Reviewing Heatmap & Visitor Recording Tools
January 08, 2017
While there are many quantitative data points available about your website, it is also extremely helpful to obtain visual reports of what people do when they visit. You can review a list of pages people looked at or you can review where people went next in Google Analytics, but both somewhat leave you with open-ended questions, like: What specifically are people clicking on? What are they paying attention to? Where are they scrolling on this page?
You can answer these questions with a visual report of visitor activity via a heatmap. Heatmaps provide a visual set of data showing mouse movements, scroll patterns and clicks (or taps, in the case of mobile). Closely related to heatmaps are visitor recordings, which let you see everything a person does on your website during a visit.
Giving a text definition of heatmaps and visual recordings is tricky, given that they are visuals. So, for an example of each from a test account setup on Elementive’s website:
All The Features
Before I get into reviewing specific tools, I wanted to start more broadly with a recap of what to consider and look for as you decide which tools are right for you and your website.
There are three main data points you can get out of a heatmap:
- Where do people click? The most basic metric out of a heatmap tool is where people click. Some tools let you get the actual number of clicks, but more generally heatmaps give you a relative performance of clicks. The areas people click on more are highlighted more brightly in the heatmap and the areas with no clicks either are only barely highlighted or are completely dark. The dark areas are the spots where people aren’t engaging with your website and where you have an opportunity to get more people clicking.
- How do people scroll? With all the different screen resolutions available today, it is next to impossible to assume anybody will see the entirety of your website when they first arrive. Scrolling is essential but people will only scroll so far into your website. How far people scroll will change based on what page they are on and what the page has to offer. You can get scrolling activity out of Google Analytics with some additional configuration, but a heatmap tool will show you (to varying degrees of precision) how far down the page people are reaching. You can see, generally, where the majority of people stop looking, which gives you a chance to adjust your design and text to make sure the stuff people need to see is above where the scrolling activity stops.
- Where do people move their mouse? This is the one that confuses many clients I work with is mouse movement. The value to mouse movement is that it is (at least somewhat) correlated to eye movement. So, it is reasonable to assume if you see people moving their mouse somewhere, they are also moving their eyes there too—even if they don’t end up clicking on that part of the page. If you see people moving their mouse around a certain area but they aren’t clicking on the links available in that area, that is probably a sign you need to adjust those links to something more compelling or less confusing. Do note, some heatmap tools refer to this as eye movement tracking, which isn’t exactly an accurate representation.
Along with these data points, some heatmap tools can also let you filter or segment these reports by device or by source. I tend to think the segmentation is critical to better understand different types of visitors. For instance, do people on a smartphone scroll more than people using a desktop or laptop computer? If so, that changes how your smartphone website needs to be designed. As another example, do people arriving on your website from a Google search result click on something different than people coming to your website from Facebook? If so, that can change what gets shared on Facebook and what you work on ranking in Google.
Not all heatmap tools show click, scroll and mouse movement (though most at least show click and mouse movement). Anymore, the largest difference between different heatmap tools tends to be how many pageviews or visitors you can track each month When deciding on what tool to use, make sure the pageviews and/or visitors are enough for your website. If you have 100 visitors and 1,000 pageviews per day, a tool that only tracks 50 visitors per day or only tracks 10,000 pageviews per month wouldn’t be enough.
The other point of difference is how long the tool will hold on to your data. Most offer at least a month, if not longer. Personally, I login and download all the data to a local copy once a month instead of relying on the tool to track everything for me.
Visitor Recording Tools
The most important feature within visitor recording tools is the ability to record a large enough sample of visitors. Some tools really limit this, especially at free levels. If you are only able to watch a recording of how 1% of your visitors used your website, that isn’t enough information to make a decision about what to change. Instead, you need more recordings to get a better idea of what is normal behavior for your visitors. Ideally, you want to record all of your visitors—failing that, you want to record at least a big enough sample to feel confident in the decisions you are making. So, as you decide what recording tool to use, pay close attention to the amount of recordings you get.
This leads directly into the second critical piece of visitor recordings: you need a great way to filter and search through all the recordings that exist. Some recording tools let you define these filters in advance, where you can specify to only record sessions that include a certain page or extend for a certain duration. Other tools collect everything, but then let you search through everything to find the recordings that include certain pages, visitors from certain sources or visitors taking certain actions. As you consider what tool is right for you, play around with the filtering and searching options to make sure that you have the ability to build the reports you need.
