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Heatmapping: Understanding What It Is and How to Use Heatmaps to Increase Click-Through Rates

Have you ever looked at your business website and thought to yourself:

“Wow, this is great! I’m sure it’ll attract tons of visitors in no time!”

However, when it goes live, others don’t seem to share your view – and your website isn’t getting the traffic and attention you thought it deserved.

The first step in improving your website’s performance is to see how visitors are interacting with it. One of the easiest ways is through heatmapping. A heat map is a unique and useful tool that visualizes complex data analysis using different colors.

Heat mapping is not a new concept, and it has long been used to present complex data beyond the realm of authoritative domain website interactions.

However, in this article, we’re going to look at heat maps exclusively from the point of visualizing website-related information. This includes definitions, examples, benefits, and how you can best use it for your website.

Heatmapping: What is It?

A heatmap uses a color spectrum to present complex data. In a data heat map, warm colors like red, orange, and yellow are used to represent more intense or higher values, whereas cooler colors like blue and green are used to represent lower intensity values.

Heat mapping software presents data in a way that’s extremely easy to interpret, as compared to, say, a chart filled with numbers.

The concept of a heat map has been around since the 19th century, whereby grayscale shading was often used to depict data of varying intensity. The first digital heat mapping tool was developed in the 1990s, by Cormac Kinney for real-time financial market data. [1]

19th-Century Black and White Heat Map | Heatmapping | One Search Pro Digital Marketing
A 19th-century heat map created in black and white. Source: Hotjar

These days, heat maps are used in a variety of fields including biology, mathematics, population statistics, design, marketing, finance & economics, environmental studies, and many more.

Heatmap software has come a long way since their inception thirty years ago, and they can now be used to track information for websites too.

There are many heatmapper features in various software that can be used to create a heat map from an excel sheet. These include the Heatmaply R package in R, Gnuplot, and Google Fusion Tables. All of these use data from a heatmap chart, and therefore you can also learn how to make a heat map in excel.

Heat maps are pretty useful because of the simplicity in how they can be interpreted. They save lots of time, as they can be read and understood in a matter of seconds. Furthermore, heatmaps hardly need explanations and can be understood by laymen with just a title or short description.

In fact, even laymen can learn how to create heat map in excel by assigning different colors to the different boxes there.

Sample Heatmap with Color Distributions | Heatmapping | One Search Pro Digital Marketing
A heat map shows where users’ sights were on a news page: Source: Crazy Egg

What Does A Heatmap Show?

A website heat map has many functions and can be used to display various types of analytical data. However, it is most commonly used to showcase how visitors interact with elements on your website, i.e. on-page data to identify user behavior.

Examples of useful on-page user data include which UI sections have the highest conversion values, bounce rates, which buttons have the most clicks, and which sections are driving traffic to the website.

Since it doesn’t take an expert to know how to read a heatmap, they’re often used to specifically show which parts of the website have more interactions and conversely, which ones have less.

In a heat map example, the spots on the website with more interactions will be colored more intensely in red, while parts of the page that have little or no interaction will be colored in less intense cool colors like ice blue.

There are several ways to present this information. A heatmap generator can make hover maps, click maps, attention maps, and users scroll maps, among others.

This information will be immensely useful in improving website design and on-page content.

How Do Heat Maps Work?

In essence, heat maps are aggregated data that comes from Google analytics. This is the backend data that is able to track the actions and movements of the target audience on the website.

This aggregated data is first compiled into a heat chart, usually on a chart-making software similar to Microsoft Excel sheets.

The data is then converted using software parameters into a colored gradient, which is then overlaid onto the website. This gives an immediate picture of user interaction on your website itself.

The heatmap colors are usually made semi-transparent so that you can see through them on your website. It then becomes obvious which portions of your website are represented with which colors.

How is This Done From The Technical Aspect?

A heatmap creator will first take a snapshot of your website. They will then embed a small Java Script into your website’s code. This code enables site information to be sent to that creator every time a user opens up your website.

A map of your website will then be created containing the various elements that users can interact with. The site information for each of these elements’ interaction will be used to create the correlation heat map via tags and parent elements.

In addition to website viewing data, the creator can also collect activity data. This is also done by embedding a code into your website’s backend. Once a user clicks on a link, this action will be flagged and sent to the map creators.

