Topics: Website Design & Development

A couple weeks ago someone on the team showed us a "heatmap" of the newly re-designed homepage. Having never before seen a tool like that in use, I was intrigued by the visuals on the screen: little points of light depicting every click over the past month, bands of rainbow colors showing where users hovered and scrolled, color-coded constellations of link referrals.

It was pretty cool to look at. But what was I really seeing there?

What Is HeatMapping?

Even since the 1980s, researchers have been using a variety of methods in order to better understand Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). Early studies focused on eye-tracking, or collecting data about where users looked most at monitors or what visual processes users might go through to find menu items and so on. 

On top of the problems that arise with this kind of research are the expenses of the equipment, the necessarily small user-data sample size, and the very un-natural feel of using a computer while being watched. However, as this research progressed in the 1990s, some possible correlations were found between eye movements and mouse movements.

Sensing a much cheaper and more ubiquitous data collection tool, HCI researches started looking into 'mouse behavior.' Unlike eye tracking which required specialized testing hardware and a laboratory environment, mouse tracking - recording mouse movements, hovers, and clicks - could be implemented universally and anonymously with some on-page javascript and server-side collection and analysis software. 

What's Involved

Providers of heatmapping services generally collect and analyze data from three major areas of online behavior:

  • mouse movements
  • clicks
  • scrolls

Researchers in the area have been quick to point out that everyone uses input devices like mice and trackpads differently - some users hover and slide around almost aimlessly, while others only touch the devices when they're ready to click, for example. In other words, a map depicting where one user hovered on a particular page may only have a casual link to that user's actual engagement with that page, and it says almost nothing about how usable or effective that page is.

But while each of these metrics offers incomplete information concerning the user's experience on your website, when taken together (and in conjunction with other data - such as link referrals, time of day, etc.) more significant insight can be gleaned. Further, as the data from more and more users aggregate over time, patterns in the analysis emerge:

  • The majority of clicks occur in the menu
  • People keep trying to click an image that isn't linked
  • No one is waiting for a video to load; and so on

Heat Mapping Today

As our daily lives have become increasingly involved with digital interaction, analysis of internet users' behavior has likewise grown in importance to the kinds of people providing digital content. Website designers, application developers, and email marketers benefit from having on-hand the kind of information heatmapping provides. Reports generated by heatmapping services indicate what links users click and which ones they ignore, how they arrive at a given website and how long they stay, and how far down they scroll through pages.

By looking at a series of heatmaps, marketers gain a better understanding of why some campaigns work better than others, how deeply users reach into a website, and how difficult a given website is to navigate. Using that data alongside personal savvy and expertise, stronger strategic and tactical decisions can be made that ultimately help convert leads to sales.

No single measurement provides crucial insight into internet user behavior. We must continue to explore areas of data collection and integration into marketing strategies. Besides, pure metrics can provide incomplete or even misleading results. Heatmapping, however, can be a powerful tool in the hands of a savvy marketing professional.

Have you seen your B2B website's heatmap and made improvements according to your data? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Michael Evans

Written by Michael Evans

Michael Evans, a Front-End Website Developer, has been designing and developing websites and email since the days when tables were The Thing. He enjoys cooking elaborate meals for his family, listening to the excellent offerings of Cleveland college radio stations, and griping about the Browns.

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