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Hotjar vs. Smartlook: choosing the right platform for your business

Hotjar and Smartlook have similar analytics tools and features, but there are some key differences to consider when choosing the best option for your business. While Smartlook offers a reliable, basic package for analyzing user behavior, Hotjar’s uniquely customer-centric tools put empathy at the forefront to drive a deeper understanding of your UX. 

Last updated

7 Jul 2023

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18 min

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Keep reading for a deep-dive comparison between Hotjar and Smartlook, and learn more about what each platform offers for analyzing your user behavior. We cover:

Grow your business with Hotjar

Use Hotjar’s comprehensive suite of user experience and behavior analytics tools to make data-backed, customer-centric product decisions.

TL;DR 

Here are the highlights of what you need to know about Smartlook vs. Hotjar:

  • Hotjar’s voice-of-the-customer (VOC) tools make the platform a fully-rounded, customer-centric choice for gaining user empathy and tapping into real user insights. Smartlook does not offer any VOC tools. 

  • Smartlook is significantly more expensive, with its Pro plan providing only 30 heatmaps a month and three months of storage. Hotjar’s equivalent Business plan offers unlimited heatmaps with 12 months of data storage.

  • Hotjar’s broad spectrum of tools works holistically, making it great for all businesses. Smartlook works better for smaller companies looking to cover the basics of user analytics.

  • Hotjar’s collaborative tools drive knowledge sharing in cross-functional teams, whereas Smartlook’s collaboration capabilities are limited.

  • Ecommerce businesses will find Smartlook’s funnels helpful for gathering revenue insights.

  • Smartlook’s short-term data storage, lack of data sampling, and limited collaboration opportunities restrict those wanting advanced user insights. 

  • Hotjar offers continuous data sampling on free plans. With Smartlook, this is only available on their paid Enterprise plan.

  • Smartlook can analyze user behavior gathered from mobile apps, whereas Hotjar only collects insights from websites and web-based applications.

#Hotjar vs. Smartlook at a glance
Hotjar vs. Smartlook at a glance

The main differences between Hotjar and Smartlook

Before diving into a deeper comparison of what Hotjar and Smartlook have in common, let's look at some key differences in the tools and features. 

  • Hotjar provides visual behavior insights, in-the-moment feedback, and user interviews, giving you everything you need to analyze your website and understand your users in one place. 

  • Smartlook offers a good basic package of heatmaps and recordings that gives you an overview of website performance and user behavior.

In this blog post, we focus primarily on Hotjar and Smartlook's free plans, looking at the following:

User feedback and surveys

User feedback and survey tools immediately set Hotjar apart in this comparison. Hotjar offers Feedback and Surveys in our Ask product, available on the free forever Basic plan. 

The Hotjar Feedback widget is a simple, discreet way to capture in-the-moment opinions from users as they explore your site, giving you insight into the user experience without subjective analysis or guesswork.

With Feedback, visitors can:

  • Rate their experience with stars or emojis

  • Add a comment

  • Attach a screenshot of an element on the page

  • Leave their contact details if they want a follow-up

If you want to assess whether user sentiment changes after site updates or redesigns, you can review feedback scores over time and compare results.

#The Hotjar Feedback widget gathers in-the-moment user reactions
The Hotjar Feedback widget gathers in-the-moment user reactions

Hotjar Surveys takes a different approach to gathering feedback, but is also designed to gather actionable, unfiltered user insights.

Surveys lets you ask visitors as many questions as you like and provides free ready-made templates with question guidance to inspire you when you’re getting started. While Feedback is excellent for catching spontaneous comments, you can send Surveys via email after your user has left your site so they can answer in their own time and go into more detail.

You can also trigger surveys to appear on pages based on:

  • Specific user attributes, like subscription type, country, and role 

  • Events or user actions (e.g. when someone exits a page or cancels their subscription)

An example of an NPS® survey created with Hotjar

You can even integrate Feedback and Surveys to send real-time user feedback to your relevant channels, like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Gmail. This means you can immediately take action to fix any bugs or pain points for your users without waiting around for dedicated analyses.

