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The Spaces Between the Clicks: Using Behavioral Data To Complement Traditional Analytics

Best practices and experience will get you far, but behavioral data is also key, as it helps you understand how users interact with your site.

We’ve got this whole ecosystem approach to the digital platforms we build. With that thinking comes the assumption that our tools are ever-growing and changing. That evolution is inherent to the nature of these platforms, and it’s our job to ensure that evolution heads in the right direction.

Data is one of the tools we use to do that. Best practices and experience will get you far, but actual data helps ensure our work is effective. It guides our iteration and improvements toward that healthy evolution we seek. Traditional analytics are a core component of every decent digital platform. The click counts, time on site, and conversion metrics all combine to paint a picture of your performance. But it’s not the whole picture. 

Traditional analytics help you analyze traffic. Behavioral analytics help you learn how users interact with your site; they help you understand the spaces between the clicks, which matter immensely. Optimize for those spaces, and the click data will grow how you want it to.

There are several methods for gaining a deeper understanding of user behavior on your platform. Each has a varying degree of cost, either through capital expenditure or the investment in time and resources.

User Testing

If you’re reading a blog post on our site, it’s a good bet that you know what user testing is. I don’t need to rehash it for you. But I’ll also wager a guess that while you could articulate why user testing is important, you’ve been on a project or three where it’s been axed to help expedite delivery. You have to resist that urge to cut this corner. I’m like the dentist telling you to floss more. Nobody likes that dentist, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. 

The reality is user testing can be incredibly cheap in capital expenditure. You don’t need fancy tools to do it. A script and a screen-sharing video app will do just fine. It can be resource-intensive, though. It’s a significant effort to build scripts, recruit participants, and execute tests. And that’s all before you mine those tests for insights.  

Here’s the deal: The dentist wants us to floss after every meal. Even if you’re not doing that, some flossing is better than none. Effort box your investment and get some tests out there. Remove the expectation that your user testing must be incredibly comprehensive.

Heat Maps

There are a few types of heat maps out there. All of them give you a visual representation of interaction on your site. Click heat maps are the most common; they literally show you where on the screen folks are clicking. This can highlight UI issues, quickly demonstrating how the interface is interpreted by the user. Nothing like a rage click to show you where something should be clickable. 

Scroll heat maps can identify how far down the page users are getting. While “the fold” may be dead, user distraction certainly isn’t. That witty copy you wrote to close out the page? Scroll heat maps will give you some idea if anyone read it. (Chuckle tracking is still in beta.) 

Movement Maps/Eye-Tracking are types of heat maps that help visualize how the user is taking in your site. Eye-tracking is just what it sounds like—tracking the focus of the eye across the screen. Perhaps a touch more practical for the rest of us are movement heat maps, or mouse tracking, which shows where the user’s mouse moved across the screen. 

Session Recordings

While live user testing is my favorite way to learn how people navigate a digital platform, session recordings are a close second—and much easier to pull off. These tools record users moving through your site; you can then watch the playback at your leisure. Any respectable tool anonymizes the data, ensuring things like passwords and sensitive data are not recorded.

Thankfully, they’re only screen recordings, so you won’t hear the expletives cast in your direction as they rage click and cursor thrash around clunky UI elements. I think there’s a 10-episode Netflix series solely comprised of rage click session recordings in development now.

Common Software for Tracking Behavioral Analytics

As with most products in the MarTech space, there are a million behavioral analytics products that basically do the same thing. The two most common are Hotjar and FullStory. Both offer a range of tools and integrations beyond just the behavioral analytics I’ve laid out above. Both also provide safety protocols and privacy controls to ensure you’re respecting your end users. If you’re just getting into this work, no worries. Either platform gives you the ability to go deeper down the user behavior rabbit hole.

True story: Lots of our clients skip these kinds of tools. Why?

They’re an expense that’s rarely accounted for in project plans. The costs of managing a healthy digital platform, whether you’re a small business or an enterprise, can be prohibitive. Traditional analytics are the de facto standard, and the ROI of that data is easy to see. 

The reality is that the insight derived from these types of behavioral analytics can profoundly impact your platform’s success, as they can clearly highlight tangible breakdowns in the user journey. Often the solutions to these challenges are quickly implemented and have an extremely high ROI. That said, the tools are an investment.

Dig Into Your Data for $0

I was very excited to test drive a free offering from our partners at Microsoft. Launched in late 2020, Microsoft Clarity provides a lot of the basic tooling necessary for behavioral UI tracking. Implementation is as easy as dropping a JavaScript snippet on your site. It took me about five minutes to get up and running. And did I mention it’s free? 

So now you’ve got no reason to put off gathering user data. Set yourself a reasonable review cadence and mine those maps and recordings for insights. 

For a really good time, open a bottle of rosé, grab a loved one, snuggle on the couch, and binge-watch hours of user session recordings. Your significant other will thank me.




I'm an art director hailing from the great northern state of Minnesota. After a decade in the industry, I'm only interested in projects where we get to add real value. I believe in making grids, breaking grids, clean code, good type, 70's motorcycles, and Raymond Chandler novels.