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What are heatmaps and how to generate one

A infographic showing website analysis with a screen, representing heatmaps
A infographic showing website analysis with a screen, representing heatmaps.

These days, heatmaps are pretty much everywhere. Wherever there is any kind of data on display, you’re likely to encounter them, from realtors to weather reports. And there is a good reason for this – heatmaps are a great way to present large data sets in a manner that is comprehensible to the average layman.

In other words, they allow us to see beyond mere data and spot the trends – allowing us to know where to go from the current status quo. And the applications of heatmaps are countless; they’ve been used in statistical analyses for more than a century.

Indeed, researchers, sociologists, engineers, and doctors have been using heat maps for a while to make complicated data sets actionable and comprehensible. Thus, it stands to reason that they’d have a place in the world of digital marketing as well – and you’re about to learn why!

What Are Heat Maps?

Basically, heat maps are tools for data analysis, allowing you to utilize color in order to represent data. Just like a bar graph would illustrate data through height and width. In digital marketing terms, heat maps can help you see what parts of a web page get the most attention from visitors.

As you’ll see below, this is important if you want to have a good layout of your website’s analytics. If you largely know what to expect from SEO in 2020, heatmaps are a great way of seeing where you stand, and what alterations you need to make.

Scrabble squares spelling the word SEO
Scrabble squares spelling the word SEO.

What Do Heat Maps Visualize?

But what does a heat map look like, and what does it show? It utilizes a color spectrum (warm-to-cool) that illustrates where website users spend the most time on a given page. For instance, heat maps can visualize how far down the average visitor scrolls down on a particular page.

This is incredibly useful data – imagine finding out that your CTA is in the cold zones that few users reach? That would mean the content above does not captivate the users’ attention, or that it is just overly long and wordy.

The way colors shift on a heatmap can provide valuable insights as well; some of which aren’t as readily apparent from Google Analytics. For example, stark changes in color may mean that visitors don’t feel that the content is logically connected, and it doesn’t seamlessly flow from one section to the next.

Heatmaps are an excellent way to perform form analytics as well, especially the click maps we’ll explore below; allowing you to spot the points of confusion in check-out forms that are likely to ruin conversion.

Confetti Report

There is more than one version of a heatmap in the realm of digital marketing – all of which serve to visualize particular aspects of data or different data sets. The click heat map, or so-called “confetti report” is a good example; that’s a specialized version of a heat map, providing you with a high-res view of each individual click on a given page. In other words, every click made by a unique user will be shown as a colored dot.

You may wonder if such a detailed view is even worth the bother, but you’d be surprised at the unique insights you can garner from this. More specifically, a click heat report will let you spot any weaknesses in your website’s design – some of which could be the cause of your high bounce rate.

This type of report may show you if people are clicking on a lot of non-clickable elements, for example. If that is the case, you can ascertain what kind of UX changes need to be made. Obviously, you don’t want people to attempt clicking on stuff that has no function, get frustrated or annoyed, and leave the page. A confetti heatmap will show you what needs to change in order for the page to convert.

Also, you can use this report to visualize custom parameters – such as whether you received leads from a specific email campaign or a paid advertisement.

How To Generate A Heatmap

As you might imagine, there are plenty of tools out there that will help with heatmap generation. Take care to pick one that will give you the widest possible view, with reliable information capturing and a multitude of different reports.

Once you’ve picked a tool, the rest of the process is pretty simple from your end. You simply install a script (or in the case of WordPress and other CMS, a plugin) that is designed to collect data and produce visual reports in the form of heatmaps.

Generally, these scripts include JavaScript code that’s used to map every single element on a given page. Also, all of the user activity on the page in question is collected and flagged. Then, all this data is combined to create an insightful heatmap report. While you don’t need to know the particulars of heatmap generation in order to utilize them for SEO, it is good to have a passing knowledge of how things operate under the hood.

In reality, heatmaps are generated using Javascript code.
In reality, heatmaps are generated using Javascript code.

Heatmaps: A Quick Recap

We have illustrated the usefulness of heatmaps through a couple of specific examples, showing just how much utility they can have when it comes to SEO and conversion rates in particular. And before we sign off, here are a few more ways you can use heatmaps to improve the user experience and SEO rankings of your website:

  • See what headlines visitors are responding to.
  • See what images are attracting users the most, and which they’re clicking on.
  • Spot distractions from your core content;
  • Check if your users are aware of the opt-in box for emails, and whether they use it;
  • Analyze how well website navigation is working.
  • See if users can easily locate search options.
  • Analyze how users are interacting with your content – whether they are reading it, and how much.

Interesting related article: “What is SEO?