Smartlook doesn’t provide any VOC tools that let you gather user and product feedback. 

💡 Pro tip: watch recordings that accompany feedback responses and see through your users’ eyes to understand what they were experiencing during their time on your site.

User interviews 

The Hotjar Engage product lets you hold user interviews that reveal people’s perceptions of your brand, product, or user experience.  

Within the Engage tool, you can host, record, and transcribe calls with users to fully understand what they think of your site. Instead of watching isolated recordings or heatmaps and trying to understand the people behind the data, user interviews bring you face-to-face with your audience so you can see what they love or hate firsthand.

#User interviews with Hotjar Engage
User interviews with Hotjar Engage

On Hotjar’s free Basic plan, you can host up to 60 30-minute interviews and store your website visitor recordings for two weeks. Upgrading to a paid plan gives exclusive access to Hotjar’s private pool of 175k+ testers. 

Smartlook doesn’t include any user interview tools as part of its platform.

💡 Pro tip: level up your collaboration and add your team as interview observers so everyone can be a part of the conversation. It’s a great way to build a human connection and drive user empathy for everyone involved. 

Mobile app user analysis

Smartlook lets you analyze user behavior on mobile devices and is compatible with iOS and Android apps. They're fully data compliant and integrate with multiple platforms for cohesive user analysis. 

Smartlook lets you analyze user behavior with:

  • Native rendering to provide a more accurate representation of the user experience

  • Wireframe mode so distractions are kept to a minimum when analyzing user behavior

  • Recordings that show the user experience in real time as they interact with an app

Hotjar does not currently offer insights into how people behave on mobile apps, but does let you analyze how users behave on digital products like websites and web apps. 

Knowledge sharing and collaboration 

Hotjar Highlights is designed to make knowledge sharing and collaboration a natural part of your workflow, and is available on the free Basic plan.

Highlights lets you create snippets of recordings or heatmaps that catch your eye, then organize them by parameters such as location, date, or type of user behavior (like confusion or conversions) and save them to review later.

Spot some unique user behavior you’d like to analyze further? Check out the feedback or survey response you received from the same user to build a complete picture of their experience, and share your learnings with your team to determine what steps you need to take next.

#Hotjar Highlights lets you capture snippets from heatmaps and recordings
Hotjar Highlights lets you capture snippets from heatmaps and recordings

While Smartlook allows you to share data and tag team members, collaboration capabilities are limited and rely on the primary users to distribute results manually.

💡 Pro tip: Hotjar Highlights makes it easy to create comprehensive reports for sharing with your team. Combine your favorite parts of recordings, heatmaps, and user feedback for a complete picture of your user experience that brings actionable insights to your coworkers or stakeholders.

What are Hotjar and Smartlook’s key tools? 

Hotjar and Smartlook offer similar tools, with some key differences in functionality and capabilities.

Let’s get straight to it and assess the tools and features these two platforms have in common.

Heatmaps

In this section, we cover the following in our comparison of Hotjar and Smartlook heatmaps:

  • Types of heatmaps

  • Plan options

  • Page insights

  • Data collection

  • Tool features

Hotjar 

The Hotjar Heatmaps tool is available on every plan. Even the Basic plan lets you create an unlimited number of heatmaps. There’s no need to set them up manually—once you've installed the Hotjar tracking code on your site, heatmap data immediately starts being collected.

Hotjar heatmaps come in five formats: 

  1. Move maps show where your users’ cursors move around a page

  2. Click maps show the elements your users click on (or don’t)

  3. Scroll maps show how far down a page your users scroll 

  4. Engagement Zone maps show the sections of a page your users interact with the most

  5. Rage click maps let you visualize which parts of a page are causing users the most friction

#An Engagement Zone heatmap shows the areas of a page users interact with the most
An Engagement Zone heatmap shows the areas of a page users interact with the most

The Heatmaps tool’s intuitive insights panel makes it easy to dig deeper into your data and get to the root of your users' behavior. You can assess everything from u-turn rates and rage clicks with paid plans, or drop-off rates and average time on page with a free Basic plan. Combining tools from Hotjar Observe and Ask products, you can also review the average feedback score of a page over time with its corresponding heatmap. This lets you see how people engaged with a page and discover what they thought of it. 

