Watching Your Web Visitors: Easy Ways to Track User Behavior

How much do you know about what visitors do at your Web site? The more you can find out, the better you can target the information and design it to fit their needs.

January 1, 2008

Tracking your Web site statistics is important because it tells whether or not your site is well-trafficked. Statistics can tell you how many people came and what links are most popular, among other things. But what these statistics don’t tell you is how users are actually interacting with your site, otherwise known as user behavior.

Measuring user behavior is critical to fine-tuning your site’s ability to turn clicks into closes. Once you know what people are doing on your site, you can refine your content and design to better meet their needs. There are two new tools that don’t cost very much but can help you peek into user behavior.

Get Heated Up

Crazy Egg Inc. is a relatively new and affordable service that allows you to track visitor behavior on any site page using what it calls “heat maps.” A heat map is a visual overlay showing where visitors are physically clicking on a page. The brighter (“hotter”) a spot is on your page, the more people are clicking on it.

For example, here’s an image of the home page of SunnyvaleRealEstate.com:

And here’s what the home page looks like when Crazy Egg’s software uses heat maps to show what areas are most popular. 

The heat map not only shows the concentration of clicks, but where the mouse was when the user clicked. It even shows evidence of people trying to click on things that are not clickable — but perhaps should be. These heat maps are typically generated after a set number of visitors have used your site.

What can you learn from these maps? Perhaps you’re making what you think is an “irresistible offer” to clients, but you can learn that no one is clicking on it. This kind of information gives you actionable insight to change your irresistible offer into something more … well, irresistible. You can use the software again to track visitor behavior again to see if the new offer works any better.

The most minimal package is free (it allows you to track 5,000 visitors on 4 Web pages), with more sophisticated packages ranging from $9 a month to $99 a month. During the registration process, you’ll be asked which pages you want to track and then receive a special snippet of code to place on each page to be monitored (a simple one-minute task for your Web pro). Then, all you do is indicate whether you want to end the test after a certain period of time or after certain number of people have visited.

When the test is done, you can view your heat map to see what’s hot and what’s not on those pages. Then, by all means, make adjustments to the less popular parts of your site to make them more valuable to your site visitors.

As powerful a tool as heat maps are, they are not the only way to monitor visitor behavior.

Looking Over Their Shoulders

Robot Replay is a free, no-frills service that records user sessions in the form of videos. The videos show visitors’ mouse movements, revealing where they clicked, how they moved from page to page, and how they interact with your forms (including where they simply gave up filling out a form). The videos are like looking over your visitors’ shoulders as they peruse your site. You can see demos of this on the Robot Replay Web site.

Like Crazy Egg, this tool requires you to add a single line of code to the pages you want to monitor (and yes, you can use both Crazy Egg and Robot Replay at the same time). Robot Replay is currently in beta testing and can be a bit quirky at times. However, once the bugs are worked out, I see this as a great tool to really understand what your visitors do when they land on your site.

If you decide to try it, keep in mind that since this service will show everything your visitor does, including partially completing forms, it’s probably a good idea to modify your privacy policy to indicate that your site is doing this kind of monitoring. Check with your legal advisor to be sure.

Behavior Is Key

Simply tracking your site’s unique visitors, page views, referrals, and the like is no longer enough to ring every last ounce of business-producing potential from your Web site. Once you monitor the behavior of your visitors, you will have the insight necessary to stay on the path of incremental improvement that will maximize your site’s value.

Michael Russer, a.k.a. Mr. Internet®, is CEO of Russer Communications. He is a leading speaker and author in the real estate industry and has been writing about Internet marketing and virtual outsourcing since the dawn of the commercial Internet.

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