February 24, 2017

“Why did they click that?” Common questions heard after analyzing site heatmaps

Sitting in a conference room completely removed from the customer is no way to define user intent. Outside of the fact that an actual customer is not in the room to tell you what they need, you are introducing bias from each attendee.

  • One person will famously quote stats from their “last job” where he exhaustively researched every single aspect of the site from button placement to header color. Of course, at that “last job” he was selling party favors which has no real parallels with your “current job” where you are tasked with upping online sales for a line of configurable, custom lamps
  • The data folks will chime in with analytics and trends quoting time on page and funnel abandonment. All good points…until you realize you know on which page the user abandoned but not where on the page
  • Designers will rely on their gut instincts to tell you how customers traverse your site. Their guts may be right, but you cannot quantify gut instinct.

Someone in the room will eventually ask “why don’t we just watch or users?” I always high five this person (almost to the point where it hurts their hand). Yes! Let’s move this argument where it belongs…ONTO THE SITE! Speculation will get you no closer to reality no matter how many people attend the meeting or how many stats are quoted. You just have to pop the hood and see what makes the site work.

“What? Like it’s hard?”

The next question will be “ok, how do we watch site users?” if all goes well and logic wins out. There are enough heatmapping tools out there that you could try one a month for the next year and still not scratch the surface. Just pick one. What will it hurt? Fine, I’ll throw my suggestion out there…hotjar. I’ve used this tool on multiple
sites from WordPress to Joomla to Magento and it delivers, as long as you are willing to listen. Few aspects I like:

  • Legit free trial. As in “no need to provide a credit card” legit
  • Not just desktop clicks. The heatmap feature shows you clicks, movements and scroll on desktop, tablet and mobile devices to see how your responsive design is fairing
  • Video Recordings. The trial comes with 2,000 recordings of users.
  • Surveys and Polls. If you want to actually ask your customer if the site met her needs, the surveys and polls allow you to do so
  • Easy install. Just a snippet of code in the header

I know of other tools. You know of other tools. That is fine. The tool is not the point, understanding your visitors better…that’s the point!

Once I pasted the snippet into the header on four sites, I designated the pages on which I wanted the heatmaps to run. I used analytics to define top pages as well as top abandonment pages in order to determine where we’d start. These quickly grew into more pages and forms as the data started pouring in…so be ready for an onslaught of requests.

I…I…I don’t know what to say

The realizations that follow any heatmap test can be comical. I like to record what everyone thinks before the testing begins and then compare that to their reactions after we see what actually happens on the site. Here are a few top reactions:

  • Why did they click that? It’s not a link.
  • Why are some many visitors clicking on our footer links?
  • Nobody is accessing our top product through the homepage!
  • I’ve never even looked at our site on my phone. Is that what the menu looks like?

Hotjar can provide some eye opening results almost immediately and then it is up to your team to determine statistical validity to define what should be tested or changed outright. We saw instant opportunities for improvement when I combined the click heatmap with the move heatmap:

hotjar heatmap

Example heatmap from

  • 30% of our main navigational links, which we had spent hours devising and re-ordering, were never clicked or hovered over
  • The products we struggled mightily to keep above the hold were clicked ~13% less than the products below the fold
  • No matter where on the page we put our newsletter subscription button, nobody clicked and less than 1% of the users hovered anywhere near the link (and those that did were most likely on accident)

We avoided finger pointing and all agreed…knowing the issues allow us to address the issues. And this was just the homepage…after only 2 weeks of collecting data. Compound these insights across top category and product pages and we had a litany of items to consider test.

Next up: Hotjar insights become Optimizely tests

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