Most people don’t know how well their own website performs, despite having made a significant investment in it and often spending large amounts of money to drive traffic to it.
So how do you find out whether your website will really communicate the right messages and guide people to do the things you want them to do before they leave?
Heat Maps help you improve your website!
One of the popular tools in conversion optimisation is the heat map. Lots of people talk about how they use heat maps to see what users are looking at and what they are clicking on. Heat maps are indeed a great idea, but in fact the heat map itself is just a way of visualising information, and the tools themselves vary a lot in terms of purpose and functionality.
We use three leading conversion optimisation tools that have heat maps at their core, and we thought it would be helpful to compare them side by side. The tools are:
- Crazy Egg
Crazy Egg is one of the best known heatmap tools and played a big part in popularising the concept of click tracking. The beauty of Crazy Egg is that it is really simple and so perfect for getting some quick insights without getting confused by stuff that you don’t really need to know. If you are running a WordPress site, you just install the free Crazy Egg WordPress plugin and follow the simple instructions to link it with your Crazy Egg account.
You then set up what you want to track, so for example you might setup a report that will track the next 500 people that visit your homepage. When the report is ready, you get notified by email and you can then view a digital ‘snapshot‘ of the data, which comes in the following forms:
- Heatmap – This shows you visually the highest areas of lick activity on your webpage
- Scrollmap – Another heat map showing how far typical visitors scrolled down the page
- Confetti – This segments the click data by useful factors such as referral source and search term, so that you can see if people from specific sources click on particular things
- Overlay – This is similar to the click map, but shows you how many people clicked on each specific link on the page (whereas the click page shows the exact locations of mouse clicks, even if not on hyperlinked elements)
- List – The list report shows a purely numerical report of the number of clicks on their webpage elements.
It is useful to get a rough idea of what people are looking at on your site. You can quickly find out if people are scrolling down your pages to read the full content, and whether your important links and buttons are actually being clicked on. As well as heatmaps, Crazy Egg also offers A/B testing, to help you verify which versions of your webpage works best, and Recordings that let you gain insights by watching real people move through your website.
The downside of Crazy Egg is that you have to wait a while before it can gather enough useful data (rather than automatically tracking all pages all of the time) and, perhaps most importantly, the benefit rubs off quite quickly. In your first month you learn a lot from it, but unless you add new pages or update your page design regularly, the benefits diminish over time as the data becomes repetitive from month to month. In our experience we have seen several people sign up for a few months and then stop using it a few months later. This is a good reason to sign up for a monthly subscription instead of paying annually.
SessionCam is not quite as well know as Crazy Egg and when we first discovered it we assumed that it was just another version of the same thing with a less sexy website. However, when we tried it out we realised that it is a whole different kettle of fish.
Starting with heatmaps, it will generate the following:
- Click Map
- Scroll Map
- Mouse Movement – this is unique to SessionCam and shows you how people move their mouse around the page as they read
- Attention Map – this is an aggregate of the above heatmaps
The mouse movement map is pretty interesting, and the great thing is that it automatically tracks all of your pages so that you can login and generate heatmaps for any page at any time, and generate heatmaps with specific segments such as browser type of referral source on the fly. This alone makes it far more powerful than Crazy Egg.
But that is just the beginning. Where it gets really interesting is that it records the behaviour of every user to your site, and you can then play back a reconstruction of their time on the site. You can literally see a visitors session, with their mouse movements, scrolling and clicks. You are basically watching a video of their screen while they were on the website. You can even see if they typed something into a form and then never submitted it.
The power of this in helping you understand how people browse your website is incredible, and probably has to be tried to be fully appreciated. It isn’t just great for helping you improve your design to get more leads and sales, but it can also be useful as a customer service tool. Let’s say that a customer phones up and says that they were filling in your application form and they got stuck, you can actually pull up the animated recording of their session to see what they did and where they got stuck. Similarly, if someone tells you that they were navigating your website and encountered an error, you can see exactly hat they were doing that caused the error, allowing you to go in and fix it.
