What Are Heat Maps and Why Should You Use Them?


Data is the world’s most valuable resource these days, and most businesses have plenty of it. With so much data to interpret, business leaders are turning to new tools. Many of these tools make it easier than ever to visualize and understand complex data at a glance.

That’s where heat maps come in. What are heat maps, and how can you use them to help your business grow? This guide explores the benefits of heat maps and why you should adopt them for your business.

Defining Heat Maps

So, what are heat maps exactly? The simplest answer is that they’re a tool for data analysis.

That doesn’t explain much. A better definition is that heat maps are visualization tools that plot data values as different colors. In turn, it creates a “map” of where those data points fall.

The most common example is a heat map that indicates where most people gaze or where they gaze the longest when looking at a screen. The longer someone looks at one part of the screen, the brighter the color.

In this way, you can visualize which parts of the screen attract the most attention. This is useful in determining what people are looking at when they visit your site.

Trying to look at this data in another format would be quite difficult to interpret. A table with all the data point values wouldn’t mean much. You could maybe figure out that people spent 60 percent of their time looking at one part of the screen, but it would take a bit.

The heat map makes this obvious at a glance. A bright red will tell you what people spend the most time looking at, while blue parts of the screen are barely glanced at.

What Are Heat Maps’ Uses?

Heat maps come in a few different forms, and they have different uses. For marketers and business leaders, the most useful application has been evaluating webpages.

As noted, heat maps show what people spend the most time looking at on a page. This can give you a good indication of what parts of your page are the most visually appealing.

It might also tell you how they’re interacting with the page. Do they spend a long time reading the copy, or are they more focused on the visual? Do they ever look at your CTA button, or do they skim right by?

This can provide insight into a few different aspects of any given webpage. It can tell you if people are spending time reading the copy. It might also tell you if they see that CTA button.

The heat map can also show if people like your visuals. In some cases, it can give you an indication of how you should lay out your page.

Identifying Common Reading Patterns

Most people don’t read websites word for word. Instead, they skim pages. They tend to do this in two patterns:

  • The Z pattern
  • The F pattern

The “Z” pattern sees the user start at the top left of the page and scan to the top right. They then drop down to the bottom. They scan the final line from left to right.

With the “F” pattern, the user spends a bit more time scanning elements in the middle of the page. By using a heat map, you can identify how people are scanning your webpage.

This can then tell you how people are interacting with the information on the page. An “F” pattern usually indicates more interaction with the copy. A “Z” pattern might suggest they’re reading the headline, looking at a picture, then reading a final line or looking for a CTA button.

When you can identify these patterns, you can then adjust the layout of your page. Instead of putting the CTA near the top of the page, you might move it to the bottom. If you had a picture on the left-hand side of the page, you might move it to the right.

Why Should You Use Heat Maps?

As indicated, heat maps can tell you how people are interacting with your page. The experts at Decibel note that using them makes it easier to do A/B testing of different layouts.

Do people spend more time looking at copy if you switch the layout? What about moving that CTA button to one of the “hot spots” on the map?

Heat maps may also point to an issue with your page layout. If there are no red, orange, or yellow areas, it could mean people have no idea what to look at. The page is too busy or cluttered, so their attention is literally all over the map.

The heat map could also show you where people aren’t reading. If your page is copy-heavy, you might decide to lighten it up and make it easier to skim. You may add more headings to get more of an “F” pattern read.

Finally, the heat map can also help you A/B test images. Which picture do people spend more time looking at? The heat map can show which attracts the most attention.

Improving the User Experience

Improving your A/B testing or identifying when a page is too copy-heavy sounds good. The underlying benefit of any of these improvements, though, is creating a better user experience.

Think about the A/B test of the image. Using a heat map, you can identify which picture people spend more time looking at. You can then put the more attractive picture on your page.

If you have segregated user data, you may even be able to identify which image performs with which groups. One picture may appeal more to women than men. Younger people may prefer a different picture than older people.

You can then use this information to personalize the website experience more for each individual user. That, in turn, gives every website visitor a better, more satisfying session.

Grow Your Business With the Right Tech Tools

You asked, “What are heat maps?” You should now have a good idea of what they are, as well as what they do. You can also see how they’re helpful in providing a better user experience for your website visitors.

Looking for more information about tech tools that can help you grow your business? Check-in with us often for all the latest tech trends, tips, and tricks.

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