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Heat Map Tools – What, How, and Why


The market today is flourishing with several digital heat map tools that offer similar functionalities with varying flexibility. The purpose of this post is to provide an overview of heat mapping tools and how they can be leveraged to help your business.

Specifically, we review the following topics:

  • What heat map tools are and why they matter
  • Types of heat map tools
  • Popular features
  • How Nabler used Session Cam to improve client conversion

What is a heat map tool and why does it matter?

In today’s digital world, we use web analytics tools like Google Analytics & Adobe Analytics to understand the customer journey on websites. We then leverage that data to optimize conversions. It’s been conventional, and for many, it has yielded very good results.

However, there’s an element of the customer journey that data alone doesn’t answer – the visual representation of user interaction on a site/page. That’s where heat map tools come in handy. A heat map tool illustrates visitor activity by using visual highlighting of the different areas of a page/site. They use varying intensities and density levels to illustrate activity levels and popularity. These illustrations are based on the data created from user activity such as clicks, hovering, scrolling and even eye tracking.

For most business that invest in heat map tools, the objective is to get insights about how they can improve their websites, so that they can increase conversion rates, and ultimately, grow their business. This is called conversion rate optimization, or CRO.

How heat maps are created

There are two ways that heat maps are created: through eye tracking data or mouse tracking data.

Most of the time businesses select heat mapping tools that are based on mouse tracking rather than eye tracking. Reasons include affordability and concerns about the validity of eye tracking.

Because of the larger popularity of heat map tools based on mouse tracking, we will focus the rest of this post on those types of tools.

Features of popular heat map tools

Many heat map tools offer the following features:

  • Heat maps based on mouse movement
  • Heat maps based on mouse clicks
  • Heat maps based on page scroll
  • Session video recording

Heat maps based on mouse movement

Heat maps based on mouse movement visually illustrate how people move their mouse on pages. This is useful because people tend to move their mouse around the areas that they are interested in. By doing this, patterns can be identified about the reading behavior of users, what areas of the page are good at getting users’ attention, and what areas of the page are not good at getting users’ attention.

Heat maps based on mouse clicks

Heat maps based on mouse clicks are often called click maps. These help us identify what content users are engaging with, and what they are not engaging with. Often, we are even able to learn that users are highly engaging with elements on the page that we did not expect them too. This includes people clicking on un-clickable elements such as an image, or low priority elements such as a page footer.

Heat maps based on page scroll

The third most common feature of a heat map tool based on mouse tracking is the scroll map. Scroll maps help us understand how far down on the page users are willing to scroll before they leave to another page, or leave the website altogether. These are particularly helpful in prioritizing important content on areas that most people see.

Session recording

The last popular feature of heat mapping tools is session recording. This feature records visitor sessions so that analysts can review videos of them and visually see what people are doing on their websites. This often provides a complete story of the user journey and reveals new insights that can’t be identified in any other way – not even through mouse tracking or page scroll.

As you can imagine, reviewing videos of all visitor sessions would take much too long and probably be incredibly boring after the first few videos. Luckily, many session recording tools use algorithms to identify common events and issues across sessions and then suggest them to the analysts. This dramatically reduces the amount of time and brain power that must be used to watch session recordings.

How Nabler used Session Cam to increase conversion

We often use heat map tools such as Crazy Egg, Hot Jar, and Session Cam in our quest to increase conversion rates for our clients. Recently, we leveraged Session Cam to make a significant impact on the conversion rate for one of our online university clients.

The problem/opportunity

One of Nabler’s online university clients had a concern with high exits on specific page. Based on analytics data, it was easy enough to validate the high exit rate and could even evaluate click activity and scrolling behavior. However, that alone didn’t provide enough insight to solve the problem. Nabler suggested that the client use Session Cam’s session recording feature to help identify why and how users were exiting so much.

What we learned

Nabler learned that there were clickable elements present on the Page that were not tagged. Because of this, the web analytics tool was missing this critical data wasn’t able to help us identify the issue.

Initially, our analysts suspected that some unintentional, prominent CTAs on the page were getting too much attention and increasing unwanted exits.

Unfortunately, there was no option to return to the website from the PDF because there were no links to return to the site. Because of this, conversion rates suffered as well.

However, by analyzing Session Cam video recordings, Nabler learned the truth: there was an untracked PDF download CTA that was getting a lot of attention. When the CTA was clicked, the PDF opened in the same browser tab, essentially closing the client’s website and causing them to exit at a very high rate.

The solution

Once the problem was clear, Nabler proposed that the PDF should open in new browser tab, without closing the current website. This change was deployed and almost immediately, the exits reduced significantly and the website conversion rate increased.

In this case, being able to use Session Cam’s session recording feature helped identify a tracking issue and quickly reveal why people were exiting. Without this our client may have spent a lot of time analyzing data, testing new layouts and essentially using up valuable resources for who knows how long, just to solve something so simple.

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