ve been a tool at the disposal of website owners for some time but only recently have they been a critical component to optimization. As little as three years ago, you could optimize a website just by creating keyword rich content and tagging it (in HTML speak) properly. Now it’s much more than content. Optimization comes down to user experience; how fast & responsive a site is, what the experience is like on a smartphone or tablet, how simple it is to find information, and of course, how engaged visitors are in their onsite activity.
From a technical standpoint, heat mapping software places a script on every page of a website that you want to track. It then traces visitor cursor or mouse activity across thousands of visits. Once enough data has been collected, heat maps can be generated displaying the hotspots on a site where users click or hover over the most (see the figure for an example). Heat maps offer three distinct advantages.
Visualization of real data – a key benefit to optimizers, marketers, and leadership. Heat mapping puts helpful context behind data that can often be difficult to understand. This is especially helpful when working with stakeholders who lack the technical acumen needed to understand user behavior on a website.
Insight into subconscious behavior. Heat mapping gives you excellent visibility of the ways people actually interact with a website. Consider how you might move your mouse cursor across a webpage without thinking twice about it. Multiply that instance thousands of times and you have a really good understanding how what draws the attention of people.
Action items. The great thing about heat mapping is that you can act on it almost immediately. For example, if you see a particular piece of content on a page gets a lot of interaction, consider making it the focal point of the page. Likewise, if you find that users are ignoring other parts of the page that you think are important, consider eliminating them or putting them on a separate page. These are just a few high level action steps that could be gained from using heat maps.
I hope by now you’re getting a sense of the benefit of heat maps. I’d like to close by telling you about a real life success I’ve had recently using a heat mapping tool called Lucky Orange. I needed to hit the reset button a critical landing page for a pay-per-click campaign I’ve been running. The conversion rate on the page was bad and users weren’t spending much time on it before bouncing. I worked closely with one of my organization’s marketing managers to develop new, image-rich content and we structured it in a way that eliminated the need for scrolling. The before and after heat maps were insane. The old landing page had sparse activity. There were a few hot spots scattered throughout the page, but it was mostly blue (low activity). The new landing page had a heat map loaded with red. Aside from the double-digit increase in conversion rates, we knew we had a successful page when we saw the heat map. Furthermore, I was able to share the heat map with leaders and stakeholders in the organization so that they understood the importance of investing more effort into landing page content. The heat maps enabled that conversation and provided meaningful insight to people who weren’t privy to traditional PPC campaign data.
Of course, proving the success of the page was just a step in the overall improvement process. We were able to take the insights stemming from the data visualization and use them to make even more user-friendly adjustments. Continuous improvement is a major focus of my organization and heat mapping enabled that the form of optimizations to user experience.