This is a transcript of episode 84 of the Let’s Get Data-Driven Podcast

I’m Lanie Lamarre and we’re almost through the month of January so I thought, “hey! let’s bring a little warmth to the bosses, shall we?” so today’s episode will have us swan-diving into the wonderful world of Heat Maps.

Heat Maps are an awesome-sauce data visualization tool that reminds me of the Madonna lyric about Hollywood: how can it hurt you when it looks so good?

Because Heat Maps ARE wonderful assets when it comes to identifying patterns and trends as to how your visitors and audience interact with your content, but it would be a mistake to rely SOLELY on Heat Maps to make any data-driven decisions.

But let’s back that thing up and go back to the beginning to start by talking about what Heat Maps actually are:

Heat Maps are a tool that aggregates your website visitors behaviors – meaning, any one single visitors isn’t identified but rather, it clusters specific behaviors as group in a way that blurs personally identifiable information for any one person – and this makes Heat Maps useful for identifying the intensity of interactions, clicks, time spent on page or even eye movement. They can be hella-powerful tools to use if you know what to look for, but like any information, they can just as easily fall into the “that’s interesting but now what” category.

So let’s discuss that “now what” part through my love for examples: let’s say we’re using a Heat Map on your sales page so that you can better identify the trends and patterns of your sales page visitors.

Cool beans, but what trends and patterns do you want to hone in on? Because there are different types of heat maps and different ways of using them.

For instance, you can use a Heat Map to identify which areas of your sales page people are spending the most time on and which areas they’re most likely to click. To see this, you would be looking at a kind of replica of your sales page with different colors across the page that would make it visually evident where people are spending more and less time, and what they’re more and less likely to click on. They can also help you identify errors where people are rage-clicking, meaning when someone is clicking repeatedly on something out of frustration, which can be helpful in identifying problem areas of your page.

But let’s say you had a different set of trends and patterns in mind, and you wanted to hone in on the days of the week and the times of day that people are most likely to actually visit your sales page. You could generate a Heat Map that looks like a spreadsheet where the bottom, horizontal row – called the x-axis – would identify the time of day and the vertical row to the left side – called the y-axis – would identify the day of the week. The intensity of the colors on your grid would allow you to easily visualize the days of the week and the times of day that people are most likely to visit your sales page.

Yet another way of using Heat Maps is through the use of an actual geographic map that, again, will use color intensity to reflect which countries or geographic areas are the most engaged with your sales page.

Heat Maps are versatile tools that can make it easier for you to identify trends and patterns of your performance.

You may have noticed that I refer to Heat Maps as a “tool” because that’s exactly what they are. Heat Maps don’t replace your analytics but rather, they’re a tool that complement your website analytics the same way using a pie chart or a bar graph or a spreadsheet can make it easier for you to visualize a specific behavior you want to better see and understand.

With Heat Maps, you’re taking the value of your analytics and instead of looking at actual numbers, you’re seeing the intensity that those numbers present.  The beauty of this tool is that when a boss struggles with identifying where to get started with asking data-driven questions, a Heat Map will quite literally highlight an area like a big ole arrow that says “hey! did you know there’s a lot going on over here? let’s ask questions about this!”.

Your analytics will have some Heat-Mapping integrated into it. For example, geographic Heat Maps are standard in your analytics to show you where your website visitors are coming from and there are limitless dashboards you can create and customize when it comes to replacing your specific numbers with intensity graphs you can quickly visualize and absorb.

However, there are also services you can sign up for like HotJar or CrazyEgg, whose entire service is data visualization through Heat Maps. The question then becomes: SHOULD you install and use these supplementary tools?

After all, they can do a lot of cool stuff beyond just Heat-Mapping. Both HotJar and CrazyEgg will allow you to do website error tracking, A/B testing and on-site surveys… which, I mean, is there ANY more valuable information than collecting qualitative data that literally TELLS you what is on people’s minds when they’re on your website?

But “it does cool stuff” should never the final answer to the question “should I install this tracking tool on my website?”

As responsible digital marketers, it is your responsibility to do your due diligence of looking into the implications of using these tools BEFORE even so much as signing up for a trial account.

So what does this means you’re on the look-out for? As a baseline, look at the software’s GDPR- and CCPA-compliance. Since those are the two heavy hitters in terms of your privacy and data collection obligations as an online business, you can feel confident that if you’re covering those bases, you’re doing well but I encourage you to consult a legal professional with any doubts you may have.

But, it’s not enough to just see if their home page mentions compliance and call it a day; I always encourage you to click-through and read their terms or go to the knowledge base and search for GDPR to find out exactly HOW they’re compliant. Why?

About halfway down HotJar’s home page, it says “GDPR Commitment” and “CCPA Commitment” with a link that says LEARN MORE; click the dang links if you’re considering the platform and educate yourself as to what exactly their commitment is because “commitment” and “compliance” may mean 2 different things. Oftentimes, these services default to privacy-compliance but it is when you customize and opt-in to specific services that the area between “commitment” and “compliance” gets hazy, which is important for you to know and identify before you start messing with those settings.

Meanwhile, CrazyEgg states that it “complies with the various pieces of privacy legislation across the globe, including GDPR, HIPPA, CCPA, PIPEDA” but “various pieces” doesn’t exactly sound like it’s the whole enchilada, does it? Read a little further and you find out that if you choose to enable Advanced Tracking, you may be agreeing to the collection of sensitive data. Do the features you’re most interested in require the use of this Advanced Tracking? You’re the boss, apple sauce, and it’s your responsibility to follow up with these kinds of things with your Bossy Pants on.

“So Lanie, what you’re saying these tools are sketchy to use, right?” Not at all, my bossy little friend. Your use of Heat Map software – like anything else! – is usually only as sketchy as you make it out to be.

Keep in mind that Heat Map software is the same as any tracking software you install on your site: while you have the right to install tracking software on your website, you also have an obligation to be transparent about your surveillance practices and to ensure that what you are tracking is compliant to where your visitors are coming from.

And yes, even though the data collected through Heat Maps tend to be aggregated and de-personalized – meaning that there doesn’t tend to be personally identifiable information about any one person being collected – it’s still data and it’s still information, and you still have to wear the Bossy Pants.

We’re going to talk more about trends and patterns next week with a past question I received for Office Hours but hey! if you have a question you wish you could pick my brain about, I encourage you to do by joining the Membership To Get Data-Driven because once a month, you get to do exactly that on top of having access to the Roadmap To Get Data-Driven and the brand-spanking new exclusive workshops I’m dropping in there every single month.

Talk soon, and don’t forget – you rock socks!