Hotjar's retake function allows you to capture even more accurate screenshots of a heatmap or user session. This option is useful if you want to capture a pop-up or content that is only visible when a user hovers or clicks on a certain area. For example, if an existing screenshot is missing specific information about your users, you can retake it to include the most relevant data.

#Hotjar's Retaker tool lets you capture the essential details in your heatmaps
Hotjar's Retaker tool lets you capture the essential details in your heatmaps

On our paid plans, use Heatmaps to assess:

  • New vs. returning users

  • Location and technology used (such as browser and device) 

  • Entry and exit pages

  • Customers who converted vs. those who didn’t

  • A/B testing 

💡 Pro tip: Heatmaps works hand in hand with Recordings and Feedback, so explore all three tools when you’re analyzing your website’s performance to get a 360° view of the user experience.

Smartlook 

Smartlook provides intuitive but basic heatmaps that record 100% of user sessions. However, with their free plan, you only get ten heatmaps a month, and there are limits to how advanced an analysis you can make.

Smartlook offers three types of heatmaps:

  1. Click maps

  2. Movement maps

  3. Scroll maps

#An example of a Smartlook click map from their demo site
An example of a Smartlook click map from their demo site

Like Hotjar, once you install the tracking code on your website, Smartlook can use historical data to generate heatmaps instantly.

However, Smartlook heatmaps only offer basic page insights, like views and clicks, so it's difficult to make an in-depth analysis, requiring more labor on the user's part to analyze what’s happening on their site. There’s also no retake function, so there’s a risk of missing important information or failing to capture the full scope of what your users are doing.

#Smartlook’s mockup of a heatmap showing user behavior on mobile apps
Smartlook’s mockup of a heatmap showing user behavior on mobile apps

Why Hotjar wins: Hotjar’s free plan includes unlimited heatmaps. With Smartlook, you only get ten heatmaps for free per month.

Recordings

Smartlook and Hotjar have very similar session recordings tools, and both are available on a free plan. We compare:

  • Recordings player features

  • Categorization

  • Filters

  • Collaboration

Hotjar 

Hotjar Recordings shows sessions spanning a user’s multi-page journey on your website. Your recordings won’t be repeatedly broken up by users moving between pages, giving you clear insights into how they behave from when they land on your site to when they exit. Track your user’s journey from start to finish, and use their wins and pain points to inspire more customer-centric optimizations to your site. 

Hotjar categorizes session recordings by relevance, frustration levels, engagement, date, and user location, so you can immediately see which sessions are most relevant to your goals and watch them first.

#Recordings in Hotjar organized by relevance and engagement scores
Recordings in Hotjar organized by relevance and engagement scores

You can filter user sessions in Hotjar by parameters such as: 

  • Date

  • User demographics and role 

  • Device used 

  • Specific events

You can also save configurations of your favorite filter combinations as ‘segments’ to only see the data that matters most to your business without manually applying them each time you enter the tool.

#The Hotjar Recordings tool
The Hotjar Recordings tool

Skipping straight to the most interesting parts of a recording is also easy with Hotjar. You can find what you need with minimal effort, as each recording is highlighted with timestamps to show particular user actions—like rage clicks, u-turns, and feedback.

Instead of viewing these actions in isolation, you can see the context behind the behavior for better insight into your customers’ motivations. 

You can also see events, like when users:

  • Visit a new page 

  • Enter an upsell flow

  • Bounce

  • Sign up for your newsletter or subscribe to your product

Team members can also attach tags to recordings to highlight certain user actions, so if you only want to analyze incidents of rage clicks with your team, you can easily tag and share these events.

