Using heatmaps to build communities

by Martin Reed on 7 May 2007 in Articles

Knowledge is power – the more knowledge you have, the more powerful you can be. This is also true when it comes to your website. The more you know about your visitors and how they interact with your site, the more successful your site can become as you tweak and improve your site based on the information you learn.

Using heatmaps to learn about your visitors

Heatmaps are graphical representations of the most popular areas of your webpages. If you imagine a thermal image, warmer areas are more prominent than the colder areas – the same is true for website heatmaps. On a website heatmap, the warmer areas are the most popular parts of your page.

Using heatmaps can give you unprecedented information about your site’s visitors. Whilst heatmaps work in a similar way to Google Analytics site overlay, they are far easier to understand due to their visual nature. – a case study

I came across the crazyegg website a couple of days ago – they provide heatmaps for your site on a free trial basis. Should you like the results, you can upgrade to a premium account based upon your traffic levels.

CrazyEgg heatmaps

Screenshot of the crazyegg logo

Signing up is extremely easy – simple provide an email address and password and you are logged straight in and ready to setup your test pages. This consists of you entering the URL of the page you want tested. You are then provided with a line of Javascript which you need to insert into that page’s code.

You can run your test by number of days, or number of visits to that page. In the free version you are limited to 5,000 visitors per month over a maximum of 4 separate pages – enough for you to get an idea of whether this service is of use to you.

Using heatmaps for Just Chat

I decided to give crazyegg a trial run with Just Chat. I wanted to view heatmaps for the index pages of our main sections – namely our homepage, the message boards index, the epals section and our ecards service.

Unfortunately for some reason I could not get crazyegg to accept our message boards index as a page for analysis – this seems odd, as it is a standard phpBB forum. The other pages were a breeze to get going though.

The heatmap results

After 1,000 visitors here are the results for Just Chat:

Just Chat index heatmap
Screenshot of index page heatmap (click to enlarge)

Just Chat epals heatmap
Screenshot of epals index page heatmap (click to enlarge)

Just Chat ecards heatmap
Screenshot of ecards index page heatmap (click to enlarge)

Interpreting the results

The results show clear patterns of activity on each of the index pages – they show that for the main index page of Just Chat, the chat section is by far the most popular. We can also see the link visitors prefer to use – in this case, the graphical element.

Moving to the epals page, we can see that the login box is the most popular section, along with the ‘online now’ link. There is a lack of activity around the ‘Register’ links which needs to be addressed (although we must remember only 1,000 visits were used in this test).

Should I decide to increase advertising on this page, I can now clearly see where visitors eyes are focussed.

As for the ecards page, it is clear that people are clearly finding their way to the right areas of the site – people are picking up ecards and using the drop down box to search for ecards to send to friends and family.


Heatmaps are a useful tool to add to the arsenal required to get to know your site visitors. They offer an easy to interpret graphical overlay of your site so you can see just what users are actually doing when they get to your pages.

They can be invaluable in finding out if visitors are navigating your site as you would expect, and can also be used to optimise your advertising placements.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Google Analytics soon offered this as part of its free service. Until they do though, I would highly recommend you give crazyegg a try.

Have you considered using heatmaps to learn more about your visitors? Were the results what you expected? Leave your comments below!

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Marti May 7, 2007 at 5:01 pm

Another option is to use the ClickTracks software which works from your server logs. It’s actually pretty neat although it only registers only link clicks.

Martin Reed May 7, 2007 at 5:12 pm

Hi Marti – does ClickTracks display heatmaps?

J.B.Slife May 7, 2007 at 7:39 pm

I’ve seen something about these before. They could really come in handy…I think I’ll go check it out.

Martin Reed May 7, 2007 at 8:22 pm

Thanks for your comment – I had heard of heatmaps before but never got around to actually trying them.

They are really interesting and well worth a trial run.

Josh Buckley May 7, 2007 at 8:22 pm

This thing looks nifty, i’ll try it out.

