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Understanding Heat Maps: What Data Can Tell You About Your Website User Experience

April 17, 2017

By SmartBug Media

User experience (UX) on a website is obviously important. This fact is drilled into every Web developer and designer, every inbound marketer, and every digital creative from day one. Just how important is UX? According to one commonly cited study, 88 percent of users are less likely to return to a company’s website after a bad experience. Another survey discovered that 48 percent of users say a website’s design is the top factor in deciding if a business is credible.

With statistics such as these, gathering analytics and data would seem to be an important, continual element of website design and maintenance. Yet, only 55 percent of companies conduct any online UX testing, according to a report by eConsultancy. Businesses know UX is important but generally brush off the steps necessary for improving it.

One valuable tool in determining the effectiveness of your website’s UX is the application of heat maps. These colorful tools provide more than just data—they offer incredible insight on how visitors are absorbing and interacting with your website. Knowing users’ preferences can assist in creating a UX that keeps prospects on your site and, most important, keeps them coming back.


What Is a Heat Map?

Simply put, a heat map is a form of visual analytics that uses color to instantly convey information about the activity of users on your website. The colors generated by a heat map show where users are scanning and clicking and, perhaps more revealing, where they aren’t scanning and clicking.

Traditional website analytics tells you how well a page or the entire site is performing, but it often fails to explain why a page performs the way it does or why certain actions are occurring on your website. Heat maps provide a means to visually identify the areas of your website that are grabbing the attention of users, which areas are distracting or are simply being avoided, and everything else between. Traditional analytics is still important, of course, and heat maps offer a powerful complement in pinpointing what is working and not working with your website.


What Can You Learn from a Heat Map?

The data produced by a heat map can offer some focused and unique insights you might not have realized through other analytics. Here are two of those insights you will learn once you apply this tool to your site:

Where are visitors clicking, and what areas of your website are they paying the most attention to?

Perhaps the biggest thing that heat maps can reveal is where and what your website users are clicking. For example, the data might show visitors are clicking on the call to action (CTA) on a certain page, or the results might show they are clicking on areas nowhere near the CTA or other main goals of the page.

In addition to clicks, heat maps also track what parts of your website are drawing the highest level of mouse activity. Another example: If data are suggesting users are not scanning over navigation as much as you would think, it might be a UX indication that the navigation isn’t standing out or is too complex.

The data from a heat map can also show you:

  • If users are attracted to CTAs, links, and other lead-generating elements and are clicking on them
  • If users see a blog email subscription form. This is particularly relevant if you are getting clicks to your blog posts but not any further interaction—readers aren’t disinterested by your content but rather simply aren’t immediately seeing the form to subscribe.
  • What aspects of your site are too distracting. That video dominating the upper half of the page may be good content, but if it’s too big, users might not even see anything else the page has to offer.
How far are people scrolling?

Heat map analytics also tracks scrolling on a page. Persuading visitors to scroll below the fold is always a challenge, and the data achieved from heat maps can show how effective your design is at encouraging users to explore your entire page.

Going back to the CTA example, a reason why users aren’t clicking on a CTA might simply be that they aren’t seeing it because they refuse to scroll down. Whether you need to tweak your design to better entice visitors to scroll or you should move the CTA up-page so it’s more visible (or, perhaps, you end up trying both options), a heat map can point the way toward the strategy that will work best.

Tracking scroll can also show you if users are looking at the entire page. Something below the fold might be so distracting that visitors don’t scroll beyond it, which might suggest the content should be higher on the page and should not be as overwhelming in UX terms or that pages simply shouldn’t be as long as you have them designed.


Mapping the Future

The goal for your website is conversion, and you want the elements that drive conversion parked in the most productive areas of your pages. Heat maps aren’t just colorful novelties: They offer a blueprint—hard data, as opposed to speculation and theories—toward your marketing goals. Usage habits of real users are measured, which is important because your website should ultimately meet the needs of your users. If their experience is good, they will click on CTAs, will scroll through relevant pages, and won’t be distracted by out-of-place or out-of-scope elements. Heat maps provide a valuable tool in creating a UX that converts.

How have heat maps helped your website design and UX?


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Topics: Web Development, Usability, Website Design, User Experience