A heat map is used to provide a visual representation of how visitors are interacting with a website. The infotmation conveyed in heat maps can be used in a number of different ways, including:
In many cases, a heatmap will be used in connection with split testing in order to evaluate how users interact with slightly different variations of a Web page.
A heatmap generally shows one of two things: where visitors are focusing their view or where visitors are clicking. The former is much harder to determine; it requires some advanced technology and at least a semi-formal experiment. Below is an example of what a heatmap of visual focus might look like:
This image represents the sections of a website that receive the most focus from visitors. The pattern above is relatively common; visitors tend to focus most intently on content positioned in the top left of a page, with attention waning as they more down the page and to the right.
This type of heatmap will give important cues about what sections of a site naturally draw attention. This may be useful in positioning high value links or calls-to-action within these “hot zones.”
Heat maps may also show click activity:
This information is also extremely useful; it shows what sections of a site are compelling enough for visitors to click on them. This indicates what is capturing attention, and can give ideas for future split tests, redesigns, or revisions to existing copy on a site.
Heat maps can be either customized to a specific site or page (using services such as CrazyEgg) or more general in nature. For example, Google published a heatmap detailing the areas of a generic website that capture the majority of visitor attention:
This heatmap is a great resource for any site monetizing via display ads; though simple, it incorporates the guiding principles that will help publishers to maximize revenue in the long term.
There are a number of high quality heatmap platforms, the best known of which is Crazy Egg.
If you’re looking for something that is easy to set up and maintain, this is probably the way to go.
It’s worth noting that Google Analytics now includes intermediate heatmap functionality. For example, it’s possible to get a visual representation of the outbound clicks from a page:
The example above is obviously free (it’s a part of Analytics, accessible through Behavior >> In-Page Analytics)