#Using Highlights with Recordings makes it easy to collaborate and share data across teams
Using Highlights with Recordings makes it easy to collaborate and share data across teams

Smartlook

Smartlook’s recordings tool has much in common with Hotjar's. Recordings are saved in a list and tagged by country, session length, browser, device type, and OS.

#Smartlook’s recordings dashboard on their demo site
Smartlook’s recordings dashboard on their demo site

Smartlook’s recordings player works much the same as Hotjar’s, with the capabilities to see events, jump ahead in a recording video, and see the user attributes of the visitor in the recording. 

Smartlook recordings can be filtered by data subsets like

  • Visited URL

  • Country

  • Device used

  • Specific events, such as scrolls and clicks

But Smartlook recordings aren't sorted by variables such as the session length or user behavior. Smartlook recordings are sorted by date, with the most recent recording at the top.

#The Smartlook recordings player
The Smartlook recordings player

Smartlook lets you see where certain events took place in a recording’s timeline—such as errors, notes, or clicks—and filter by those events so you only see those incidents during a session. For example, an engineer who only wants to watch the error events of a session can apply the error filter and skip any extraneous parts of a recording. 

You can also add comments at specific timestamps to share information and draw attention to interesting behavior, so you can search for recordings with specific words and focus on certain behaviors or bugs. 

However, since no set terminology or automated tagging is built into the player, this relies heavily on Smartlook users agreeing on naming conventions in advance.

Why Hotjar wins: recordings from Hotjar pair directly with user feedback and heatmaps, giving you a complete view of the user experience. Hotjar recordings can be sorted by clearly labeled tags to make viewing and analysis a much more efficient process.

Dashboard

Comparing Hotjar and Smartlook’s dashboard tools, we cover:

  • Main features

  • Types of insights

  • Ease of use

Hotjar

Hotjar’s dedicated Dashboard tool organizes all key metrics and data points on one page

The Dashboard gives you easy access to recordings and heatmaps for advanced analysis, and you get to see your data translated into comprehensive charts and graphs. This helps you quickly identify which areas on your site need special attention without the extra effort of having to sort through individual tools to analyze your site’s performance.

#The Hotjar Dashboard puts all user insights in one place
The Hotjar Dashboard puts all user insights in one place

Smartlook 

Smartlook lets you create multiple project-specific dashboards and has a main dashboard hub that gives you an overview of each tool. However, its capabilities are limited, and it doesn’t offer much more than high-level impressions, requiring you to investigate further.

#Smartlook’s dashboard on their demo site
Smartlook’s dashboard on their demo site

Why Hotjar wins: the Hotjar Dashboard compiles data from every area of the platform into one visual, accessible location, giving you a high-level view of key insights—from recordings to user feedback—and enabling you to make sense of visitor behavior.

Funnels 

Looking at the Hotjar and Smartlook funnel tools, we cover:

  • Important features

  • Insights you can expect to see

  • Plan differences

Hotjar 

Hotjar Funnels allows you to create a sales flow for your site and gives you an overview of your conversion rates at every step of the customer journey, so you can clearly understand where and when customers convert (or don’t). 

With Hotjar Funnels, you can add up to ten steps in a flow and include actions such as when users:

  • Visit a specific URL

  • Click on certain elements or fields

  • Enter specific searches

  • Trigger custom events

Like the rest of Hotjar’s tools, funnels also come with recordings. You can see what was happening on-site when users dropped out of the funnel or converted, giving you a complete overview of the user experience so you can piece entire user journeys together.

#Hotjar Funnels highlights drops in conversions and pairs events with user recordings
Hotjar Funnels highlights drops in conversions and pairs events with user recordings

Compare funnels against each other to understand whether changes on your site—such as bug fixes or redesigns—made a difference to your conversion rates. It’s a fast, easy way to complement A/B testing, spot website issues, maximize your CRO, and analyze potential blockers or bugs.

⚠️ Hotjar Funnels is only available on the Observe Scale plans.

Smartlook 

Smartlook’s conversion funnels tool is where it really excels. The funnels tool is available on free plans for both desktop and mobile. 

You can add more than 15 steps to Smartlook funnels, and they come with automatic email reporting, so you don’t overlook any interesting developments.

