User Research Techniques: Heat Mapping

Google Golden Triangle

Google Golden Triangle (Photo credit: labnol)

What is heat mapping?

Heat mapping is a user data analysis technique where users mouse movements, keyboard input, and mouse clicks are recorded and presented over a screenshot to determine the highest attention areas. In some cases, eye tracking data can also be heat mapped. Heat mapping isn’t a research technique in its own right, as a variety of techniques can be presented as a heat map, but it is a very useful analysis tool.

Why conduct heat mapping?

Heat mapping can show in a very visual format where your users are interacting, and where they are not. It can help to show which elements should be emphasized, attenuated, or removed. Heat mapping is very cheap, non-invasive, quick, and highly actionable. Combined with other research techniques, heat mapping can reveal problems with the execution stage of the conversion process.

How do I conduct heat mapping?

Heat mapping is very easy to conduct. Google Analytics includes a primitive, free heat mapping tool, however some of the premium options can provide a simpler alternative. Usually, it involves a single line of JavaScript or native code on the page that reports user input to the services, and you can specify pages, times, and number of users you’d like to record.

What are the limits of heat mapping?

As a quantitative, behavioral technique, combining heat mapping with opinion-based or qualitative techniques, such as surveys and usability testing can help to complete a mental image of the users expectations. Heat mapping will not reveal user motivations, resources, or attitudes, and it will provide only speculative information on user attention, learning, and information processing.

What do I need to know to conduct heat mapping?

If you’re aren’t a technical person, you’ll need a developer to put in the heat mapping code, however it takes only a few minutes work in most cases. Otherwise, it’s very easy to set up.

Resources and Links

  • CrazyEgg – by far the most popular tool. Highly recommended.
  • ClickTale – also popular, provides more in-depth information however at a larger performance penalty and cost.
  • Google Analytics – provides a limited version of heat mapping for free.
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