To help you manage recordings and keep track of everything, most recording tools offer the ability to note or annotate recordings. I’ve found this especially helpful when recordings need to be shared among a larger team. When one person watches the recordings, they can make notes and read the notes from everybody else. It really can help with collaboration to get the most out of the tool. If you are a team of 1, notes can still help you keep track of what you are seeing and what patterns you are detecting. I’d consider this a must have, though note that some tools only offer this feature for higher tier accounts.
Comparing The Different Tools
There are many different tools on the market providing heatmaps and recordings of visitor activity. Many come with other features that can help more. Of the tools discussed below, I’ve used some more than others with clients and on my sites.
Just to be clear: none of the links in here are sponsored and I have no affiliate relationships with any of these companies. One other disclaimer: I’m mentioning pricing and features which are accurate per the various websites as of the date I’m publishing this blog post. Everything is obviously subject to change.
Google Analytics, In Page Analytics
I feel obligated to start by discussing Google Analytics Page Analytics report because of how popular Google Analytics is. This is the most basic “heatmap” you can find. It use to be part of Google Analytics but now it is available as an extension in Chrome. This report shows you how many people clicked on various links within a page of your site. You can segment the clicks, which is helpful. But, this doesn’t give you any information on mouse movement or scrolling activity. Also, extra configuration is required in order for two different links going to the same place are tracked differently. I’m a huge fan of Google Analytics, and highly recommend it, but on this report Google Analytics disappoints. There are many better ways to get this data. So, my recommendation is don’t bother using this report.
Just The Heatmaps: Heatmap.me and Crazy Egg
There are several tools that just offer heatmaps, like Crazy Egg or Heatmap.me. These used to be some of the best you could get, but now many of the tools that offer heatmaps offer plenty of other features (well beyond visitor recordings). However, if all you need is a heatmap, and you don’t want to watch visitor recordings or take advantage of other features), then these tools are an ideal option. Because of the lack of features, they are also a cheaper option.
Heatmap.me in particular offers a very robust free heatmap account with up to a million pageviews per months and 6 months of data storage. I use Heatmap.me on my personal website and it delivers. One of the advantages this has is that the reports are delivered directly on your website, instead of in a separate reporting interface. This does mean, though, you can’t track just a specific page, which is one drawback from other tools. As well, there isn’t anyway to segment data from Heatmap.me by device or source.
When it comes to standalone heatmap tools, Crazy Egg gets a lot of attention and I’ve heard it discussed numerous times at conferences by designers, developers, and online marketers. Overall, Crazy Egg is a solid heatmap tool and I’ve used it a lot for clients over the years. If all you need is a heatmap tool, and you don’t mind paying at least $9/month, Crazy Egg will do the trick.
Crazy Egg gives you data on click activity and scroll activity. But, sadly, it doesn’t give you data on mouse movement—that, to me, is the biggest drawback of Crazy Egg’s heatmaps. They do give you the ability to segment click activity by the source that led visitors to the website (though you can’t segment by source for scroll data). As well, you can setup the tracking to only provide heatmap reports for certain devices. Unlike heatmap.me, Crazy Egg only reports on specific pages at a time (that is far more common). You get ten pages at the lower level account, but more than ten increases the price above the $9/mo intro level.
Just The Recordings: Smartlook
On the flip side, there are also tools that just offer recordings. The only one I’m aware of anymore is Smartlook. Smartlook has a free level that offers 20,000 recordings per month and keeps 1,000 in storage per month (which is an incredibly amount for a free account). If all you want are recordings, and nothing else—or if you want recordings on the cheapest budget possible—this is an appealing option. Of note, Smartlook’s current roadmap says they are working on heatmaps and will also be adding in an option to make notes of the various recordings.
Combo Tools: Many options
Many tools combine heatmaps with recordings. The combinations don’t stop with heatmaps and recordings, though, because, let’s face it, many websites these days need more than heatmaps or visual recordings. So, the additional features can be very beneficial for websites of any size. Which tool is right for your website depends on what all features you need and what precisely you want to track.
One of the more common pairings is conversion tracking, usually in the form of funnels or form analytics. Currently, HotJar, Inspectlet, SessionCam, Lucky Orange and Mouseflow all offer form analytics and funnels alongside recordings and heatmaps.
