Heat maps are a jumping-off point; they are a good start. There are some flaws that unfortunately prevent heat maps from being a go-to resource that reveals concrete data. No, you can’t be sure that the visitor is actually looking at the spot where their cursor hovers; no, the nebulous blurs and smears don’t give you exact metrics; but yes, they do provide some valuable insight that you may not have otherwise seen.
Statistics and other findings of research conducted to determine the effectiveness of heat maps is beyond the scope of this article. This article discusses a general overview of the potential usefulness of heat maps for understanding your customers’ behavior, and how you might go about utilizing them to increase web sales.
It might help you get your bounce rate down.
People leave your site right away for a few reasons, so a heat map won’t always help you find the cause. You will probably want to rely more on additional analytics and first-hand feedback from your customers, to discover why they bounce.
It can be tough to discern why people leave your site right away, but a heat map is one way to tell what a visitor was doing just before they left, and what they may have been looking for.
Why are they clicking on unclickable things?
One great benefit of looking at a heat map of your site is the ability to see where people are clicking in areas that are not clickable. This could be an indicator of a number of things.
If you compare an area where there is nothing to click with the content (or lack of content) in that spot on the page, you will be able to tell what visitors are trying to do when they click there, to learn how you can provide them with what they need, or to divert their attention to where it should be.
Again, there are other analytics from which you can derive this information, but a heat map is a quick, visual way to ascertain what your visitors are looking for.
If everyone clicks on the same inactive spot, it also may just mean that the spot looks like it’s a link to something. If that is the case, you might need to change the format of the text so that it doesn’t look like a hyperlink, to avoid confusing your visitors.
Heat maps supplement your other analytics.
Again, heat maps are a jumping-off point. Poring over your web analytics for hours at a time is about as enjoyable as a root canal, while looking at a heat map is actually kind of fun, and it will show you where the action is, so to speak, as a precursor to more accurate metrics, giving you an idea of where to start your research.
The best way to use a heat map to your advantage is to identify something of interest, such as a spot on your landing page where your visitors’ cursor seems to hover, and then use supplemental analytics to investigate what exactly is happening.
Why do we like heat maps?
The bottom line is that heat maps’ recent popularity and appeal is due to its visual representation of analytics, instead of data spreadsheets and graphs, which can be mind-numbingly tedious.
Maybe we like them because of the voyeuristic aspect of looking at exactly where people put their cursor, like a virtual peeping Tom; maybe it’s because we feel like a military agent using infrared vision.
In any case, we like them; although, heat maps will indeed have to somehow begin to represent the data more accurately, if they are going to survive as a useful tool in the ever-advancing world of sophisticated web analytics.