There are also ways to determine if those performing the activity are the same user, or a different one. This will help the click map data be more accurate as it detects unique user activity as well as repeated actions by the same user.

All these data which are in numerical values will then be converted into qualitative values i.e. colors. Each range of numbers will be assigned a color. For example, higher value ranges will be assigned darker or more intense colors, while the lower range of numbers will be assigned calmer or lighter colors.

These colored maps will then be overlaid on the screenshot of your web page in a way that’s easy to interpret. Thankfully as abovementioned, very minimal training is needed to know how to read heat maps.

Heatmaps: The Different Types Available

There are many types of heat maps that can be generated from the information sent to map creators. Here are some of the most common ones:

1. Hover Maps or Mouse Maps

This map is also called a movement map and it shows where users park their cursors the most on your site, as in where their cursors hover over the most. Basically, it is a map representing mouse-tracking data.

These are not records of clicks. Rather, they show where the users’ intent lies when visiting your page. For example, if you own an e-commerce store, a hover map will give you an inkling as to which related products the users were considering before making a purchase or actually leaving.

This is useful information if you’re planning a retargeting campaign as part of your customer driven marketing strategy.

However, information about mouse movement should be taken with a pinch of salt. This is because where a user leaves their mouse cursor may not always correspond to an eye-tracking heat map, which is more costly and requires additional support.

Hover Heatmap | Heatmapping | One Search Pro Digital Marketing
Example of a hover heat map shows that users like infographics. Source: VWO

2. Click Maps

This map zeroes in on all the links available on your page. It shows which links are the most clicked on and which ones the least.

Click maps are often also presented as Confetti Reports, whereby each click made by users is visualized independently.

In other words, the presentation of clicks depends very much on the map creators. Some may present it as a full blotch or mass of colors whereas others will present it as individual dots.

The confetti report approach is rather popular, as it allows you to see where users have clicked their mouse within your websites. This can reveal some surprises, as users can often click on parts of the website that are not links, which might imply that your link designs have to be improved or that you have to construct a better link bait.

Confetti Heatmap | Heatmapping | One Search Pro Digital Marketing
A confetti heatmap example with dots representing individual clicks. Source: Crazy Egg

3. Scroll Maps

With scroll maps, your entire web page will be displayed as a semi-translucent color gradient. This color gradient represents where your visitors look at the most and where they stop scrolling before they leave.

The information provided for a scroll heat map is essential in letting you know where to put the key links on your page. It also tells you if your current placements of links are being seen by users.

For example, let’s say you have a Call To Action (CTA) button with the words ‘Find Out More’, but it’s being placed at the bottom of your page after a few paragraphs of text.

If your CTA button falls in the part of scroll maps that are blue, green, or other cold colors, this means that users are not seeing it and not spending time at that part of the page. You might need to consider moving your CTA up into the zones that are red shown in scroll maps.

Scroll Map | Heatmapping | One Search Pro Digital Marketing
A sample scroll map showing where users spent most of their time on a site. Source: Mouseflow

4. Overlay Maps

Overlay Maps are also known as activity maps. These maps tell you clearly the percentage of clicks and interactions each element on your page is getting. The more interactions an element is getting, the more intense its colors will be.

Knowing the performance of each element will allow you to learn which ones are generating the most clicks. You may want to combine the information here with scroll maps to see where the best place to put these elements are, in order to optimize your website.

The information on overlay maps may also be presented in a chart format so that you can see the data in different formats like percentages, and over time too.

5. Mobile Heat Maps

In analyzing your websites, you shouldn’t neglect your mobile platform either. There are tools that can provide heatmap tracking for your mobile apps and pages too, in addition to just your web page.

The concepts are basically the same, in that there will be color gradients to show various types of mobile page interaction.

How Can We Create Website Heatmaps?

The easiest way for business owners to learn how to create a heat map is by using heatmap software available online. There are many of these that you can use, some of which need payment while some are free.

Many of these heatmap tool providers will be able to collect the necessary data from your website regularly and convert them into different heat maps. You will be able to access these heatmaps and data like the heat map graph, charts, tables, analysis, and so on from your control panel.

Free Website Heatmap Tools

These include the various open-source heat mapping tools, as well as software providers who have a free package option.

ClickHeat by Dugwood

ClickHeat is a completely free-to-use Open Source heatmap tool that you can download as a Zip file and use indefinitely to give you a picture of which links on your website are being interacted with the most.

