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?

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