Session recordings: 5 ways replay tools improve user experience

January 24, 2019 by Fio Dossetto

You don’t need to guess what users are doing on your website. Session recordings let you watch how people browse, interact with, and move across pages, so you can empathize with their journey and spot any issues they encounter—which in turn gives you valuable data to fix and improve their user experience.

In this guide, you’ll learn five ways recording tools can help you understand your customers, and find some real examples of companies using recordings to fix bugs and increase revenue. At the end, we’ll also show you how to set up and collect session replay data so you can get started today!

Table of contents

What are session recordings?

Session recordings are renderings of real actions taken by visitors as they browse a website. Recordings capture mouse movement, clicks, taps, and scrolling across multiple pages on desktop and mobile devices.

Also known as session replay or user/visitor replay tools, recordings are used to gain a real understanding of how users interact with a website, which then helps fix issues, optimize UX, and ultimately improve conversion rate. 


See it in action: check out this recording of a Hotjar blog reader interacting with the very page you're on. Meta! 🔥


Start session recordings on your website  

Get a free Hotjar trial and start building better user experiences today. 

Free forever. Get started! 

5 ways session recordings help you understand your customers

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Recordings and replays are an extremely powerful tool for gaining insight into how users behave —they are one of the closest things to being in the same room as your users and see exactly how they interact with your site. To get you started with your own data analysis, here are five of the most popular ways session recordings can teach you more about your customers.

1. Understand and empathize with your visitors’ experience

Putting yourself in your user’s shoes allows you to empathize with them, experience what they’re going through as they browse your website, and build a more enjoyable and efficient user experience as a result. It doesn’t take more than 10-20 recordings to start seeing where visitors are getting stuck—and you may even already spot what’s persuading them to convert.


Read more: check out our guide to getting actionable insight from recordings in under 2 hours to learn how to watch recordings efficiently.

2. See how users interact with specific website elements

Session recordings let you really zoom in on how users interact with key elements on your website. Where do users focus, what do they click on, which sections do they spend a lot of time on, what do they skip over… recordings allow you to stop speculating about it all and start using real data to make impactful changes.

3. Discover bugs, issues, and obstacles

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Watching session replays where users get stuck, confused, and frustrated as they experience issues is one of the fastest ways to improve your website.

Barriers (obstacles that stop a customer from progressing) can be both technical and informational: look out for broken elements and loading issues in addition to misleading micro-copy or unclear instructions.


🏆Pro tip: session replays always help you spot bugs after launching a new website, page, or app.

4. Find out why people are leaving your website

Spot opportunities to reduce bounce rates and keep people on your website by watching session replays from users who left your site without converting. Look for patterns of behavior—did they navigate erratically? Did they miss an important link? Did they encounter a bug? Answer these questions and you’ll know what needs improving.


🏆Pro tip: here’s a longer guide on how to use recordings and analytics tools to find out why people are leaving your website.

5. Help team members, clients, and stakeholders make decisions

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Recordings are easy to share, straightforward to watch, and provide evidence for getting people onboard before making design decisions and optimizations.

Whether you’re a UX designer, CRO specialist, or marketer, user session recordings will help you make data-driven decisions and showcase the effectiveness of your work to people across teams.

What can you see with session recordings?

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Session recordings show you everything a user sees in their browser.

Record mouse movement, scrolling, and clicks on desktop

Each user session recording will display mouse movement, clicks, and scrolling in real-time (but you always have the option to speed up or slow down the video you’re watching). To make it easier to spot patterns, movement is displayed as red lines that remain on the screen.

Replay scrolling and taps on mobile

Session replay works just as well on mobilescrolling and taps are captured in recordings.

Record keyboard strokes

Session recordings will track keystroke data (information typed by users) in limited cases if you whitelist certain permitted fields. By default, trustworthy session recording tools like Hotjar automatically anonymize personally identifiable information (like the data a user would input in a credit card field) and have features in place that help you suppress specific elements.

User privacy is crucial to us: read more about Hotjar’s approach to privacy. And, yes, our session recordings can be used to comply with the GDPR.