Clickheat Heatmap | Heatmapping | One Search Pro Digital Marketing
Source: Clickheat

Hotjar

Hotjar has worked with some of the biggest brands in the world including Panasonic, Decathlon, and Nintendo. Their basic package is free when you sign up.

Python Seaborn

This free package is provided to programmers who are familiar with how to use the heatmap python language on their own.

Paid Website Heatmap Tools

Most of the paid heatmap software mentioned here offer packages that get increasingly costlier with more insights and services.

Crazy Egg

Crazy Egg is able to assimilate with content management platforms like Shopify, WordPress, and Wix.

Mouseflow

Mouseflow has been picked as one of the best heat mapping tools providers, with customers having almost no negative reviews about them or their services.

Contentsquare

Contentsquare provides some of the most complete data collection and analysis services on the market with fully automated insights.

What Are The Benefits of Using a Heatmap?

Now that you understand what is a heat map, it’s good to also look at how it can benefit your business in the long and short term.

Heat maps are very flexible and can accommodate many types of data. This, therefore, means it can be adapted for different applications for your website.

Why Should You Be Using a Heat Map?

  • Heat maps are really easy to understand and interpret. You don’t need to stare long at them, as opposed to charts filled with numbers. There are no special formulas or training needed to understand heatmaps either.
  • Heatmaps are ideal for presentations to superiors or higher levels of authority in the company. They give a clear picture in just a glance and can be easily used to support or justify decisions related to marketing.
  • They can also be incorporated with various analytics tools to visualize complex data and the different aspects of user-website interaction.
  • Heatmaps can reveal unexpected information about your users. For example, which non-linked elements on your page that they click on and why.
  • A heatmap will help you make informed decisions regarding how to improve user experience on your site and ultimately decrease the bounce rate and increase interaction.

Who Benefits From Heat Maps?

Apart from just your brand or company as a whole, your team members will also be able to fully utilize heat maps for their tasks.

1. UX Designers

UX designers are in charge of the user experience on your website. Heat maps are able to help them determine if users face any issues on the site, whether the content is reaching the user and whether important CTA buttons are where they should be.

The data from heat maps are important when used in conjunction with usability testing and A/B experiments too, which is a test whereby two versions of the website are tested against each other for a specific conversion goal.

2. Marketers

Heat maps provide marketers with insight into whether their marketing campaigns, such as their social media marketing, are producing the desired results.

As a marketer, it’s crucial to see which parts of the website a user’s attention is focused on and whether ads or CTAs on the page are working in getting the attention they need.

3. Digital Analysts

When presenting complex quantitative and qualitative data in a business, it is important to present that data in a way that’s simple enough to be understood, yet impactful enough to influence decisions.

Heat mapping presents quantitative data in a qualitative state for better understanding and presentation of user behavior.

When Can I Use Heatmaps?

It’s never too early to use a heat map. You can start using them for anything and everything related to your website!

A heat map is actually so versatile that it can support any website improvement strategy you may have.

In the end, it’s all about maximizing the heat map concept to make your visitors’ experience so good, they will be compelled to take action. Here are some of the most common ways companies have used heat mapping.

To Strategize Content Marketing

Website heat maps aren’t just for the technical folk like programmers, website designers, and UX specialists. It can help those in the marketing department too.

For example, you can know whether your CTA headliner works from a heat map. If your copywriting doesn’t fit or isn’t impactful enough, you may get a very cold spot forming on that CTA link.

A heatmap tells you which type of words, headlines, banners, images, and phrasing works best in convincing users to take action. It also tells you what designs are more effective in achieving your goals.

To Redesign Websites

Just like a house or hotel, old and outdated websites just don’t affect users the same as new updated ones do. These days, websites are more minimalistic, with information and elements more spaced out.

Further reading: The Best Minimalist Web Design

If you’re upgrading your website, it’s important to take heed of the heat maps generated from your previous page. This will give you a clear picture of what to include and what to avoid. It’s important not to repeat design flaws and to optimize the placement of elements, especially CTA links.

Heatmaps give you details about specific user habits as well so that you can arrange information in a way that will guide users to your desired goal.

To Improve Conversion Funnels

Conversion, which is the act of turning visitors into purchasing customers, is truly an art form. It’s not easy to convince users to actually buy from you or take action.

The journey from casual interest to full-fledged consumerism is therefore known as the ‘conversion funnel’.