Form analytics in particular offer a great way to understand how people interact with any and all forms contained on your website. If your website depends on a form for conversions—like a sales inquiry form or a contact form—you need to know which fields people are ignoring, which fields people are struggling to answer, and which fields are leading to the most errors. All of that helps you adjust your form, which will help get more conversions. Plus, if you can have this alongside recordings, you can view the form analytics data then watch recordings to see specifically how people struggle with the form.
Similarly, if your conversion process requires a funnel—like moving through an order—tools that offer conversion funnel analysis are especially helpful. This way you can spot the drop off points where you are losing potential converters. Google Analytics also offers conversion funnels and their funnel reports are free. However, Google Analytics doesn’t offer recordings. Just like with form analytics, it is really helpful to be able to not only see the funnel analysis but also watch recordings of people who drop off within the conversion funnel.
Mouseflow offers 1 form and 1 funnel on the free account. HotJar offers 3 forms and 3 funnels for their free account. Lucky Orange starts at $10/month, offering everything. Inspectlet is the priciest of the bunch—you don’t get funnels until their $79/month level and you don’t get form analytics until paying $140/month.
But, there is so much more. Along with heatmaps, recordings, and funnels, HotJar and Lucky Orange offer the ability to poll your visitors. HotJar also lets you run surveys and get instant feedback from visitors. Lucky Orange also adds in the ability to chat alongside everything else, which is a handy addition and certainly makes it unique from the other tools in the space. However, I wouldn’t consider these additions the reason to pick HotJar or Lucky Orange—there are many other tools that offer surveys, polls, or chat and there is only minimal benefit is tying these to recordings or heatmaps.
My Current Favorite: Hot Jar
I’ve relied heavily on Crazy Egg for several years (and still have an active account for clients). As well, I’ve repeatedly used Session Cam, Inspectlet and ClickTale. A few of the others mentioned above I’ve only used on one or two sites.
My current favorite, and the one I’ve been recommending the most lately, is HotJar. It offers the widest array of features at the best price. For a free account you get 2,000 pageviews per day and 300 recordings. That is more than enough for a smaller site.
Now, that pageview limit doesn’t compare to something like Heatmap.me with a million pageviews per month, but when you consider everything else HotJar has to offer, it is hard to resist. With HotJar, you’ll get form analytics, funnels, polling, and surveys.
On their recordings, HotJar offers extensive abilities to search, though noting recordings isn’t available at the free level. On the heatmaps, HotJar lets you segment by device type but not by visit source, which is one feature I’d like to see added. However, the heatmaps do provide click, move and scroll data.
If you need to pay for an account, HotJar (currently) starts at $29/month. For that, you get 300,000 pageviews per month (roughly, they set the limit at 10,000/day) and unlimited recordings. It is a really good price. The only thing that really rivals HotJar in terms of features and price is Lucky Orange. Lucky Orange starts at 25,000 pageviews per month for $10/month—that includes unlimited recordings.
HotJar limits you to 300 recordings on the free level, but 60,000 pageviews give or take per month. Some websites getting closer to that limit of pageviews will need more recordings, but may not want to pay for the $29/month price to go unlimited and wouldn’t see much value in 300,000 pageviews. If you are hitting the limit with HotJar’s free level on recordings and need more than 300 recordings but you don’t need more than 25,000 pageviews each month, paying for Lucky Orange instead of HotJar might be an option to consider since it is only $10/month.
Where HotJar offers surveys, Lucky Orange offers chat. Both, though, offer funnels, forms, polls, heatmaps and recordings making these two tools very comparable.
Recap of Questions To Ask
The main questions to ask when picking a tool are:
- Do you want a combo tool or one that offers just heatmaps or recordings? Heatmaps and visual recordings are all but essential, so typically you will want a tool that offers both. If you make fewer changes to your website, you might be able to rely solely on heatmaps.
- Does your website depend on a form for conversions—like a sales inquiry form? If so, you should look into tracking how people are moving through the form.
- Does your website depend on a conversion process spanning multiple steps, like an ecommerce website? If so, tracking funnels are essential for your website, especially tracking funnels in conjunction with recordings.
- How many pageviews and visitors do you have? Some tools limit this by visitors, most by pageviews. Some do pageviews/day and some do pageviews/month (or visitors/day or visitors/month). So have all of these data points ready when you start comparing the different tools. Remember, you want the recording limit to be enough where you get a big enough percentage of visitors (if you can’t record all visitors).
- Do you want to survey visitors or run polls on your website? What about chatting with visitors? Would you like these features to be connected with recordings and heatmaps?