Heat maps are cool. The first time people see them, that’s almost exactly what they always say. All those colours. All that data. They look very technical and, to repeat it, cool. But what can you actually learn from heatmaps in terms of actionable, useful insights that make them worth your time?
The broad answer is a lot, but you want specific answers. Fair enough. We’ve looked at a lot of heat maps over the years. So have people who do more formal research – data scientists, the people who came up with the idea in the first place. And while every site is different, there are some general takeaways.
These are generalized truths and findings, but to get more specific you’ll have to run heat maps on your site (we can help). But they should help you get a better understanding of just what a heatmap can tell you and how you can take that information to improve your website and, in turn, boost your bottom line.
The content that’s most important to your conversion goals should be at the top of the page.
People will scroll down a page, but their attention span is short, and a lot of the time they won’t scroll too far. This often-cited study found that a browsing visitor’s viewing time of a page falls sharply when they are asked to scroll below the fold. User viewing time was distributed as follows:
- Above the fold: 80.3%
- Below the fold: 19.7%
So, the simple takeaway here; the material that’s most important to your business goals should be above the fold. It’s for this reason that SEO practitioners (we have them too) have long advised this, as search engines prefer it (because users do, it’s all related)
Interestingly, in the same study, they found that viewing time often increased significantly at the very bottom of the webpage, which means that a visitor’s attention goes up again at the bottom of the page. So crafting and inserting a solid call to action in this area of your website’s real estate may drive up conversions as well.
One more thing to keep in mind in regards to all this is the recency effect. What a person sees last will stay in their mind the longest, so the ‘ends’ of your web pages should be as compelling as the ‘starts’.
When People are in a hurry, what sticks out gets chosen.
A Caltech neuroscience study found that when operating at “rapid decision speeds” (when they are in a rush or distracted), the visual impact of content influences choices more than preferences do.
When visitors are in a hurry, they think less about their personal preferences and tend to make choices based on what they notice first, or what really catches their eye. This bias gets stronger, the more distracted a person is and is particularly strong when a person doesn’t have a strong preference, to begin with.
If the visual impact of a product image can override personal preferences—especially in a time-sensitive and distracting environment like online retail —then strategic changes to a website’s basic design and specifically product images can seriously shift your visitor’s attention to just where you want it to go.
People spend more time looking at the left side of your page.
Several studies have found that the left side of the website gets more of your visitors’ attention. The left side is also usually where they look first. There are always some exceptions, but keeping the left side in mind first is a good starting point.
People read content in an F-shaped pattern.
Most people skim, rather than actually read. Content and one large study found that they do so in an F pattern.
What does that mean? They read the most important headlines and subheadings, but only read the rest of the copy selectively. This means that the most important information needs to appear in the first two paragraphs of a webpage’s copy.
Banner blindness is real
Ever heard of banner blindness? Banner blindness occurs when visitors deliberately – subconsciously or consciously – ignore a section of a webpage because it looks like advertising. Heat map after heat map, across all kinds of niches, demonstrates again and again that visitors rarely pay attention to anything that looks like an ad.
There are several ways to avoid creating banner blindness on your website. Most problems can be prevented by using a web design company that’s experienced in online marketing. Still, if you are taking a DIY approach to website design, it’s of utmost importance that everything on a page looks ‘genuine’ and not like an ad. Calls to action are great, and much needed, but ensure they are presented in a way that looks like content rather than a jarring, out of place advertisement.
When using an image of a person, it matters where they look.
It makes sense to use people in your design—it’s a design element that attracts attention. But it also matters where their eyes are looking.
Several heat map studies have shown that people follow the direction of a model’s eyes. If you need to get people to focus not only on the beautiful woman but the content next to her, make sure she’s looking at that content.
It’s also important to convey emotion. Having a person convey emotion can have a big impact on conversion rates. This study found that a person conveying emotion can have a larger impact on conversions than a calm person looking at the call to action.
Your best option may be to combine these two approaches—use an emotion-conveying person who’s also looking at the desired spot on the page.
60-year-olds surf differently to 20-year-olds
When your target audience is an older one, ensure your website as easy to use and clutter-free as possible. When testing 257 correspondents in a remote user test, the failure rate for tasks was 1.9 times greater for those over-55 than those under-25. Almost twice as many older people failed or abandoned the given task.
Older people are also slower online. Compared to the younger participants, the oldest took 40% more time to complete a task.
Even if a random task on your website feels easy to you, it may be difficult for older users. If your target audience skews older than average, make sure to test your layout on them, especially if you expect them to navigate something like a checkout, or complete a contact form.
Summaries are better than full articles on blog homepages.
According to this study, if you have a blog with full articles on its homepage, you risk losing visitors if they don’t find your first article interesting. They will “use up” all their interest while reading the first article.
Summaries let you show visitors a wide selection of topics, which increases the likelihood that your visitor will find something of interest and stick around to read it.
These are just a few examples of the actionable insights you can gain from a heat map. There are lots more. In fact, it’s fair to say that the possibilities are almost endless.
Ready to get started with heatmaps? Contact us today, and discover what these ‘cool’ tools can do for your website, and for boosting your business’ bottom line.