Let’s say there is information from heat maps that users tend to consume information in an F shape, meaning they look and interact with the top of the screen and then the left side. Therefore, this is where all of the main information and links for the site should be arranged.

You also need to see if there are any bottlenecks and distractions along the funnel, so that you can make the journey as smooth and easy for your customers as possible. There needs to be a continuity in what you’re presenting to your visitors.

To Conduct A/B Experiments

In order to establish with more depth how each element in a website works for users, website designers will run A/B tests, sometimes called A/B experiments. This is a test whereby two or more different versions of the same web page are presented to users.

With a heat map, website designers will be able to determine which placements, images, or elements work better. Not only will they be able to pick the better design, they’ll also be able to fuse elements from multiple designs to optimize the usability of a website.

A/B experiments are very crucial for understanding which changes in a website lead to higher conversion rates.

To Carry Out Analytics Reports

Heat maps provide an unprecedented amount of insight that can’t be seen from a table or chart. Not only can you track the behavior and preferences of users on your page, you also get to know what mistakes they make and how these mistakes can be corrected for better user experience.

Certain heat map examples such as confetti reports and scroll maps over time can tell you when your visitors seem to be clicking the most, as in what days they’re most active. It can also provide information about where they may be coming from.

For example, if CTA links on your blogs are getting more clicks than your main web page, it could be because visitors are arriving from a blog link posted on your social media account.

To Do Usability Tests

Let’s say you’ve designed your web page to the best of your ability. However, you just don’t see it having an impact on consumers.

They’re not calling you, and not clicking on the CTA button. If you have an online store on your site, you may even be seeing cart abandonment.

This is a sign that you need to perform a UX or user experience test. With a heat map of user behavior on your site, you can see where the bottlenecks and Achilles’ heels are located.

For example, let’s say you see a high number of carts being abandoned in your online store each week. When you consult the heat map, it appears that your ‘Checkout’ button on that page is cold and blue.

It could be that users don’t know that the icon you’re using, which is a cart with an arrow, means to checkout. Plus it’s placed on the lower right-hand side of the page that hardly anyone scrolls down to. Changing the icon to a checkout counter, and putting the words ‘Pay Now’, you move it upwards.

After some time, it seems that the bottleneck has been cleared and your checkout button has now turned into a warmer color. Problem solved!

The Pros and Cons of Using Heat Maps

Heatmaps, just like any other tools in website design, have their advantages and disadvantages. You have to understand that it can be a powerful tool as long as it is used properly.

Pros

Cons

  • Understand user behaviors on your website at a glance.
  • Heatmaps are qualitative data that require more detailed quantitative data to be understood fully.
  • Learn whether your key elements, like the CTA link, are working.
  • Does not work with dynamic elements of a page, such as disappearing menu bars.
  • See the sequence of user actions on your page.
  • Can be costly to produce, especially those that track a user’s eye movement.
  • Remove distractions and fix elements that may fool users into clicking them.
  • Some heat maps require a high volume of traffic in order to be accurate.
  • Find out where users are looking on your website and place important elements there.
  • Find the flaws of your page so as not to repeat them in the future.

Tips and Strategies That Heatmaps Have Taught Us

Over time, heat maps have been able to teach us several truths about user behaviors on websites in general. Based on a heat index map, we know that these design principles hold true no matter what type of website you have:

1. Make Sure It Sticks Out

Users don’t usually spend more than a few seconds scanning your page when they arrive. In this rush, their eyes will usually pick up the element that stands out the most. Make sure your CTA is a different color, bright, and with a clear message to capture their attention.

CTA Button on One Search Pro Homepage | Heatmapping | One Search Pro Digital Marketing
Make your CTA button stands out. Source: One Search Pro

2. Key Content at The Top

It may come as a surprise to many, but more than 80% of a website user’s time is spent on the part above the page break or fold. This means that they tend to stay on and interact with whatever they see on the screen as it is.

Therefore, any content that you deem important, like a call to action, should be placed on the upper part of your page before the page folds.

Important Information On The Top of A Page | Heatmapping | One Search Pro Digital Marketing
Keep important information at the top of the page. Source: One Search Pro

3. Looking to The Left

The left side of your page is where users tend to focus the most. That’s why many times, key links and content are placed on the left side of the page.