Martin Reed May 7, 2007 at 8:28 pm

Let me know how you get on Josh, and whether you think this is a useful tool for your site.

Fitness Marketing Guy May 8, 2007 at 4:47 am

This will probably get caught in the spam filter because it has a URL in it, but I just blogged about another program that’s in beta and is like Crazy Egg in realtime. Check it out:

It’s called robotreplay and allows you to watch videos of people clicking around your site. Pretty sweet.

Martin Reed May 8, 2007 at 1:31 pm

Ah good job I keep an eye on my spam filter then, eh?

Thanks for the comment – this certainly sounds interesting, I will take a look and perhaps give it a test run.

Welcome to the blog by the way :)

Chicago 2016 May 8, 2007 at 3:27 pm

Man, you write long posts. But hey, content is king.

I’m definitely trying Heatmaps now for my site now. Thanks!

Marti May 8, 2007 at 3:34 pm

AFAIK, no. But it tell, but it tells you how many % of visitors used each link of your pages. The advantage is that you don’t need to tie up your site to any service.

BONTB May 8, 2007 at 9:03 pm

You know it would not surprise me either if google analytics would offer same thing as you said, i mean they do have similar ” content check” but not as nice heatmaps :) I love the shots you display.

PS: thanks for visiting my blog appreciate that and let me know if link exchange would be possibility

Martin Reed May 8, 2007 at 10:57 pm

I am glad you like the heatmap images – they are pretty cool, eh?!?

I am not really looking to do link exchanges on this blog – I want to keep the design as minimalist as possible.

I will however, pop by your blog from time to time and link to an article if it takes my interest :)

Be sure to keep reading Community Spark and continue getting involved by posting comments so you don’t drop off my radar ;)

Court May 10, 2007 at 10:27 pm

Wow, that’s really cool! I had no idea that there was such a thing out there. I added you to my list of blogs that ‘follow’, welcome to the club!

Martin Reed May 10, 2007 at 10:46 pm

Hiya Court – welcome to the blog, and thanks for your comment.

Are you going to give heatmaps a try? They look great, don’t they? I love the visual representation of your site’s visitors – you just can’t get the same result looking at numbers.

azito May 13, 2007 at 5:46 am

Thank you for this article, this kind of research is very valuable, indeed!

Wolf Stone May 13, 2007 at 6:54 am

Just read your post..on a divert from JaneMayBlogs….like the review a lot and am going to give crazyegg a shot !!

Martin Reed May 13, 2007 at 1:20 pm

Azito – thanks for your comment, I am glad you enjoyed the article. Are you going to give heatmaps a try on your site?

Wolf Stone – Welcome to the blog, and thanks for your comment. I am glad you enjoyed the review – do let me know what you think of crazy egg after giving it a try on your site.

I hope you find some other articles that are useful to you on this blog, and continue to get involved.

Bhavika June 9, 2007 at 10:22 am

Hey Martin,

Thanks for sharing this idea with us. I signed up for crazyegg today and it really looks interesting, hoping it also generates some results.:)


Martin Reed June 9, 2007 at 11:43 am

Hi Bhavika – Thanks for your comment. Let me know what you think once you have given it a try :)

UK Web Design Agency July 7, 2008 at 3:24 pm

Yep we use crazyegg for most of our clients web sites – you can’t beat visual data! Check out clicktale ( if you want to go that one step further and actually record your visitors movements in a movie. For us usability geeks there is nothing better than watching 100′s of visitors movemts on your site and then tweaking it to get the desired results. ie: conversions!

Martin Reed - Blog Author July 17, 2008 at 1:20 am

UK – I have always felt a little uncomfortable using recording software like you mention. I remember being on a website and realising my actions were being recorded. I felt as though my privacy was being invaded – perhaps this is unjustified but as it made me feel uncomfortable, it is not something I would subject any of my site visitors to.