As with Hotjar, funnels come with accompanying recordings to provide additional context behind user behavior and show the why behind any drop-offs, so you can find: 

  • Broken elements

  • Hidden bugs

  • High-exit pages

  • Pages that lead to conversions

#Smartlook’s demo funnels dashboard
Smartlook’s demo funnels dashboard

Smartlook’s funnel anomalies feature lets you create thresholds for drop-offs, which trigger alerts if they’re surpassed, so if there’s a sudden spike in drop-offs you can quickly identify and fix any issues before they cause too much damage.

With the revenue insights feature, you can attach average values to events like ‘purchase complete’ to understand how much money drop-offs cost your company and get a sense of the overall profit and loss you incur during each step of the customer journey. 

⚠️ The values shown in revenue insights aren’t based on real individual purchases but on an estimation of the average value of purchases within a specific date range.

#Smartlook’s revenue insights feature reveals the impact of a loss in conversions at any point in the funnel
Smartlook’s revenue insights feature reveals the impact of a loss in conversions at any point in the funnel

Smartlook also allows you to preset custom variables—such as user location—to filter funnels. 

One notable disadvantage to this tool is that you can’t compare Smartlook funnels for testing purposes, so you need to analyze each funnel individually. 

Why Smartlook wins: Smartlook’s funnels are available on their free plan and offer revenue insights, which are particularly helpful to ecommerce businesses. 

Additional capabilities of Hotjar and Smartlook

Along with Hotjar and Smartlook's tools, there are additional features and capabilities across both platforms regarding how they work and what they can reveal about user behavior. 

Here we take a look at:

Error reporting 

Available only on Pro and Enterprise plans, Smartlook’s error reporting features are more advanced than Hotjar’s. Within Smartlook’s recordings player, the error reports send links of time-stamped clips directly to Slack or Jira. 

Smartlook's crash reports feature shows you recordings for additional insight into user behavior and site issues during a crash. The feature lists crash or error types, the events involved in the crash, and the number of users affected. While there’s more detail than Hotjar’s reports, Smartlook’s error reports involve more complex data and require engineering expertise to understand what actions to take

Smartlook’s DevTools also allow you to review technical data such as: 

  • Network activity

  • Console logs

  • JavaScript errors

  • Latency issues experienced by visitors

Available only on Observe Scale plans, Hotjar’s error reporting functions provide data accessible to every team—from UX designers to product marketers—with no engineering knowledge needed. Hotjar's console tracking allows you to track on-site JavaScript errors and categorize your data with error filters. 

Hotjar reports don’t automatically export recording details to Jira or Slack.

#Hotjar’s console tracking helps spot and track errors
Hotjar’s console tracking helps spot and track errors

Data storage

Both platforms allow you to store data for extended periods, however, the extent and costs differ significantly.

Hotjar offers one year of storage time with the Observe Basic plan, so your recordings, heatmaps, and crucial user session data are stored for free.

Smartlook only stores your data for a maximum of three months, and that’s if you sign up for a Pro plan. If you have a large business, this doesn’t give you enough time to develop a thorough understanding of your users’ behavior and trends.

Integrations

Smartlook and Hotjar have similar integration capabilities compatible with Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Analytics

Smartlook also offers integrations with Survicate, Make, Piwik PRO, and Sentry. Hotjar currently does not provide integrations with these tools.

Check out the complete list of Hotjar integrations here.

#Hotjar Feedback integrates with Slack to export user feedback straight to dedicated Slack channels
Hotjar Feedback integrates with Slack to export user feedback straight to dedicated Slack channels

Filters

Hotjar and Smartlook also offer similar sets of filters. You can analyze your data by categories like:

  • User email address

  • User ID 

  • Custom events

  • Rage clicks

  • Date

Hotjar also allows you to filter by u-turn so you can see exactly why a user decided to jump back to a page, which is not an option with Smartlook. In contrast, Smartlook has a ‘text typed’ filter which Hotjar does not offer.*

Smartlook allows you to treat custom properties and custom events as different filters. Hotjar gives you access to the same functionalities; you just have to apply a naming convention to Google Analytics events in Hotjar’s custom events filter.