Keeping Important Links and Buttons At The Left of a Page | Heatmapping | One Search Pro Digital Marketing
Keep important links and buttons on the left side of your page. Source: One Search Pro

4. F-Shaped Scanning

When it comes to text-based content, users mainly tend to scan the information in an F shape, and therefore, the first one or two sentences in your content matter. [2] They help readers determine if they will go further down and read the details.

5. Keep Up The Images

It’s no surprise that heatmaps have shown that sites with photos of real people tend to gain more attention compared to text-heavy pages with no photos. The attractiveness of the people in the photos strangely plays a role too.

In short, it’s important to have well-placed images throughout your page and content for it to hold the user’s attention.

Images Help Focus User Attention | Heatmapping | One Search Pro Digital Marketing
Images help focus user attention. Source: One Search Pro

6. The Effect of Banner Blindness

The amazing thing about heat maps is also that they give us an insight into the psychology of website users. Apparently, users do not like interacting with anything on a website that looks like an advertisement, which is why the way you present content is important.

Placing information as a moving banner on the top of the page may make sense in certain contexts, but since banners tend to look like ads, users don’t really respond to them. Consider placing your button elsewhere instead.

7. The Use of Contrasts to Guide Users

Using contrasting colors for important elements makes them stand out. However, color contrasts are also good for directing the sight of users towards a place you want them to look.

Visitors won’t spend much time on your site, so making use of this strategy to present your message is important.

Using Contrasting Colors to Guide User's Gaze | Heatmapping | One Search Pro Digital Marketing
Contrasting colors can guide the user’s gaze. Source: One Search Pro

8. Summarize Your Content on The Homepage

Your home page should not contain full blogs or articles, but rather short summaries of them so that users can decide whether they will read the content or not.

Having full articles on your homepage will drain the interests of users pretty fast and they won’t read the rest of your available content, despite it being well-crafted SEO optimized content.

Short and Sweet Content on Website Homepage | Heatmapping | One Search Pro Digital Marketing
Keep the content on your homepage short and sweet. Source: One Search Pro

9. Clickmaps Work Best with A/B Testing

According to this study, one of the best ways to apply a heat clickmap is when designing A/B tests. The clickmaps revealed that a certain brand’s CTA link wasn’t getting as many clicks as their pricing link. Once they changed their CTA’s location and design, it began getting as many clicks as their pricing page.

10. Compare When Giving People Discounts

When promoting special offers, it’s important to display the item’s original pricing and its new one. Psychologically, this gives the user the perception that they have achieved more by saving more.

This works even if you’re not having a sale, as users tend to click on the items with slashed prices more as it gives them better satisfaction.

Conclusion: Heat Maps Are Sizzling Hot

The most simple heat map definition says that it’s a way to visualize key user interaction data with Google analytics tools. What they don’t tell you is how easy and fun it actually is to see a heatmap of your website. It really is like spying on your visitors, in a proper and legal manner that is.

This ‘spying’ will help you increase your website’s effectiveness, and eventually lead to higher conversion rates and sales. Ultimately, that’s what we all want.

If you would like to find out more about heat mapping, or how you can start heat mapping your own website, why not reach out to a trusted digital marketing agency like One Search Pro? We have consultants on standby that will be able to help explain the more technical aspects to you, and get you started right away!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is a Website Heat Map?

A heat map uses different colors to represent the intensity of user behavior and user interactions with your website.

2. What is a Heatmap Used For?

Heatmaps are used to understand how a website’s features, designs, and elements can be improved for a better user experience.

3. What is a Heatmap Analysis?

This is a process whereby a heatmap’s data is analyzed for a specific goal, e.g to decrease bounce rate, increase CTA response, increase conversion, and the like.

4. How Do I Read a Heatmap?

Heatmaps are really easy to read and interpret. Warm colors usually represent more interaction while colder colors represent less action.

5. What is The Main Limitation of a Heat Map?

Their main limitation is that they’re open to a very wide array of interpretations with no way of confirming which interpretation is the better one.

6. Will Heatmaps Slow Down My Website?

Not at all. The data gathered from the backend has no impact on your site’s loading time and function.

7. How Should I Use Heatmaps With Other Analytical Tools?

Heat map tools can be used in conjunction with other Google analytical marketing tools, including Google Analytics, to get a clearer and more accurate picture of how people are interacting with your website.

This is because you can combine the heatmaps’ qualitative information with the quantitative data from analytical tools.

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