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Jan 09, 2023

What Are Heatmaps?

Heatmaps are a visual representation of user activity on a website. Through shades and a spectrum of colors, heatmaps display where user activity is “hot” (red) and “cold” (blue) on a given web page. 

Heatmaps can be used to analyze where visitors may be interested or not interested in information on the page based on how long they stay in a particular area of the page or whether they heed the actions of strategically placed calls to action (CTAs).

Heatmaps can reveal multiple aspects of human behavior, such as how far users scroll on a web page, how much time they spend on a specific element of a web page, and whether they interact with clickable features. 

How Heatmaps Work

Rather than having to stare blankly and make sense of rows and columns of heavy data to determine what’s working and what’s not in terms of your website optimization strategy, heatmaps provide a more visually pleasing representation of this information. They can be a breath of fresh air for marketers who are number-averse or who don’t have a data analytics background. With one glance, marketers can glean the performance of various elements of any of their web pages.

Heatmaps use color coding to represent hot and cold areas of a website (i.e., where users are spending more time and engaging in website-directed action). 

Although data are also helpful and an important part of any website marketing strategy, heatmaps can combine quantitative and qualitative data to convey how a target audience interacts with your web presence. 

Why Heatmaps Are Important to Your Marketing Strategy

Heatmaps are an important aspect of any website marketing strategy because they provide clear insights into user activity on your site. This allows for experimentation with different web elements such as fonts, layouts, graphics, CTAs, and more to find the right configuration that leads a site visitor in the right direction toward conversion.

Ultimately, heatmaps clue you into what your ideal visitor wants from your website or product, allowing you and your fellow marketers to design your website to cater to these needs and eventually sell your service or product. 

Heatmaps aren’t only an informative tool for marketers—their advantages benefit other departments as well. Data teams can use heat maps to complement their processes, while product and engineering teams can use them to see which products users might be especially interested in over others. Web design teams responsible for the user experience (UX) also can take the information provided by heatmaps to restructure or reformat a website’s layout and make the visitor’s experience on the page as seamless as possible, encouraging users to take actions that benefit the business. 

Different Types of Heatmaps and How They Work

There are different types of heatmaps that can be used for different reasons. See below to learn which heatmaps might be most useful for your website optimization strategy to help boost conversions.

1. Click maps

Click heatmaps convey where users click on your website. Clicks can come from CTAs, links, buttons, or other elements that require user engagement. This info also can be collected from “taps” on a mobile device. When viewing the results from a click heatmap, you’ll see your existing web page with colors brushed over the text of clickable areas. Red areas convey a high amount of clicks while cooler, blue areas reveal areas users are less likely to interact with.

2. Desktop and mobile maps

Desktop and mobile heatmaps allow you to compare user behavior from both desktop and mobile perspectives. Once you’ve ironed out your optimal website experience, it’s crucial to ensure the site performs just as well on a mobile device. When converted to mobile, some web elements may shift position on a page, the text may shrink or break in different places, and images may appear distorted. With a mobile heatmap, you’ll be able to see how the mobile layout of your web page affects user behaviors so you can make adjustments where necessary.

3. Move maps

Move heatmaps display the movement of users’ cursors when they’re on your website, which can indicate where they might focus their attention for a given period of time and/or where they might get distracted and move on to something else. 

4. Scroll maps

Scroll maps provide insight into how far a user scrolls down a page. This can clue you into whether a page might be too long and contain too much information that a user may find superfluous and not worthy of their time. The top of a page is typically the reddest as most visitors spend time there. As the page moves down, it tends to turn blue, the shade and timing of which can indicate where users start dropping off. Scroll Map data also can be displayed as percentages. 

Pros and Cons of Using Heatmaps

Heatmaps are especially beneficial for marketers who don’t have a heavy data background or who are short on time and don’t have extensive resources to sort through pages of numbers. The results provided by heatmaps can help you determine where your visitors might be getting stuck on your site, where they might be getting distracted, and how they interact with what you offer. 

Beyond the internal advantages of using heatmaps, they also serve as great reference points to show upper management or stakeholders of your business to convey how the website is influencing target audience behavior, which may be useful if funding is needed for website development or restructuring.

While some website analytics providers offer comprehensive information about the performance of an overall website, heatmaps drill this information down to an individual web page and disclose how people interact with that page.

To get the most out of heatmaps, there needs to be a large enough amount of data for the heatmap to analyze and display. If there isn’t enough data for the system to analyze, results may be skewed. 

Heatmaps can show you what is happening on a given web page in terms of user behavior, but they can’t explain why this behavior occurs. It’s up to the marketer to figure out what changes to make to the web page to get the desired behavior from visitors.

A final disadvantage to using heatmaps involves interactions with forms on a web page. A user may start to complete a web form but a heatmap is not able to discern whether they use their keyboard to tab through the field or whether they use their mouse to click from one field to another. Gathering this information would require more advanced analytics tools. 

How To Use Heatmaps To Maximize Website Conversions

Web marketers can use the insights from heatmap results to inform website changes, such as a reorganization of elements; the addition or removal of certain text, images, or other graphics; or the size of elements so that they’re more accessible to visitors.

Combined with A/B testing, heatmaps can serve as a complementary element to any website optimization strategy.  

Recommended Content:

4 Best Practices to Kick Off Your Website Optimization Program