Separate Instances for Each Map

This Is The Best Heatmap Software For Researchers (Yes, It Downsamples, And That Is OK)

For “dabblers” in optimization, other tools might do the trick, but Hotjar is the go-to tool for expert researchers. Here’s why and how to avoid getting misguided by claims that downsampling is always bad.

A researcher is only as good as their tools. If you want to make the best decisions, you need to arm yourself with the best information.

Analytics data, user interviews, and surveys are helpful in their own ways, but there is powerful insight in observing people use the site or app.

This gives you a clear, comprehensive, and unbiased view of their experience.

How do you get this valuable view? With a tool like Hotjar.

Hotjar is one of our favorite research tools. It’s a staple of our workflow and a key way we develop insights to optimize our clients’ digital experiences.

Sometimes, new clients will ask us to use their preferred tool, but we usually resist. That’s how confident we are in Hotjar’s value. Right now, it’s the best heat mapping software on the market for professional researchers.

We’d like to take a moment to explain what makes Hotjar so great and how it helps us create better experiences for our clients. We’ll also address a common criticism of Hotjar’s platform.

What is Hotjar?

Hotjar is an analytics tool that helps digital brands understand how users interact with their websites. It provides insights into user behavior through visual representations so you can identify areas for improvement and enhance the overall user experience.

hotjar webpage header

Unlike traditional analytics tools that offer simple numerical data, Hotjar provides visual feedback through heatmaps, session recordings, surveys, user interviews, and feedback polls.

These tools let you see exactly how users navigate your site, where they click, and how far they scroll. This information helps you make data-driven decisions to optimize your website, which ultimately leads to a better digital experience for everyone (not to mention higher conversion rates and increased revenue for you).

What are Heatmaps, Scroll Maps, and Click Maps?

Before we dig into why Hotjar is the best heatmap software, let’s get an understanding of the tool’s primary value.

If you look at analytical data, it can seem like conversions just happen on their own. But in reality, there are dozens of little variables that affect how and when your visitors decide to take action.

For instance, a visitor might read some content, explore some images, or watch a video on the page before finally taking the next step. These “footprints” can provide key insight to help you optimize the experience and drive more conversions.

Unfortunately, you can’t get this kind of data out-of-the-box in Google Analytics. (That isn’t to say Google Analytics is a bad tool, but it doesn’t provide everything you need.) And if you have customer tracking set up that tells the fuller story, all that can do is tell you what’s happening. It won’t show you.

Therefore, you need specialty tools to show exactly what your visitors do on your site: heatmaps, scroll maps, click maps, and session recordings.

Heatmaps: Where People Pay Attention

A Nielsen eye-tracking study made pretty big waves when it proved what we all suspected: people don’t read on the web. We scan.

In fact, we scan in a fairly predictable F-shaped pattern. We start on the far left-hand side, scan to the right, and then drop down and to the left to repeat.

The result is that some spots on the page get the majority of our attention. Other spots are basically ignored.

heatmap scanning in an f shape

That Nielsen study is an example of a heatmap. It shows us where users focus their attention. We can use it to learn whether design elements are effective and how to optimize the page.

Areas that receive a lot of attention are shown in warmer colors, like red and orange, and areas that receive little attention get cooler colors, like green and blue.

For instance, consider the following two images. When the baby is facing forward, the face receives the majority of the reader’s attention (indicated by the hot red spot). The title and text are far “cooler,” meaning they get less attention.

heatmap of baby looking forward

But look what happens when the baby faces the content. The attention on the face gets transferred to the text.

heatmap of baby looking at the text

The direction of a face is a simple visual cue, but we wouldn’t see its effect without the help of the heatmap.

Obviously, this is a simple example. It’s not always so cut-and-dry. However, it shows us that heatmaps help us understand what our users are paying attention to. Armed with that information, we can create an experience that meets their needs and our goals.

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Scroll Maps: Whether People Consume Your Content

You design long, beautiful pages. But does anyone read them? Do they actually make the experience better for your users?

Scroll maps help us understand where people scroll to on a page and how long they spend there. These maps use the same hot-cold color grading as heat maps. If users spend a lot of time in one area, the map shows it as red or orange. If they never scroll to a part of the page at all, it gets the super-cold blue.

Check out the following scroll map example. Essentially, this map tells us that no one scrolls below the fold.

fully heatmap

Suppose this page’s juiciest offer is below the fold. In this case, most users will never see it because they don’t have a reason to explore further.

Does this mean information farther down the page is less valuable to users? Not necessarily. The following scroll map shows a page that’s almost entirely hot, meaning users care about all of the content.

hotjar software purdy and figg heatmap

Scroll maps are another powerful tool to help you optimize your pages. Like heatmaps, they tell you what users care about and offer insight into improving your pages.

Click Maps: Whether People are Close to Converting

The click is one of our most valuable signals because it represents engagement with the content. In some cases, a click indicates a prized conversion.

If people click your call to action, it’s a sign that your page is well-optimized. If they click elsewhere, it means they find something else more valuable or need more information.

Click maps show where someone clicks on your page. They reveal whether your users are interested in what they’re looking at.

Let’s look at an example. In this click map, you’ll notice most of the clicking takes place around the selector tabs on the left (represented by the warm zone). There’s also some clicking on the menu and the logo.

hotjar software clickmap

This map indicates that the page is working as intended. Users interact with the intended components and then explore other areas of the site.

