Heat Maps 101: The Advertiser’s Guide to Conversions

by Fahad Muhammad in Conversion Optimization, Lead Generation what is a heat map feature image

Heatmaps or heat maps help marketers understand what visitors are doing on their landing pages—how far they scroll on the page, where they click, which page elements they focus on, and which elements they ignore. Data collected from the maps allow marketers to make optimization decisions that lead to higher landing page conversions.

This marketing guide will inform you about everything you need to know about heat maps—types of heatmaps, how to create heatmaps, what heatmap colors mean, heatmap analysis, and so much more.

Let’s begin.

What is a heatmap?

A heatmap is a visual representation of data that showcases how visitors interact with a web page—it tracks mouse movement, clicks, and scroll depth to understand what’s working on the page and what’s not.

Here’s what a typical heat map looks like:

Standard heat map example

A heatmap uses warm-to-cool color spectrums to showcase which page elements got the most user attention.
When used on landing pages, heatmaps allow marketers to identify if there’s any friction on the page that’s causing a hindrance in the conversion process.

Friction in digital marketing is any part of the conversion process that makes a user less likely to convert. On a landing page, an example of friction could be a long-form, poor message match, or too much text. Heatmaps point out elements that could be causing friction, so you can run A/B tests and improve the landing page conversion rate.

For example, a heatmap can determine if visitors aren’t clicking the CTA button or if they’re trying to click an element that’s not clickable. The insights collected can then be used to test your pages and increase your conversion rates.

You can judge how effective a web page is by analyzing a heat map on the following two things:

  • 1. How much information visitors engage with: Look at how much of the page visitors read. Based on this information, you can assess which page elements are working well and which are not.
  • 2. What actions do users take: What are visitors clicking? Do they click the CTA button, type in the form fields, etc.?

There are essentially four types of heatmaps:

  1. Click heatmaps
  2. Scroll maps
  3. Mouse tracking heatmaps
  4. Eye tracking heatmaps

1. Click heatmaps

Click heatmaps are the most common type of heatmap. They record data based on where visitors click on your landing page:

Click tracking heatmaps

The red spots showcase the areas where the visitor clicked the most. The number of concentrated clicks goes down as the color becomes lighter.

Click maps help you see if your visitors are clicking where you want them to click on your landing pages. The highest number of visitor clicks on a landing page should be on the CTA button since that should be the only clickable element on the page. (Conversion ratio of 1:1) i.e., one clickable element per conversion goal).

2. Scroll maps

Scroll maps record visitors’ scrolling behavior, helping you see the exact point where visitors scrolled on the page. This type of heatmap indicates whether the length of your page is ideal for user experience. They are generally used for long-form sales pages.

This is what a scroll map looks like:

Scroll map example

A scroll map tells you where users are abandoning your page in the reading process.

Using this data, you can hypothesize why users only scroll down to a certain point and then create A/B tests that prove or disprove this hypothesis.

Maybe your page has a lackluster copy, an image turning people off, or even a readability issue.

3. Mouse tracking heatmaps/ hover maps

Hover maps are heat maps that show the user’s mouse movements on your landing page. The primary problem with hover maps is that you can’t always directly correlate a visitor’s mouse movements to what they’re looking at. Just because a user’s mouse stayed on the headline for 5 minutes doesn’t mean they’re still reading it.

Users aren’t always looking at the exact spot where their mouse is. Therefore, the reliability of hover map data is a little questionable.

Here’s what a hover map looks like:

Hover map example

4. Eye-tracking heatmaps

Eye tracking heatmaps record users’ eye movements while they look at your landing page. Typically, eye-tracking studies are conducted in labs where participants wear special tracking devices that accurately measure eye movement. Nowadays, eye-tracking studies can also be conducted via webcams.

By examining where visitors focus on a page, you can place the important page elements in the visitors’ natural eye path, increasing the possibility of them fulfilling the conversion goal.

When analyzing eye-tracking heat map data, it’s crucial to understand exactly what you’re looking at to read the data correctly.

The primary source of confusion on eye-tracking heat maps is the timeframe. A heat map showing how users look at a page during the first 3 seconds won’t be the same as when they keep looking at the page for 30 seconds.
The example below showcases how timeframe impacts the heat map colors:

Heatmaps timeframes

Eye-tracking studies also make it possible to understand common user gaze paths and the typical order of fixations across the page. Whether they are looking at your page in an F-pattern or a Z-pattern.

The pros and cons of eye tracking vary depending on the method you use to run the study. Generally, however, you gain more insights than clicks and mouse movements.

The downside of eye tracking mostly comes down to practicality. Doing the study is expensive and time-consuming.

Heatmap benefits

Heatmaps provide you with a visual guide to visitor behavior. Allowing you to see the landing page through the visitors’ eyes–helping you make any changes needed to improve landing page optimization and increase conversions.

