User testing or heatmap tracking – which is better?

You already know you want to make improvements to your website, and you’re looking for data to back up your assumptions. How should you obtain that data, and what should you look out for?

When you’re looking at improving the UX, UI or CRO of your website (have a look here for more on those!), there are a couple of tools I’d recommend using: user testing and heatmap tracking. These can be used in combination with each other and other tools like Analytics to give a detailed picture of how visitors use your site and how that experience can be improved.

User testing

User testing involves setting a task for a test – this can be online or in person. Your next door neighbour can do it or there are sites available where you can source and instruct 50 anonymous users that fit a defined profile, based on your target customer, to test your site and record the results. The task can be broad or broken into steps – it can be as simple as “place an order” on a mobile device, or you can define each page or action you want them to take. With an online service, you’d usually get recordings of feedback from them at each stage – so they answer questions you may not consider, like: what do they think of the imagery? Why did they click the green button instead of the blue one? Did they use the main navigation menu or did they find another path? Were they enticed to click that video? How easy did they find the process?

Although they are by nature more qualitative than quantitative, these results can then be collated and analysed to make improvements. This kind of research can be applied to UX, UI and CRO, but because you are gathering user opinions, it is most useful for UX design.

Heatmap tracking

Heatmap tracking is cheaper and more simple to set up than user testing, and gives you more quantifiable results. This is a piece of tracking code that you add to the pages of your site that you’d like to improve (really straightforward through Google Tag Manager), and it separates data for mobile, desktop and tablet devices. The results provide information like how far a user scrolls down your page, whether your calls to action are being seen, how long users spend on different page elements, and where they click, even if it’s not a clickable part of the page.


Which is better?

One thing heatmap tracking doesn’t do is join the dots, so you can’t follow a user’s journey from site entry to order completion like you could with user testing, but it can be used in conjunction with Analytics data to fill in some of those gaps to both improve the user journey and gain more conversions.

Both of these are tools which will allow you to make incremental improvements to the website to refine the way a user experiences your website, navigates it, whether they find what they need, identifying those sticking points and highlighting journeys. User testing probably has the capacity to drive bigger change as you hear human voices explaining the why, rather than just examining numbers.

If I had to pick one to start with, I’d say heatmap tracking for a typical SME, as it’s more cost-effective and less time-consuming to get an actionable report, you can make changes that will make an impact, and then move onto user testing when you have the resource availability.

Split testing

When you’ve interpreted the results from user testing and heatmap tracking, unless you’ve spotted something blindingly obvious that needs changing immediately, I’d recommend testing your site changes before implementing them fully. It’s just another step in the data gathering that means that you don’t rush in without understanding the full impact of the change.

Changes can be as simple as reordering homepage blocks to encourage clicks on your preferred one, changing the colour of a CTA, putting more valuable content higher up the page, signposting more clearly to a form, reducing icon size or the way elements stack on mobile – actions that come from the data gathered that you think would improve the UI, UX or conversion rate, but it’s best to check it before you implement it fully.

Google Optimize can be a really useful tool in cases where split testing is required, and it allows you to display an alternative version (or versions) of your website to whatever percentage of visitors you choose.


Testing, testing

Want to talk to a professional about user testing, heatmap tracking or split testing? I’ve tested and optimised websites for clients of all sizes and industries. Give your users a better UX and gain more conversions – just give me a call or drop me an email.