Website and App Heatmaps: Make Sense of Online Customer Behavior


Millions of customers visiting a website or app can translate into billions of online customer behaviors. To make sense of every interaction, utilize website and app heatmaps as part of digital experience analytics. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the second part of Medallia’s 5-part blog series, Tools of Digital Experience Analytics. Each blog defines and explains the purpose behind a fundamental tool or feature of digital experience analytics. While the series kicked off by covering digital experience scores, this blog dives into heatmaps for websites and apps. Stay tuned for upcoming blogs on session replay, form analytics, and journey visualizations.)

Using websites and apps is becoming second nature to the average consumer. It’s nearly as familiar as walking into a brick and mortar retailer and shopping as we’ve done for years. And as websites and apps become the focal point for many customers, making sense of online customer behaviors has become mission critical. 

While analytics and direct feedback provide useful customer insights, website and app heatmaps provide the richest insights into online customer behaviors. So, if improving digital experiences across every web page or app screen is a high priority for your organization, then heatmaps should become your favorite tool. 

What are heatmaps?

In short, heatmaps track and visualize on-page user behavior across websites and apps. This is a tool often included as a part of a digital experience analytics solution. And there are a number of different kinds of heatmaps, all with unique purposes. 

Each heatmap type displays different insights around user interactions, which allow for you to get a closer look at the data you’re most interested in. The most common heatmaps offered by industry leaders, include: 

  • Click/touch heatmaps — refer to mouse clicks on websites or touches on apps
  • Hover heatmaps — refer to where a user’s mouse moves and the content it hovers over on websites
  • Scroll heatmaps — refer to the depth, speed, and rhythm of a user’s scrolling on a website or app
  • Behavior heatmaps — refer to the specific ways users behave and engage (i.e. multi-clicks, bird’s nests, reading, select and copy, etc.)
  • Attribution heatmaps — refer to specific on-page zones that track engagements and conversions for elements like buttons, menus, and carousels
  • Aggregate heatmaps — refer to overlaying heatmaps for separate pages with similar layouts (e.g. two different landing page forms)
  • Comparison heatmaps — refer to cross-checking heatmaps side-by-side for the same page, but with different audience segments or heatmap types

Aggregating millions of user behaviors and interactions into a single picture, heatmaps showcase how the bulk of user journeys and actions unfold on your website or app. And for that reason, it’s clear why 95% of practitioners find heatmaps highly effective for measuring web and app experiences according to research by Econsultancy. 

Why should you use heatmaps?

In a crowded field of analytics tools and solutions, website and app heatmaps stand out because they provide the unique ability to clearly display large volumes of user behaviors and interactions on any given web page or app screen. 

These types of behavioral insights can be a game changer: Businesses that leverage customer behavior data to generate behavioral insights outperform peers by 85% in sales growth and more than 25% in gross margin.

From identifying high engagement content, to monitoring menu navigation, and uncovering technical issues behind forms, this tool can reveal an unparalleled aggregate view of a customers’ digital experience. Heatmaps make it easy to determine whether engagement or conversions rise or fall due to a new button, video content, page layout, and many more factors. And while its highly regarded sister tool, session replay, offers similar advantages to analyzing user behavior, heatmaps provide better scalability on the page level. 

Research has shown that the mouse movements of desktop users correlate highly with where they are paying attention. Clicks, meanwhile, mark the point where that attention becomes genuine interest or desire. Hover heatmaps thus indicate the on-page content that draws user attention, while click heatmaps indicate the content that piques their interest. 

These highly actionable insights are like gold to any enterprise digital team. In fact, British super-retailer, Tesco Mobile used a mixture of click, hover, and scroll reach heatmaps to investigate drop off in their checkout funnel. The changes they made based on these insights led to a 70% increase in conversion

How should you use heatmaps?

Even with a world-class heatmap solution, it takes a savvy user to make the most of this tool. It’s not enough to just look at heatmap data for random pages across your website or app, you need to use heatmaps with a specific purpose in mind. 

Best practice is to use heatmaps with the goal of improving or fixing a certain area or journey of your website or app, like navigation or page layouts. If you’ve gone a step further and pinpointed a known experience issue, like abandonment at checkout or rising homepage bounce rates, you can use heatmaps even more effectively.

Follow this simple nine-step process to maximize heatmap insights that can help you improve digital experience: 

  1. Choose a specific web or app experience issue or area for improvement
  2. Organize heatmap investigations by page type, performance, device, and channel
  3. Establish context using web and app analytics along with voice of customer feedback
  4. Determine the best-performing and worst-performing on-page content 
  5. Measure engagement corresponding with on-page elements and page layouts
  6. Identify user frustration and confusion tied to specific on-page content
  7. Leverage session replay and segmentation to further investigate notable friction
  8. Review form analytics to contextualize behavior on form-based pages if appropriate
  9. Use tagging and overlay toggles to track and compare page changes when optimizing

Be sure to make the most of all the heatmap types available to you, and focus on using those that most directly relate to the problems or experiences you’re investigating.

What matters most when choosing website and app heatmap solutions?

While there’s a crowded list of heatmap vendors on the market today, this tool’s capabilities often vary quite a bit between solutions. To cut through the noise, here’s a look at the eight core capabilities your organization should prioritize in a heatmap tool:

  1. A wide range of standard and advanced heatmap types (tip: reference the list mentioned earlier in this blog)
  2. Extensive segmentation that enables narrow and user-specific heatmap analysis
  3. Overlay data for comparing multiple pages with similar or identical layouts
  4. On-page behavioral data that illustrates user engagement, frustration, and confusion
  5. Compatibility with external analytics data to contextualize and enhance heatmap insights
  6. Automatic tracking of static and dynamic on-page elements without manual tagging
  7. Page toggling to easily gauge performance differences between alternate layouts
  8. Integrated session replay to correlate insights with specific user sessions

If you’re looking for a deeper dive into the must-have capabilities of industry-leading website and app heatmap tools, download Heatmaps Buyer’s Checklist: 7 Features Enterprise Teams Need, which explains every high-priority feature.