In a nutshell, a heat map is a visual representation of data. It can make data analysis a lot quicker due to the fact that it is easier for the human brain to comprehend data when it is represented visually. The data is often color-coded to make it easier to understand.
Heatmaps haven’t always been a tool for web designers; its most common use is during public elections. During elections in the U.S., for instance, a map of America will be shown with some states colored blue and others red — blue represents Democrat votes while red represents Republican votes. The colors are presented as lighter or darker depending on the level of support.
Web designers realized that heatmaps can be used outside of politics and utilized to aid UX design. You can use heatmaps to analyze important website data that will tell you which areas of your sites need tweaking.
Heatmaps use a color spectrum comprised of warm to cool colors. In a web design context, warm colors represent where your users spend the most amount of time while cold colors show where they spend the least amount of time.
The two-dimensional color-coded method of representing information is extremely efficient when working through piles of data.
It’s easier to understand relationships between data values when they are presented visually as opposed to numerically.
Types of heatmaps
There are numerous forms of UX heatmaps, each with its own purpose. There are heatmaps that track the user’s cursor as it moves across the screen, heatmaps that track taps on touchscreen devices, and heatmaps that track where users click most.
Click and Tap Heatmaps
A click and tap heatmap — sometimes referred to as a CT heatmap — will show you where your site’s visitors click or tap most. These types of maps are extremely versatile as they can represent data from multiple platforms and compile it into one easy-to-understand image.
These heatmaps will help you detect problems on your pages. Are visitors having trouble finding your navigation links or menus? Are they clicking text that looks like a link but really isn’t?
Using a heatmap to find these issues early on will allow you to address them before too much damage is done. Areas that are clicked and/or tapped most by users will appear red while areas that are ignored will appear blue. Areas with no color have never been clicked or tapped.
Unlike CT heatmaps, movement heatmaps show you where the cursors of your website’s visitors are most often located instead of showing you where they clicked or tapped. The area that most visitors have moved their cursor to will appear the hottest while the areas that they have moved their cursor to the least will appear blue.
The position of the cursor is recorded once every 100 milliseconds — that’s 10 times per second. The recorded data is then stored and ready for use. A new movement heatmap may look similar to a CT heatmap at first but, as more and more data is collected, patterns will start to form and give you a clear idea of where your visitors’ cursors are most often located.
Scroll heatmaps show you how far down your visitors scroll while viewing a specific page. The data calculates the number of visitors that your page gets by the depth that they scroll while on the page.
The result is a visual representation of how many users scrolled to a certain stretch of your webpage. Depending on the software you use, you can usually see the exact percentage of visitors that visited a certain part of your page by moving your mouse over the heatmap.
The color of each stretch of your page will be either hotter or colder (redder or bluer) depending on how many visitors viewed that area.
Scroll heatmaps also determine the average fold on your pages. The average fold is the area that would be visible when users first open a page — prior to scrolling.
As different visitors are on devices with varying resolutions, the data is compiled, calculated, and shows an average of the area that is immediately visible — hence the term “average fold.” Most heatmaps will mark the area with a white line labeled “average fold.”
How heatmaps can improve the user experience (UX)
All of the heatmaps listed above are extremely useful tools for UX designers. They help you analyze the behavior of your website’s visitors. This will help you design your website better because you will understand the needs of your users to a greater extent.
Heatmaps can even show how users from different demographics interact with your page. For instance, you might find that male users scroll further down than female users. If all your female users are leaving at a specific portion of a landing page, there might be content that is offensive to women.
You can even divide user groups by age, location, and so much more. The ability to see how different kinds of users react to different areas of your site will make it easier for you to please the majority of your website’s visitors and make your site as easy to use as possible.
Heatmaps can help you with the following areas:
Heatmaps can show you which areas of your site visitors have trouble navigating so that you can find the problem and fix it immediately.
It will also help you determine whether or not your layout is effective in displaying all the information on your website. Knowing if your users are missing key aspects of your page will help you adjust your layout accordingly.
If you have a lot of content on your site — such as articles and/or blog posts — a heatmap will show you how much of that content is getting read. If your readers stop reading at the 800-word mark, that’s a clear sign for you to start publishing short-form content as opposed to long-form content.
Heatmaps can show you which buttons are ignored by site visitors. Knowing which buttons receive a lot of attention and which ones don’t can tell you where the best spot is to place your buttons and what color they should be in.
The use of heatmaps can also help you detect images that are offensive to some or all of your visitors. If numerous visitors stop scrolling after seeing a certain image, it’s likely offensive and should be taken down immediately.
It can also show you which images take the spotlight away from vital content. These distracting images should be detected and removed as soon as possible to minimize damage.
How heatmaps can help you optimize your conversion rate
Heatmaps can also help you improve your website’s conversion rate. In all actuality, heatmap analysis is one of the most effective ways to increase conversions on a website because it’s extremely cheap to perform yet the ROI (return on investment) is often very high.
Heatmaps will show you which parts of your website grabs the attention of your user as well as which CTAs (call-to-actions) get clicked the most and which CTAs users just pass by.
Using a heatmap to analyze the data of pages with high bounce rates can help you pinpoint the problem. Does the menu button blend in with the background? Is a certain navigation button broken?
Finding the problem early and addressing it quickly is the key to optimizing your user experience, and, as a result, your conversion rate.
The bottom line
Understanding how your users interact with your website is paramount to your success. Heatmaps are the easiest way to analyze data that can reveal patterns in the behavior of your visitors. Don’t give heatmaps the cold shoulder — start using them today!