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Heatmap 101 For UX Researchers

Heatmaps are an invaluable yet underutilized tool in a UX researcher’s toolkit. By capturing user interactions on a website or app, heatmaps reveal valuable insights into user behavior and areas for improvement. There are three main types of heatmaps: click heatmaps, scroll heatmaps, and mouse movement heatmaps.

Click Heatmap

A click heatmap is a visual representation of where users click on a webpage. It uses different colors to indicate the number of clicks in specific areas, with more interactions around locations appearing warmer or more saturated colors. Click heatmaps provide useful insight into user behavior and can be a valuable tool for UX researchers.

Source: hotjar.com

Some ways researchers can apply click heatmaps include testing the usability and effectiveness of website designs or prototypes. By overlaying a heatmap on a webpage design, areas that attract or retain clicks can be quickly identified. This helps pinpoint where users are naturally drawn to, such as menu options, prominent calls-to-action, or content above the fold. Researchers can then assess if design elements are achieving their intended purpose or if click patterns suggest improvements need to be made.

Click heatmaps are also useful for comparing two different designs or evaluating the impact of changes. For example, a/b testing could generate heatmaps for a new layout versus the original. This would show how click behavior differs and which version directs users more efficiently. Researchers can then determine if the new design should replace the existing one based on meaningful changes in click activity.

Scroll Heatmap

In addition to click heatmaps, scroll heatmaps provide useful insights for UX researchers. A scroll heatmap tracks areas of a page that attract the reader’s attention, as indicated by scrolling. Warmer colors show frequent scrolling activity, helping pinpoint engaging content.

Researchers can use scroll heatmaps to determine how effectively information is presented on a page. Do users spend most of their time near the top, or do they scroll far down? This indicates if content is properly prioritized and framed to keep readers scrolling. Scroll maps during usability tests also expose unexpected friction points where users get stuck or confused.

When combined with click heatmaps, scroll maps offer a more holistic view of user behavior beyond just clicks. They provide crucial context for click activity by showing what content preceded key interactions. This helps researchers understand the influences on user decisions and satisfaction.

Scroll heatmaps facilitate direct comparisons of content layouts. For example, researchers could test organizing a long-form article vertically vs. breaking it into scrollable sections. Heatmaps would highlight any flow or engagement differences between versions.

Additionally, scroll maps allow zooming in on specific sections like headers, images, or call-outs. This level of granularity helps pinpoint what grabs attention and supports the core message. Researchers gain targeted insights for revising section contents or placement.

Move Heatmap (Mouse Movement)

As their name suggests, the heatmap captures cursor behavior to reveal areas users explored but did not necessarily interact with. This provides another layer of insights for UX evaluation.

Move maps help researchers analyze designs for intuitiveness and learnability. Fluid cursor movement indicating natural eye flows suggests clear information hierarchy and affordances. Jerky patterns point to non-obvious elements or confusing layouts that frustrate discovery.

Areas with blank spaces attracting cursor movement also offer opportunities. Researchers can test converting these “empty calories” into useful supplementary information or auxiliary calls-to-action.

Move maps allow comparing how cursor behavior differs between variations. For example, redesigning a navigation menu. If the redesigned version elicits smoother scanning, it likely communicates hierarchy better.

Focusing a move heatmap on specific sections can also expose non-obvious elements users glance over without interacting with. This flags possibilities to make actions more conspicuous through formatting, placement, or additional context.

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