Multiple page views

When a user navigates to a new page (or refreshes a page), the session will keep recording as a whole, making it possible for you to view a video playback of a user journey across multiple pages without interruption.

3 real examples of session recordings to fix bugs and increase revenue

Intelliquip used Hotjar Recordings to spot issues when launching a new feature

When they launched a new registration portal for a client, Jon Kern and the team at Intelliquip used session replays to spot ‘failure paths’ with the new feature:

“We went through two or three rounds of intensely watching the Hotjar videos, seeing where the failure paths were… people would get into this endless loop: they weren't reading, they didn't realize that they had to confirm their email. They would just get stuck.”

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Now that’s what I call multi-tasking: Jon Kern watching Hotjar user videos, with lunch, on a treadmill.

Having the real session recording data meant that Jon and the team could view user issues, make some changes to the code, redeploy, watch, and start again until the process was error-free.

Joel Klettke used session replays to increase traffic to a landing page/add thousands of $$$ of monthly revenue

While working on a client landing page to improve conversion rate, CRO consultant Joel Klettke used Google Analytics to determine that visitors who viewed a certain landing page somewhere in their journey ended up converting into customers. Joel then watched session recordings to determine how customers were finding the landing page.

By categorizing user behavior patterns, he was able to optimize the website to get more visitors to the landing page. Ultimately, he helped his client add an additional £11,000 ($14,000) of monthly revenue with a few small changes.

Plutio used session recordings to fix a bug on mobile

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Freeze-frame from a recording showing an accidental user tap (the white oval) on a logo

Leo Bassam from Plutio replayed session recordings from mobile traffic to find an easy-to-fix but problematic error. A replay showed a user trying to close a mobile menu but accidentally tapping the main logo, which resulted in an unintended page refresh. By simply moving the mobile menu, Leo was able to fix the bug and improve UX on the page instantly.

How to set up session recordings with Hotjar

Setting up session recordings takes just a couple of minutes. If you’re not already using Hotjar, grab a free trial to get started.

Go to the main Hotjar dashboard and select “Recordings” from the left sidebar menu.

Click the “Record Visitors” button

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Set the number of Recordings to generate

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The maximum number of recordings per snapshot depends on your plan. Recordings will stop being collected once the number you select has been reached (but you can re-start the recordings again if required).

Choose a target page or trigger

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Configure your Recording Options

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Recording options help you specify when Recordings will be collected. You can set recordings to activate only when click and scroll activity is detected, only for sessions of 30 seconds and longer, and to record keystroke data.


A quick note about privacy: Hotjar Recordings will only display whitelisted keystroke in form inputs, though some fields (such as credit card numbers) are always suppressed to protect your visitors; we also have a range of tools for suppressing personally identifiable information outside of forms. Read more about Hotjar’s approach to privacy.

Hit 'Start Recording' and you’re all set

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That’s it; you’re now collecting session recordings! You won’t have to wait long before you can start watching them and finding ways to improve your website.


🏆Read more: we wrote a guide on how to get actionable insight from recordings in under 2 hours based on feedback from actual Hotjar users.

Combine session recordings with more analytics data for better insights

Watching user session replays is a great way to really get into the mindset of your users, but the insight you can gather is much more valuable if you combine it with other user feedback tools.

For example, you can use recordings and heatmaps together to spot trends in user behavior.

Or combine recordings, heatmaps, and polls to monitor and spot issues when you launch changes to your website or app.

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🏆Pro tip: an all-in-one analytics tool like Hotjar allows you to easily collect multiple data points from a single user. A unique (anonymous) User ID is generated for each user recording and can be cross-referenced with a survey response or feedback poll to give valuable context—provided your users have granted consent first ;)


Start session recordings on your website  

Get a free Hotjar trial and start building better user experiences today. 

Free forever. Get started!

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Fio Dossetto

An ex-academic turned editor, Fio manages editorial production for the Hotjar blog where she also writes about UX, optimization, and how to keep remote teams organized.

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