Website Heatmap – A Look Into the Cons and How to Overcome Them.

What is a Website Heatmap?

Website heatmap is a tool that graphically represents data on how various pages of your website are performing. It records user activity on web pages and presents them using colors on the generated heatmap. The use of website heatmaps usually entails employing a hot-to-cold color or warm-to-cool scheme where the warm color tones indicate the most popular sections of your website pages.

warm to cool color scheme
Image Source[1]

Broadly, there are 5 different kinds of website heatmaps, namely, heatmap, clickmap, scrollmap, mouse tracking heatmap, and eye tracking heatmap. They record visitors’ clicks, scroll depth & pattern, mouse movement, gaze & eye fixation behavior, and the data thus gathered can help you identify popular sections of various web pages, discover friction areas by identifying redundant links, images, content, and so on, and can enable you to find your website’s most optimized version.

Are Heatmaps Actually Too Good to be True?

As goes the rule, before crossing the road, look both left and right for oncoming traffic. One wrong step and the story ends then and there. With heatmaps too, before choosing it as the ultimate visual behavior analytics tool for your website, you need to weigh in both the pros and cons.

Heatmaps weren’t always what they are today. From the first heatmap being made in 1873 using a color palette that was limited to shades of black and white, heatmaps have evolved quite a lot. And like any other tool or software in the process of evolving into its perfect version, heatmaps too have a long way to go.

There are a lot of articles about how website heatmap is a tool that does not falter. But, to make truly informed decisions, and to be sure the drawbacks and challenges that come with it do not hamper your visitor behavior analysis, it is important to keep its cons in mind as well. For all we know, your requirements might be better catered to with other tools.

Let’s look at some of the most commonly experienced drawbacks or challenges accompanying website heatmap usage:

1. Lack of Time Records

When a heatmap tool records the clicks, scrolls, mouse movement, or eye movement of visitors, it does not present the plotted data with a timestamp for each user interaction.

This essentially means that there is no way to know when in a visitor’s journey, they clicked on a certain element, or they stopped scrolling on a page, or they clicked on the exit button. It may very well be that 10% of the visitors whose engagement story your heatmap tells landed on your website by mistake, or maybe they clicked on an ad by mistake. It will just give you a colorful picture of the data it captured without any context, and you may end up making unwarranted changes to your website.

For instance, a visitor lands on your website, navigates through the homepage to the product page, clicks on a few elements, comes back to the homepage, and then exits the website. Another visitor lands directly on your product page when they were actually looking for the homepage so they click on some elements, go back to the homepage and then exits. Now, the reason for these two visitors exiting your website may be very different. But because heatmaps do not timestamp visitor activity, there is no way to realize that the two had different reasons for exiting the product page. 

Heatmaps fail to tell you when a user did what they did on the website. They only tell you that they did it without any context about their journey or experience.

2. Inability to Track Dynamic Elements’ Performance without Complex Configuration

It’s the start of 2020s, and everything is now dynamic in the online world – the elements on the websites keep on changing, moving, or updating. Heatmap’s inherent design is best suited for fixed and unchanging elements. Until the heatmaps tool you choose has an added dynamic heatmap feature, you will have to make do with incomplete data and thus incomplete information. And no matter how much precision you show in setting it all up and then analyzing the collected data, you will never truly get a complete picture of how each page of your website is performing. 

Without the ability to track visitor behavior on pages and elements with dynamic URLs like visitors’ profile, their cart page, account settings page, drop-down menus, and so on, the heatmap plotted may be beautiful but not as useful or accurate.

3. Data Distortion Through Visualization

Not every click means the same thing. Not every scroll connotes the same scrolling pattern. Not every cursor pause means the visitors are confused. Additionally, a single visitor can click on a single page multiple times on multiple elements. A single visitor can click on the same element multiple times. It is here that lies the biggest problem with using website heatmaps.

For heatmaps, a click is a click, a scroll is a scroll, and so on. It does not pause to consider the above-mentioned possibilities. Hence, it plots these activity markers exactly as it records it – just because a visitor clicked on the login button does not mean they actually logged in, just because they clicked on unlinked images does not automatically mean they were expecting it to be linked to something.

Then there are ‘Parkers’. Parkers are visitors who keep their cursors stationary irrespective of which section of a page they are on, what they are reading or what they are looking at. Now, when using a mouse tracking heatmap, you may notice that some visitors are leaving their cursors at random places on the page for a long time. This does not automatically mean that the content on those sections of the page is confusing, and that is why visitors have their cursors on those sections for so long. The heatmap you use may not rule out such caveats of visitor behavior and presents it as a breakage in user experience. 

Coupled with the problem of lack of timestamps, this type of data visualization only distorts the collected data.

4. Inability to Take Screen Diversity Into Account

In the first decade of the 21st century, mankind forged histories in terms of technological advancements. It began with only a few owning computers, which were all similar, with close to duplicate configurations and features, if not the same. Today, every second person owns multiple devices with varying screen sizes, and the market is swamped with different companies that are producing smart devices of all shapes and forms relentlessly.

Therefore, to record visitor behavior on every such device, the tool used should be as versatile so it can record and distinguish between different screen sizes and resolutions of the devices being used by different visitors to your website. For instance, 100 pixels by 100 pixels does not mean the same thing for a device with a 16:9 aspect ratio and one with an 18.7:9 aspect ratio. Till the time website heatmaps ignore these peculiarities, you will not see the actual, but a statistically insignificant averaged data being represented on a heatmap.

Are Heatmaps Useful Then?

All the above-mentioned cons of using website heatmap can be overcome through one solution – preventing the use of website heatmaps in isolation from other analytics tools, both quantitative and qualitative. 

Using website heatmaps in combination with other tools like Google Analytics (GA) and session recordings, website form analytics, website surveys, and so on, you can compare the data collected from two or more tools and then corroborate or rule out the findings of your heatmap. 

This would solve the problem of lack of time records, inability to track dynamic elements, visualization leading to complete data distortion, and aspect ratio. Plus, website heatmaps come with a huge package of benefits that outweigh the pitfalls that accompany it.

By having multiple tools gather data on the same visitors and their journey, you can use the heatmap data to fill in the blanks left by the findings of session recording and vice versa.

Conclusion

Like any other software, website heatmaps too, have their fair share of drawbacks. But none of these are irreparable flaws. With a few extra precautions and by following some industry best practices to avoid making heat mapping mistakes, you can make the most out of what website heatmaps have to offer.

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