Click tracking is part of Hotjar’s heat-mapping feature, but it doesn’t just show you where the click happens. You also get to learn where the user moved their cursor. This is another layer of user behavior that makes us love Hotjar.

5 Features That Make Hotjar the Best Tool for Researchers

Now that you understand Hotjar’s value offering let’s explore what specifically makes it the best tool on the market.

1. Separate Instances for Each Map

Having access to lots of different types of data is great, but some tools pump them all into the same report, which paints a muddy picture and makes accurate analysis difficult.

We love that Hotjar provides heatmaps, scroll maps, and click maps in separate instances with clear markings. This separation helps our team focus on the information we’re looking for so there are no misunderstandings.

Separate Instances for Each Map

2. Filters for Session Recordings

Session recordings typically take a while to sort through, especially if you have many of them. You can watch them at speeds faster than real-time, but they still take a while to watch.

This means we end up spending a lot of time watching dozens of irrelevant recordings for each page, often without learning anything valuable. It’s a major time suck.

Fortunately, Hotjar lets us filter our recordings to reduce the number of sessions we’re forced to watch. We can quickly drill down to the sessions that have the most impact on whatever we’re trying to learn.

Here’s a list of all the filters you can apply to your bank of session recordings.

  • Path/URL – Explore where users have or haven’t navigated. You can focus on viewed pages, specific landing pages, exit pages, or traffic channels.
  • Session – Refine data based on broader details about the session, such as new/returning users, country, duration, or page count.
  • Behavior – This includes actions performed/experienced by users during the session, such as clicks, events, rage clicks, entered text, refreshed page, U-turns, or errors.
  • User Attributes – Sessions from specific users based on custom attributes you’ve passed to Hotjar from your data.
  • Technology – Refine collected session data based on technology used during a session, such as device, screen resolution, browser, operating system, or Hotjar user ID.
  • Feedback – Filter sessions where a user submitted feedback through a feedback widget or Net Promoter Score widget.
  • Experiment – Explore sessions based on inclusion in an experiment.
  • Date Filter – Filter sessions based on relative or custom date ranges.

Our favorite filters include device type, landing page, pages visited, duration, relevance (engagement), and new vs returning user.

3. Keyboard Shortcuts for Quick Navigation

When you’re watching session recordings, Hotjar enables you to stop/play or go forward/back using the keyboard. This is a huge time saver, letting you bounce around recordings quickly to find the information you need.

Some competitors allow this kind of movement, but their buttons are small and out of the way. You have to click them manually, which takes your attention away from the video. As far as we know, no one else provides keyboard shortcuts so you can zip through the recording with ease.

4. Quickly Find Usability Issues

There’s only so far people will go to find what they need on your website or in your app. If your digital experience is hard to use, you’ll struggle to convert visitors. It’s simple logic.

In a HubSpot survey, 76% of respondents said the most important factor in a website’s design is the ability to find what they’re looking for.

Using Hotjar is a great way to identify usability issues that prevent users from taking the next step, whether that’s completing a purchase, opening a new user account, consuming content, or whatever else they need.

For instance, if you notice users opening your menu and hovering around without clicking, it tells you they couldn’t locate something they wanted. Maybe it’s worth testing different menu structures to facilitate a better experience.

5. Identify Moments of “Rage”

Sometimes, users become so frustrated that they click repeatedly to make the site work. This is often caused by slow page speed, confusion, or broken elements.

These are serious moments of frustration that you must avoid.

We like that Hotjar’s click maps can show you where users rage clicked. This helps us focus on the biggest causes of frustration in their experience.

Hotjar Identify Moments of “Rage”

Any rage-click issues you identify are easy wins. Solve them quickly before other users experience the same frustration.

Downsampling: A Common But Misguided Criticism of Hotjar

Whenever you consider analytics tools, you’ll likely read complaints of downsampling. Some tools use it. Tools that don’t use it often plaster it over their marketing as a point of value.

Downsampling refers to the process where a tool shows you a random percentage of your total session data instead of the full 100%.

Many analytics tools use downsampling for their free or lower-priced tiers and then encourage you to upgrade to higher-priced options to get access to 100% of your data. Essentially, this means that lower-tier accounts never see some of their data.

Downsampling can pose problems for detailed and precise metrics, such as conversion rates, in tools like Google Analytics. Calculating these nuanced numbers requires a complete understanding of the total number of visitors and sessions. Any reduction in the data can skew the results.

However, when using Hotjar for heat mapping, the situation is different.

Heatmaps are primarily used to identify patterns of user behavior on your website. Whether you’re looking at 100% of your sessions or a subset of sessions, the trends and themes that emerge from the data are usually consistent.

Some tools claim to be superior because they don’t downsample, but in our opinion, this really isn’t a concern when it comes to heat mapping. The fear of missing out on data is often exaggerated to encourage users to switch to more expensive plans.

Even with a sample of data, Hotjar’s ability to visualize user interactions, such as clicks and scrolls, allows you to make informed decisions about your website optimizations.

Go with Hotjar for Reliable Insights

Hotjar provides reliable and valuable data to help you understand user behavior patterns. The insights you gain are still robust and actionable. The app is simple to use for beginners and pros alike.

Hotjar is what we use to optimize sites like Pendleton, The Economist, and Fully. If you want to empower yourself (and your organization) with the best information to optimize your digital experience, Hotjar is the way to go.

You can sign up for a free account here.

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About the Author

Maria Balus

Maria is a UX Specialist at The Good. She uses her knowledge of user-centered design, evidence-based methods, and human behavior to provide research that inspires intuitive, functional design.