How to Use Heatmaps for Blog Optimization

Ever wondered what goes through a stranger’s mind when they’re reading your blog?

I mean, it’s not easy to ask them. But you kinda need to know, right?

You’ve got traffic stats out the wazoo, with apps like Google Analytics, Clicky, and Jetpack to give you useful data on how many views and unique visitors your blog’s posts and pages get.

You know how many people have clicked a link, and you can name your biggest sources of inbound traffic. But do you know where they get lost? What they focus on when they visit your landing page? How far down that blog post they scroll? Which part of the sidebar attracts their attention?

Not for sure. Not unless you use a different kind of analysis entirely…

Find out what’s hot

Heatmaps are an interesting way to look at your blog’s performance. Unlike traffic metrics, a heatmap of user activity on your blog lets you see deeper into what happens during actual visits –how the reader moves around a web page and what they focus on the most.

A heatmap is based on a very simple principle: you designate “hot” to mean high activity and “cold” to mean little or no activity. Activity can be measured in a number of ways: mouse movements, clicks, mouse hover time, scroll distance, or the length of time the reader stayed on a given horizontal section of the page, for example.

If you then colour the hottest areas red, and run through the spectrum to the coldest areas in blue, you get a visual and easy-to-grasp way to represent the activity on that web page. Interpreting a heatmap is pretty intuitive, so most bloggers can do this with little or no training.

Check out this heatmap of the Be A Freelance Blogger front page a couple of weeks ago, and you’ll see what I mean.

Heatmapping is awesome!

The biggest lessons I picked up from this particular map were:

1. People are interested in the “About” and “Guest Blogging” links in my blog’s navigation menu. Far fewer people engage with the “One-to-One Advice” link. Maybe that’s because mentoring is only for the most dedicated bloggers, or maybe it’s because my choice of navigation copy sucked. I can test that theory by changing the navigation copy and checking heatmaps of visits after the change.

2. Readers pause to take in the copy in the big opt-in box about my free Ultimate List of Better-Paid Blogging Gigs. That’s good to know!

3. A small proportion of visitors (just 1 or 2 percent) click on the starburst graphic to the right of the opt-in copy, instead of moving to the form field to enter their email address. I can understand why; the graphic contains the word “Download”, which is exactly what the visitor wants to do! I plan to change the graphic for an image of the Ultimate List itself, and see if that makes a difference.

There’s no way I could’ve found that out from Google Analytics! Now you can see why heatmapping has its own special advantages when it comes to improving your blog.

A Cool Way to Optimise

Try it out for yourself. There are plenty of heatmapping applications available that come with a free trial, so you don’t need to invest money just to get a quick look at what’s hot (or not) on your blog.

I used ClickTale, but other options include Crazy Egg, Mouseflow and AttentionWizard.

Once you’ve collected enough visitor data to get a meaningful heatmap, you might just be surprised by the results! And it’s a totally different type of knowledge than you can get from traffic stats alone, so your blog optimisation efforts will have multiple sources of information to act on.

I was surprised by my blog’s heatmaps.

What do you think you’ll see in yours?

Andy Shackcloth - April 18, 2013

Hi Sophie,
Thanks for that. I have just signed up for the always free 100 recordings per week on ClickTale.
I might change to another option once my volume warrants it, but for now since my volume is so low this option suits me perfectly.
I considered the other suppliers but with only one months free data by the time I start getting useful analytics the trial would be over.
Thanks again for the useful info

Jessica Burde - April 18, 2013

Thank you! I can never make sense of Google analytics and website stats. This is something that makes sense. I will definitely be using heat maps for my blogs and websites in the future!

    Sophie Lizard - May 1, 2013

    Yep, this is so intuitive that you can grasp the essentials in a second. It’s awesome!

Savannah Caden - April 18, 2013

What a neat tool! I’m going to test it out on some of my own sites in the coming week. I think changing that tab to ‘coaching’ would be a good idea. If I’m remembering correctly, you had it labeled that way before. I have to admit ‘one on one advice’ confused me the first time I saw the link in your navigation bar.

    Sophie Lizard - May 1, 2013

    Yeah, I’m gonna try out a few different ideas for that one and see which is the most popular.

Ryan Urie - April 18, 2013

Hi Sophie,
I had no idea this sort of program even existed! Thanks for the great tip!

Iain - April 19, 2013

I really love the heat map idea breakdown exactly what your audience is looking at. It could really help to optimize what landing pages look like.

If you used it correctly, it could really help to improve opt ins and overall experience.

Great tips here Sophie. Thanks

    Sophie Lizard - May 1, 2013

    Hi Iain! Yep, even with just a smallish data set you can get some really good insights that you wouldn’t find in traffic analytics.

Sudipto - April 21, 2013

Hey Sophie,
Nice post and Thanks for sharing this useful application with us and this application really seems very interesting and I am surely gonna try this.

Sam - April 29, 2013

Are there any open source tools that you know of that handle heatmaps. It’s a little too much to pay for a product just to test it out.

Mike C Smith - May 13, 2013

It amazes me just how much information I’m missing out on, when I come across a site like this and learn a whole heap of new and interesting things to improve my own sites.
Thank you for sharing, I’m signing up for clicktale now.

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