What if you could spy over the shoulders of your readers and see where they are clicking on your blog? And what if you could do that for lots of readers over time – for every page on your site – and combine all that data into ridiculously easy to understand visual maps? Think about it.
- Are all those social buttons of any use?
- What subjects catch people’s attention?
- What ads are people clicking on?
- What would happen if I reduced clutter?
- Are there “dead zones” of little value on my site?
The good news is you can (well virtually) peer over your readers’ shoulders through heatmaps created from inexpensive tracking software. These will guide you in making simple but important changes to your website design. I’ll tell you how we’ve used heatmaps over at my wife’s blog (100 Days of Real Food) to both improve the user experience and increase revenue, and then I’ll cover some tips on how you can too.
How We Use Heatmaps at 100 Days of Real Food
When I started helping Lisa, she was understandably a little resistant to my suggestions about changing her site navigation and layout. I mean, what could I know coming in fresh? She had built this (now rapidly) growing blog herself and had put a lot of thought into those menus and categories and what not. So I made a few minor changes here and there, always with an eye toward simplicity and utility, but eventually I had to pull out the big guns. You can’t argue with a heatmap! Take a look at the navigation options in the before image below and compare them to the after image above.
Here are some changes I made as a result of better understanding our readers’ behavior.
- Consolidated the “children adapting” and “health, etc.” categories into a single “blog topics” menu.
- Consolidated the 100-day pledges into a single menu.
- Added a “free meal plans” incentive (see my post How to Get More Likes on Facebook for details).
- Added “recipe index” to the top level navigation (this was popular elsewhere).
- Added a “shop” link between the free incentive and the search bar (both were getting traffic, and the “shop” links are monetized).
Now keep in mind what you see in the after image above is how the site looks today, November 19th, 2013. We are working on a major redesign of the site where the navigation will be consolidated even more. I’m pretty excited about it because I love a clean site design, and heatmaps have been a big help in our decision making process.
Here is another example where heatmpas have been helpful. I added a “Recommended Reading” carousel widget to the sidebar of Lisa’s blog (full of affiliate links), and I was curious if it was worth the additional cost of bandwidth for the images. Sure enough people are interacting with the widget and cycling through the selections. It shall remain.
How to Get Heatmaps for Your Blog
Over the past few years I’ve tested out two services, both of which offer free trials. This post contains affiliate links, so if you click on them in my post and go on to use these services the cost will be the same to you, but I’ll receive a small commission (thanks!). There is no reason not to try out one (or both) for free, even if you have no intention of ever paying, and even if it’s just to gather data for a “one time” site design change. If you find the services valuable, they both have plans starting at $10 per month.
Crazy Egg is what I first used to explore behavior on Lisa’s site. In addition to heatmaps it offers some additional cool features such as:
- Scroll reports – See how far down people scroll before stopping on your site.
- Confetti reports – Show where people are clicking, filtered by where they came from. For example, do your readers from Facebook behave differently than those originating from your email list or search engines?
Click to try Crazy Egg free for 60 days, and make sure you scroll down their landing page to read a much more detailed description of all CrazyEgg can do. Super cool, even if you just use it for the basics.
I found heatmaps to be so useful that I decided I wanted to use them all the time. However, with the amount of traffic Lisa’s blog gets (currently 4 million pageviews/month), I’d have to do a fair amount of setup with Crazy Egg to stay on a reasonably priced plan. But Clicky’s service is only $10 per month for up to a million pageviews, and I liked not having to plan out what I’d be analyzing (I’m now on a reasonably priced annual plan). I could just click on the little overlay widget on Lisa’s blog (which appears when you are logged in to Clicky) and get a heat map on any page, whenever. Here’s what that looks like.
As you can see, school lunches are pretty popular. As mentioned, we are actually in the process of redesigning the 100 Days of Real Food site, and Clicky heatmaps were very helpful in making decisions about the navigation. School lunches will be getting some major attention.
In addition to heatmaps, Clicky also offers uptime alerts and all kinds of analytics. Some of these things are available in Google Analtyics as well, but I find the user interface of Clicky easier to understand. For example, I use it to pull stats for our sales manager to help provide feedback to our sponsors. This helps them understand the value we deliver and turns them into repeat customers. Clicky even offers a WordPress plugin to install the code. So what are you waiting for? Give Clicky a try for free.
But What About Google Analytics?
Some of you may be thinking “That’s cool and all, but I can already do that in Google Anayltics.” No, you can’t. In-Page Analytics will show you some neat reports with bubble and color views of what links are being clicked on, but you can’t differentiate where people are clicking on those links. For example, are people getting to our about page from the menu, the sub-menu, the picture of the kids, or the picture of the family? I can’t tell in Google Analytics.
Tips for Using Heatmaps
Once you know what’s hot and what’s not on your site, here are some actions you can take.
- Get rid of stuff you don’t need (this is where heatmaps are amazing). If people aren’t clicking on something, it’s either in the wrong place or has little perceived value. Move it, lose it, or change the link text.
- Place links you want people to click on (like monetized pages) next to areas they are already clicking heavily on.
- Expand on subjects people like and see what happens.