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A complete guide to website heatmaps

By Academy Xi

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What is a website heatmap

Improve the user experience of your website or app by harnessing the many benefits of heatmaps. Read on to discover which maps you need and how they can support your product.

What is a website heatmap?

A website heatmap is a visual representation of how users interact with any given page on a site or app. The map provides insights into user behaviour, showing which areas of a webpage are getting the most attention, whether that be time spent or actions made such as clicks, taps or mouse movements. Heatmaps are a fantastic tool for UX designers, marketers and digital analysts alike and ultimately improve the user experience. 

How to interpret a heatmap

The map is colour coded with warmer colours (oranges and reds) indicating the highest level of activity and the cooler colours (shades of blue) indicating lower levels of activity. 

When you should use a heatmap

Ultimately, if you want to gain insights into user behaviour on your website or app, then using a heatmap is a great tool to consider. Here are some other scenarios where using a heatmap can be useful:

  • Content and layout decisions

If you have multiple pieces of content and design elements on a webpage, a heatmap can help you determine which are attracting the most eyeballs, and which are not. This can help you decide which information to prioritise so that the most important is placed within the prime real estate (as shown by the map) and is therefore easily accessible. The same applies to ‘call-to-action’ buttons and links.

  • User flow analysis

Beyond each individual page of a website, heatmaps can show the full picture of how users navigate through an entire site or app and highlight the most common paths taken. This insight can help you optimise the user’s experience so they easily find what they are looking for. 

  • Increase conversion rates

Using the insights from heat mapping across your website or app, you can analyse the changes needed to increase the chances of users taking the actions you want them to, such as subscribing, making a purchase or completing a survey.

Top 5 benefits of using a heatmap on your website

  1. Improved user experience

  2. Better layout and design decisions

  3. Increased conversion rates

  4. More efficient content strategy

  5. Better understanding of user behaviour

Best practices for using a heatmap

By now you may be convinced that using a heatmap is a solid way to improve your website. Here are some best practices to keep in mind:

  • Choose best colour palette

Ensure the colours selected are easily legible and that you can easily distinguish them from each other. Avoid using colours that are too similar or blend into one another. This will help interpret the data.

  • Include a legend

To effectively communicate the meaning of the data, a clear, concise legend is needed. The legend should indicate the range of data being visualised, such as the minimum and maximum values or the number of categories. A scale is also helpful to include, for example a colour bar or gradient so it’s easy to understand the relative intensity of each colour in the map.

  • Show values in cells

When the intensity of the colour alone is not enough to accurately convey the meaning of the data, showing the value in the cells is helpful. You can show values in cells by adding text labels directly to the cells, or use tooltips to show values when you hover over a cell. This approach can keep your visuals clutter-free.

  • Sort levels by similarity or value

To help better highlight patterns and relationships in the data, you can choose to sort the levels by similarity or value. With similarity, the levels are arranged so that cells with similar values are grouped together. This is handy to reveal data patterns and trends and useful when there are many categories or levels to the data. 

With value sorting, the levels are arranged based on the magnitude of the values they represent. The most significant categories can be highlighted with this approach, which is helpful when you’re working with a small range of data or wanting to focus on a specific aspect.

  • Test and iterate 

Heatmaps are not a one-time solution. They ideally should be used in conjunction with other tools and approaches to optimise the user-experience of your site. After analysing your map, make the relevant changes to your site or app then test again to see if the changes resulted in the desired outcomes.

Common types of heatmaps

There are several kinds of heatmaps available, each focusing on different aspects of user interaction.

  • Clustered heatmap

Clustered heatmapGroups similar rows and columns together to provide a clearer representation of patterns and relationships in the data. The rows and columns are sometimes reordered and grouped based on similarity. Colour intensity is used to show the significance of values represented. Clustered heatmaps are great for large data sets when it’s tricky to spot patterns in the raw data.

  • Mouse-tracking heatmap

Mouse-tracking heatmapVisualises where users are clicking and moving their mouse on your website or app. Colour intensity indicates the frequency of clicks or moves in an area and gives insights into how the user is engaging. This map is useful for improving user experience and can highlight where users may be encountering challenges with your interface.

  • Scroll map

Scroll mapThis map shows how far down a webpage users are scrolling and where they are stopping to interact with content. This is useful for identifying where users lose interest or get stuck with an aspect of design or navigation. Scrolls maps can also assist with optimal placements for vital content and calls-to-action.

  • Click map

Click mapAs you might guess, this map shows where users are clicking on a website or app. Colour intensity again is used to highlight frequency of action in each area and useful to identify which areas are missed or ignored and need to be reconsidered in terms of design and layout. 

  • Error click heatmap

A helpful map for helping to demonstrate where users are encountering site errors or unexpected results when clicking. Frequency of error clicks are shown with the colour intensity. This map shows where adjustments need to be made to interface design and functionality to optimise a site and improve user experience. 

  • Desktop and mobile heatmap

Considering the majority of people engage with online content on their mobile phones, if you want to use a heatmap, you need to test across multiple device types. The desktop and mobile heatmap provides insights into how users interact with a website or app on different platforms and enables you to compare and contrast user behaviour

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