Here’s a breakdown of the benefits heatmaps provide marketers:

  1. The maps monitor user behavior
  2. Data collected via heat maps can be used to run A/B tests and optimize the page and increase conversions
  3. Heatmaps can be used to make UX decisions on landing pages

Heatmap data helps you answer the following questions about user behavior:

  • How visitors are using the landing page?
  • How do they navigate on the landing page?
  • What catches their attention, and where do they tend to click?
  • Which page element are they ignoring?
  • Do they click the call-to-action button?
  • How engaging is your copy?
  • Where should you place the page elements that you don’t want your visitors to miss?

Answers to these questions allow you to gather a deeper understanding of visitor behavior and you find out if there’s anything that you need to change on the page.

Considerations for using heat maps

Though heatmaps provide valuable insights which lead to an increase in conversions, not everyone should jump in and start running heat maps on their landing pages.

To ensure the heatmap data you collect is accurate and, most importantly, is generalizable. You must have an ample sample size–so the changes you make on your landing pages based on the data work.

At least 2,000-3,000 page views per screen are recommended per device for accurate heat map readings before you begin making changes to your landing pages. Changing landing page elements based on heatmap data with very little traffic won’t help you make the right optimization decisions.

Heatmaps are indeed a valuable tool for understanding how people behave on your landing page. However, they should not be the only tool in your marketing arsenal. As when taken alone, they paint an incomplete picture of user experience and solely relying on them to judge visitor behavior has the potential to mislead you.

Though helpful, heatmaps are still limiting.

For example, if a heatmap shows that many visitors are not filling out the form beyond the first field, this doesn’t necessarily mean that visitors only filled out the first field. This could also mean visitors used their keyboard to tab through fields instead of their mouse.

In this specific case, it would be better to measure the time a user spent within each form field instead of simply looking at click maps.

When you’re creating heatmaps, make sure to look at the full picture, so you can benefit from the heat map analysis.

How can you use heat maps?

Heatmaps are a valuable tool to see what actions visitors take on your page and which page elements can engage them. Heatmaps help optimize the conversion journey by creating landing pages that successfully engage users. PPC managers can use the maps to improve their advertising ROI by connecting ads to relevant and dedicated landing pages.

Both Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) practitioners and PPC managers can use the data they gather from heat maps for the following three purposes:

  1. Tracking visitor behavior
  2. For conversion rate optimization
  3. Make UX decisions

Tracking visitor behavior

Tracking visitor activity is the basic purpose of creating heatmaps. Since there’s a screen separating you and your visitors i.e., you can’t physically see what they are doing. PPC managers and CRO practitioners use heat map analysis to understand why visitors are behaving the way they do on their web pages.

While analytics metrics tell you the exact traffic numbers on your landing page, and of those visitors how many abandon your page. It is heat maps that explain what happens when a visitor comes on the page – where they click, where they don’t click, what they read, and what they don’t read.

Understanding why users behave the way they do helps you create a landing page that users find easy to navigate without any friction.

For conversion rate optimization

Conversion rate optimization is the continuous process of ensuring that the marketing funnel works successfully by converting leads into customers with the help of different optimization processes. These processes include A/B testing, improving on-page experiences with heat maps, usability tests, etc.

The insights collected from heat maps can be used to run informed A/B tests that are based on real data instead of hunches.

It is not recommended to begin A/B testing just because you think it will increase your bottom line. Testing page elements randomly won’t do a lot for conversions. You should instead look at user data to see the exact elements you should be testing.

Always start your A/B testing with a hypothesis. The thing you want to test so when you see a winning variation, you know exactly what works. Don’t A/B test your landing pages randomly. Start with a particular idea in mind – the hypothesis comes from insights collected from heat map analysis.

To Make UX decisions

Another way you can use heatmaps is to make User Experience (UX) decisions on your landing pages. Instead of making assumptions about how visitors see your landing page, you can collect real-time data on their on-page experience.

This data then helps you create a page with great user experience.

Instapage: the only heatmap tool you need

If you want to find out how to create heatmaps on your landing pages, then look no further than Instapage’s heat map functionality. Instapage heatmaps give you the ultra-specific information you need to determine which page elements to A/B test.

The Heatmap Visualizer provides 3-in-1 tracking functionality—mouse movement, clicks, and scroll depth. You can gain a better understanding of where visitors spend the most time on your page, which elements they’ve clicked on, and how far down they’ve scrolled, so you can optimize your landing page for conversions.

Here’s what the maps look like within the platform:

Mouse movement

Instapage mouse movement example

Click map

Instapage click map

Scroll map

Scroll map

You can use the Instapage Heatmap Visualizer tool to create heat maps on your landing pages without signing up for and paying for an external tool. Create scroll maps, mouse movement maps, and click maps to understand how visitors act on your landing page and optimize it for conversions.

See how our heat map visualizer can help you create high-converting landing pages. Sign up for a 14-day trial.

Try the world's most advanced landing page platform with a risk-free trial.

Fahad Muhammad

by Fahad Muhammad

Fahad is a Content Writer at Instapage specializing in advertising platforms, industry trends, optimization best practices, marketing psychology, and SEO. He has been writing about landing pages, advertising trends, and personalization for 11+ years.

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