You can also define conversion funnels on the website in a few clicks, so that you can easily see how many people are starting your sales/enquiry process but dropping out.
It also has a WordPress plugin that makes getting started absolute child’s play.
To be honest, the only downsides of SessionCam are that it only stores data for 30 days on the basic plans, and if you compare the pricing ‘per visitor’ with Crazy Egg then it is a bit more expensive. However, they do have a free account (in fact we can give you a free account with a higher allowance if you ask us), and the pricing is still a bargain considering the incredible insights that it offers.
When we talk to clients about EyeQuant, they often tell us that “we don’t need that because we already use Crazy Egg”. However, the two are completely different tools.
While Crazy Egg and SessionCam provide you useful data and heatmaps to show you what people are doing on your website, EyeQuant shows you what people are seeing on your website. Put another way, Crazy Egg and SessionCam show you people what people are are clicking on, but EyeQuant helps you to understand why they clicked on one thing and not another. Perhaps that blue button just doesn’t jump out visually, or the sales messages aren’t clearly presented.
EyeQuant uses an algorithm developed from real life eye tracking studies and is their able to calculate with a very high level of accuracy what a typical person would see when they view a web page. It offers three types of heat map:
- 3 second view – shows you what a typical person would see in the first 3 seconds
- Attention heatmap – shows a more general heatmap of which elements grab visual attention on the page
- Regions of Interest – allows you to define specific elements and find out how much attention they attract relative to the rest of the page. This is ideal for analysing key sales messages and buttons.
The thing that makes EyeQuant really exciting is that unlike other heatmap tools, you can use EyeQuant before the website even exists. No need to build a site and wait a month to find out that your site design doesn’t work. You can upload an image of your website design before you even build the site, and within a few seconds you can see whether or not it is going to be effective. If the answer is no, you can adapt the design and test again until the design is optimised to highlight the most important things that you want every visitor to see, which we suggest are:
- Who are you?
- What do you so?
- Why should I care?
- What do you want me to do on your site?
If those four things are obvious, then you can build your site knowing that is has a very high chance of success.
Critics of EyeQuant say that they don’t need it because they can see with their own eyes what their website (or concept design) looks like and so they tool is just showing them the obvious. In reality though, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Experienced designers are likely to produce a good design, but everyone involved in the design process is too involved to look at the site objectively and understand what a typical visitor would see and get attracted to. EyeQuant gives you an unbiased view that guides the design process to a successful conclusion.
So EyeQuant is not a substitute for other heatmap tools, but really a precursor to them.
The only real downsides of EyeQuant are that the user interface is pretty clunky (though they are working hard to improve this) and that is a pretty expensive for use by smaller business (though larger companies will find that it pays for itself almost instantly).
Conclusion: What is the best heatmap tool?
In this review we are only comparing Crazy Egg, SessionCam and EyeQuant, so we are not looking at any other heatmap tools. Having used all three of these tools on our own website and on client websites, we feel that there are really two distinct winners.
EyeQuant is a genuinely unique tool that gives scientific data to help improve website conversions when you are still in the design process. If you can afford to subscribe or work with an agency that uses it then it will undoubtedly mean that you get a better website design that generates more sales and leads.
SessionCam on the other hand is really fantastic for understanding what people do on your site after you put it online. The animated playback feature is revolutionary to the point that it is almost spooky watching what people did. And with a fully featured free account type available there is really no good reason not to try it out.
Crazy Egg is a nice tool that deserves credit for being a pioneer, but it is pretty basic and in our opinion has now been overtaken by the competition.
Update on 13th January 2014:
Due to a high number of requests, we’ll now only be offering the upgraded free SessionCam account to our clients. We’d love to be able to offer it to everyone but unfortunately don’t have time to deal with all the requests. However, you can still get the standard free account from www.sessioncam.com