Web design tips: using heatmaps to improve user experience

Heatmaps are a tool that you can use in web design to help determine user behaviour and improve your user experience. While similar ideas are used for other behavioural research, heat maps are an essential tool used web design to improve and optimise the user journey. Most companies will have used one at some time, and if you haven’t, you should consider using them. To give you some top tips, we’ve looked at how you can use heatmaps to improve your user experience.

See 5 web design mistakes that could be hindering your website’s performance

What are heatmaps?

Using heatmaps allows you to see how users interact with your site. Similar techniques are used for other behavioural research, including positioning items on shelves and custom shop layouts. Determining how users interact with your website is fundamental if you want to develop a positive user experience.

What information do they provide?

A heatmap can give you some detailed behavioural information, for both mobile and desktop websites. Not only do they tell which elements a user has clicked on, but also how far down a page they scroll, where the mouse moves on the page and, most importantly, how the user engages and interacts with your content. Essentially, it tells you how a user interacts with your site and can identify key areas that need improving. There are 3 different ways to visualise the data from a heatmap. These are:

  • Click – Where a user clicks or taps on your web page.
  • Scroll – Where and how far down a user scrolls on the page.
  • Move – Highlights the mouse movements made on a page without mouse clicks

Some heatmaps, including Hotjar, will also provide you with data about conversion funnels and visitor session recording. Conversion funnels show you where a user drops off your page including on conversion pages. It can inform you at which point in a form the user stopped. Visitor session recording allows you to see a user’s session on your site and watch it back, just like a replay.

So why the term heatmap? Put simply, when you use a heatmap tool, you can see the ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ areas. The more activity placed on a certain area of your site will show “hot spots”. These are shown in bright orange and red colours. In contrast, the “cold spots” are shown in lighter colours such as blue. The example below shows a heatmap in action, allowing you to see areas where a user has interacted with the page.

Heatmap on the Dreamscape websiteA heatmap at work on the Dreamscape homepage

If you’ve ever seen thermal imagery, it’s a very similar technique. The hotter something is, the brighter it shows up. In the instance of web design, you should use them to test the effectiveness of your design. See what works and what doesn’t. If you’ve never used a heatmap before, I am sure you’ll be surprised at the results. What you may think works well, may not work at all.

Heatmaps and user experience

The user experience is the most fundamental measure of your web page. If you want to provide a positive user experience, you need to have a well-designed website. Not only is it important for search engine optimisation, but it also helps to build trust in your brand. A positive experience is of key importance to users. Using a heatmap will tell you whether you have a well-designed, well-functioning website.

You may have already conducted some research to gather analytics and insights about your website’s performance. Details such as your click rate, bounce rate, views, etc. will give you an idea of how well your site is performing. These analytics only give you a rough idea. If you want to find out how well your site is performing, heatmaps are the answer. Especially if you want to gain more conversions.

How using heatmaps can improve your user experience

To begin with, the results of your heatmap may not appear to be particularly enlightening. The blotches of different colours can look a little confusing to begin with. But as we already covered, the brighter colours indicate the areas on your page that sees the most interaction. Ideally, these should be your navigation buttons and call-to-actions (CTAs). If your web design is well made, you should see just that.

See how colour can make a difference to your click-through rate

Navigation and CTAs

If you find that your navigation and call-to-actions are not the areas seeing the most engagement, the heatmap should tell you what exactly is distracting users. A heatmap will tell you by indicating mouse movement on the CTAs and the number of clicks. It will also show you which pages are clicked through to the most from your navigation bar. The insight will be important to help you better design your website to get the engagement where it’s most important.

Mouse movement

Images are another point of interest with heat maps. Many users will hover their mouse over an image. The mouse movement here should also be indicated on your heatmap results. If you have too many images, you could find that is distracting users from the copy. Using images that support the written content is an essential web design tip you should implement.

User interaction

Another reason you should use heatmaps is to identify areas of your site that may be confusing to your users. Looking to see if there is anywhere a user is clicking that is not clickable, or hovering over areas that are not particularly important. Most importantly, you can see where exactly a user drops off from your content.

Identifying these ‘weak spots’ in your design is essential to improving and bettering your user experience. If you ignore these factors, users will continue to miss the important content that could lose you valuable leads. Fixing these problems could see your bounce rate decrease and your conversations rocket!

A/B testing and heatmaps

A/B testing is where you provide 2 different versions of a design to see which works best. It can be used for many things, including web design and object placement. These tests are often used to see whether the placement of a call-to-action works better in a particular position, or which design of a website works best.

However, sometimes A/B testing may not be entirely effective to determine how effective a design or CTA placement is. While web designers will use A/B testing to find the best design choices to better their user experience, they are only effective for smaller content placement as opposed to whole site designs.

That is not to say A/B testing is a waste of time, but for more effective and detailed results about your site experience, heatmaps will be the way to go. Simply put, A/B testing only gives you data about what element performed well. Heatmaps go a step further to tell you why.

And there you have it. If you want to design a website that excels at user experience, you need to be using heatmaps. Whether you have used them before or it is a completely new experience, heatmaps are the way to go to improve your design and enhance your user experience. Optimising your UX will give you great benefits. Increase conversions, develop trust in your brand and keep customers loyal. So, why not give it a try?