Posted on Apr 27, 2017

Meet Your New Best Friend: The Website Heat Map

Despite what their name may seem to imply, website heat maps have nothing to do with the weather.

Instead, they’re powerful tools that can help you determine how visitors are using your website, what content they’re consuming, and which changes you can make to put your most important information where they’re already looking.

What Can a Heat Map Tell You?

Heat map tools come in many different forms, depending on who built them and what their objectives are. Selecting a heat map tool for your website, therefore, comes down to understanding which of the following features and/or data points are most important to you.

Who’s currently on your website

Some heat map tracking tools offer “real-time” views that let you see how many people are on your website, as well as (in some cases) where they are and what they’re doing. Others only display past data in aggregate, which can be divided into different views based on time period, page, type of referrer or type of visit.

Image Source: Google

Where people are coming from

Depending on the heat mapping tool you use, you may be able to view referrer data in one of two ways:

  1. As separate data point

Referrer data can be used to shape your overall marketing approach. If more people are visiting your site from some referrers over others, you may wish to focus your advertising spend or efforts on those referring websites.

  1. As a filtering criteria 

Filter your referrer data to modify other heat map views. For example, you can use filtering to view only those website clicks (described in more detail below) that have come from different referrers. If you run an eCommerce website, you could use this filtering option to see if more visitors from one referrer click on your “Buy Now” button than another to fine-tune your marketing strategy even further.

Where people are looking on your website

This feature is common to nearly all heat mapping tools; after all, the entire point of a heat map is to identify the “hot areas” of your site that receive more interest than others.


Image Source: Flickr

This data is especially useful if you have important calls-to-action, buttons, or forms that aren’t experiencing the engagement you expected. Introducing a heat mapping tool can show you where visitors’ interest lies. If your interactive features are located outside of these areas, you may want to modify your site’s design to place them into ‘hotter’ areas.

Where people are clicking on your website

Some heat map tools track page engagement based not just on where visitors are looking, but on where they’re clicking as well.

Heatmap click display

Image Source: Flickr

This data can be used in the same manner described above. If your site’s clicks aren’t aligning with the engagement features built into your pages – or if you’re seeing a large number of clicks on ‘dead’ spaces on your site – a heat map will give you a better idea of where to place these elements for maximum engagement.

The paths people have taken through your site

Depending on the heat map tool, you may be able to view user data not just in terms of individual actions – such as views and clicks – but as part of a continuous path of movement throughout your site. This represents a great opportunity to understand if visitors are getting hung up on certain parts of your site or if they’re struggling to find the information they need.

Some tools even offer the option of recording user sessions so that you can see how visitors move through your site. These tools can be helpful for establishing a baseline understanding of how people interact with your pages in order to plan specific optimization campaigns in the future.

How far down your pages people are scrolling

Finally, most heat map tools give you the ability to see how far specific percentages of users are making it down your site’s individual pages.

This is especially helpful for longer sales pages or other pages where your call-to-action or interactive element happens below the fold. Using heat mapping, you can see exactly where people begin to drop out of your content, and use this insight to rework your pages so they are more appealing to viewers.

Choosing a Heat Map Tool

Available features is a key criterion when reviewing and prioritizing heat mapping tool options. However, it’s not the only one. Here are other items to consider:

  • Price – Heat mapping tools vary widely in terms of cost. While many are free, others come with a monthly price tag.
  • Additional modules – Some heat map tools are standalone products; heat mapping is all they do. Others come as part of a larger package or with additional modules that may or may not be useful to you.
  • Ease of integration – Most heat map tools require some level of integration with your website to gather the necessary data, and the complexity of this integration can vary greatly. Certain heat mapping tools may not work with certain website platforms. Carefully consider whether you’ve chosen an option that works with your website and that you can install on your own.

Once you have a good idea of what you’re looking for, you may find this list of heat mapping tools to be a helpful starting point for your evaluation process:

Because every webmaster’s needs are different, we can’t make a blanket recommendation that would make sense for every iPage blog reader. Instead, keep the criteria described above in mind as you look into each of these different options.

Installing Your Heat Mapping Tool

Understandably, the different heat mapping installation steps you’ll take to get your site up-and-running will depend on the heat map tool you choose. But to give you a feel for the general process, consider the following installation process for Crazy Egg.

First, you’ll locate the specific place within your site’s code where your tracking script will be inserted. Your script is automatically generated by Crazy Egg and should be inserted, in this case, above the closing </head> tag. If your site runs on WordPress, you may find that many themes allow you to paste in code snippets to be called in the <head> section without having to manually edit your code.

Here’s how this section appears in Crazy Egg’s example:

Once you’ve found the correct location, you’ll paste in your tracking script:

That’s all there is to it! If you’ve done everything correctly, you’ll begin seeing data gathered in your heat map tool’s dashboard (though you may experience a small delay between installation and reporting).

How to Use Your Heat Mapping Data

As we’ve hinted at above, the best use for your heat mapping data is to understand how website visitors are interacting with your website. Their behavior patterns can give you significant insight into the best way to lay out your site’s individual elements, as well as inspire ideas for future website split tests.

However, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind as you work with your heat mapping tool:

  • Tie your heat map usage to a specific objective – If you’re a new heat map user, you may find the wealth of data presented by these tools overwhelming. Instead of getting lost in all the different possibilities, use heat maps to test a single assumption you’ve decided upon ahead of time. For instance, you might install a heat map tool specifically to answer the question, “Do visitors see where to click to join my email newsletter?”
  • Beware making decisions off of individual data points – It’s not uncommon for new heat map users to see one visitor miss an important engagement feature and to rearrange their site based on where that visitor actually clicked. Despite this temptation, a single user is simply too small of a data set to make meaningful decisions. Instead, use heat mapping tools to uncover larger trends that can be tested with future split tests.
  • Watch out for temporary or seasonal usage pattern variations – Imagine how different your heat map data would be if, one week, you ran a special holiday promotion, and then turned it off the next week. Because this one-off event has the potential to dramatically alter the way customers use your website, it’s hardly fair to judge it in the same way you do your normal site usage.

Like anything else in digital marketing, there’s a learning curve with heat maps. That said, most webmasters find that this is an acceptable trade-off, given the valuable insight they can provide.
Are you using a heat mapping tool? If so, share any other tips or tricks you’ve learned by leaving us a comment below:


Header Image: Flickr