*Keep in mind: Smartlook’s ‘text typed’ filter comes with some privacy concerns, as it enables you to search for recordings where users typed personal information—something Hotjar suppresses for maximum confidentiality. Learn about Hotjar's approach to privacy here. 

Events 

Hotjar and Smartlook have a lot in common when it comes to events. 

For event picking, Hotjar’s ‘clicked element’ filter allows you to highlight elements such as CTAs or links on a given page, and create an event for when users interact with those elements. However, the no-code CSS selector must be manually configured, while Smartlook’s comes preset.

Smartlook lets you categorize and group events by URLs, typed text, and clicked elements. You can then use the event breakdown feature to analyze these individual events in depth.

Smartlook also lets you merge events or create composites, meaning you can use actions such as ‘visited page’ followed by ‘clicked element’ to create an event that maps out a journey or specific user type.

Data sampling

Both platforms facilitate data sampling, but with Smartlook, this is only possible with their highest-tier Enterprise plan. 

Hotjar provides data sampling with a free Basic plan and captures user sessions equally throughout the month. This means you can gather a consistent sample of valuable insights, regardless of your plan, across a set period.

#Hotjar’s data sampling algorithm
Hotjar’s data sampling algorithm

Privacy 

Smartlook and Hotjar are vocal about their commitment to privacy, and their tools’ capabilities reflect this, with both platforms being GDPR, CCPA, and LGPD compliant.

All user information is restricted to essential details, and both platforms use element suppression to mask certain areas of a page so they’re hidden from recordings. However, with the previously mentioned ‘text typed’ filter Smartlook offers, there’s the ability to see whatever users type while on-site, whereas Hotjar suppresses that information, so any sensitive data typed is seen as asterisks.

Both companies permanently delete all data from heatmaps, recordings, and team activity after 365 days.

#Hotjar disguises sensitive information on recordings
Hotjar disguises sensitive information on recordings

Trends: exclusive to Hotjar Observe Scale

Trends is a unique tool in this comparison, and is exclusive to the Hotjar Observe Scale plan.

With Smartlook’s event breakdown, you can track the trend of specific actions—such as rage clicks—over time, and cross-reference your results against an event breakdown by city or device in a separate graph. However, Smartlook doesn’t offer a dedicated trends tool as a part of its platform.

Hotjar Trends works by visualizing user metrics and turning them into easy-to-understand charts and graphs that reveal patterns in user behavior. Trends lets you analyze more complex trends that have many different variables.

#Hotjar Trends turns patterns in user behavior into simple, intuitive charts and graphs
Hotjar Trends turns patterns in user behavior into simple, intuitive charts and graphs

Trends allows you to compare and cross-reference charts and watch accompanying recordings for further context into user behavior so you can make sense of their interactions and experiences on your site. Rather than taking user behavior for granted, Trends makes it clear where you’re winning, where you need to improve, and how users feel about your product.

You can filter data by subsets such as:

  • User demographics

  • Date

  • Events

  • URL

Trends is a great next step for businesses that want to tap into even more avenues for gathering user insights and developing customer empathy. 

Why choose Hotjar?

Smartlook is a solid option for smaller businesses looking to tackle the basics of their behavior analysis and website performance.

However, Hotjar’s combination of user feedback tools with heatmaps and recordings gives you an unbeatable level of insight into user behavior. Hotjar's range and depth of intuitive tools and features, competitive pricing, and collaborative capabilities make it easy to analyze your quantitative and qualitative data.

With its uniquely user-centric approach to behavior analytics, Hotjar was designed to inspire empathy and drive actionable optimizations to your website or product so you can keep making customer-centric decisions for your business. 

In short, it’s the obvious choice for businesses that want their customers at the heart of their growth.

Grow your business with Hotjar

Make data-backed, customer-centric decisions about your business with our comprehensive suite of behavior analytics tools.