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How to use session recordings to improve user engagement and product adoption for your SaaS

Imagine you could sit behind your users looking over their shoulders as they interact with your product. How valuable would that be to your product team?

Well, that’s effectively what session recordings let you do.

PX insights
Behavior analytics

Last updated

29 Nov 2021

In this article, we’ll show how you can use session recordings to extract insights that accelerate:

  • User engagement: in terms of feature use, device-specific UX problems, and bug fixes

  • Product adoption: by identifying 'missing' UI elements, driving feature discovery, and improving onboarding

And to help you find the right session recording tool for your PX needs, we’ll also check out the strengths and focuses of some of the leading options. 

But before we get to that, let’s start at the beginning…

Improve UX with session recordings

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What are session recordings?

Session recordings are renderings of real actions taken by users as they navigate around and carry out actions in-app or on a website or mobile site. 

They typically capture every kind of activity: from mouse movements, scrolls, and window size adjustments, to clicks, taps, and keystrokes. 

While much of this data is also captured by traditional analytics tools, session recordings put it all into the context of particular users’ experiences—usually in the form of replayable video, like the example created using Hotjar below.

#Hotjar recordings show you how users really experience your site, which is key for discovering issues, optimizing UX, and ultimately improving your conversion rates.
Hotjar recordings show you how users really experience your site, which is key for discovering issues, optimizing UX, and ultimately improving your conversion rates.

So while traditional analytics treats user behavior in a quantitative way, session recordings provide a real sense of the qualitative aspect. 

Session recordings are sometimes also called:

  • Session replays

  • User recordings

  • User replays

But whatever you call them, their value for identifying and fixing UX problems and for conversion rate optimization has been proven time and time again. 

What type of insights can you get by watching session recordings of your users?

By showing how users are (or aren’t) engaging with each element of your app, session recordings reveal where the ideal workflows defined in your customer journey map are not being followed. 

Wherever users are straying from that optimal path, the recordings show what the friction points are that are leading them astray. 

For example, here are some things to look for when watching a recording:

  • Users taking too long to complete actions: this suggests they are confused about how to proceed and would benefit from some contextual help (e.g. tooltips, modals, etc pointing the way)

  • Form abandonment: if users are giving up after starting a form, perhaps it could be shortened or simplified to aid completion

  • Users bouncing away immediately: this implies that when users land on your site, it’s not immediately clear how your product fulfills their needs. Watch what they do before leaving to plan changes that will show the value faster.

  • Unusual scrolling patterns and rage clicks: these show frustrated users not getting the expected result most likely caused by bad UI design or bugs. Help them out with in-app nudges or by reviewing navigation or information architecture.

It’s not just user behavior that session recordings expose, though. They can also point to performance problems:

  • Pages that load incorrectly on certain browsers or devices

  • Broken or missing page elements 

  • Functionality that doesn’t work (e.g. login timeout)

All these friction points indicate areas for action to improve product experience. 

How to use session recording insights to improve user engagement for your SaaS

Session recordings can give you valuable product insight, by showing how real users are interacting with your site or app. 

Those insights point to opportunities for improving user engagement, experience, and ultimately building a better product that your users love.

How can you do that?

Understand the cause of low new feature engagement and make data-backed decisions

Using your product analytics data, segment your users based on feature usage and activity levels, and categorize the lowest as 'at-risk' and the highest as 'power users'.

By watching multiple session recordings from users in a specific segment, you’ll start to understand why some are not engaging.

Then simply resegment your groups by other characteristics (use case, cohort, product tier, etc) and cross-reference.

Ask yourself: 

  • What are power users doing that similar at-risk users are not? 

  • How can you improve the experience of the latter group and prevent churn? 

If a feature shows low usage across segments, session recordings will tell you if it’s down to a bug or a UI problem, in which case it can be fixed by your dev team.

If it’s not, it could indicate that your users just don’t need that feature. 

Run a targeted in-app microsurvey like the one below to get customer feedback and really understand the problem.

If feedback reveals a need for the feature but lack of accessibility, improve the UI, and create onboarding experiences to help guide users to it. 

If it doesn’t, consider removing the feature—or changing your marketing to attract an audience that would value it.

Identify and fix UX issues that are causing low engagement on specific devices or screens

Sometimes, UX problems stem from differences in how your app displays and functions on different screens. 

When your analytics reveals a conversion or task completion problem specific to users of certain devices, screen recordings will show why that is happening.

For example, Plutio used Hotjar’s Session Recordings to investigate weaknesses in mobile users’ core metrics. 

What they found was that the home page link was too close to some navigation menu items, and mobile users were clicking on the former by mistake. 

A simple UI change on the mobile version solved that problem. 

If, however, the recordings point to a problem that can’t be fixed on certain screens, use in-app messaging to inform users about the screen sizes that provide the best experience. 

Identify and remove bugs that are hurting engagement rates

Your users may be experiencing bugs that you’re unaware of, which go beyond device and screen differences. 

These will add friction to their product experience (PX) and lead them off the ideal customer journey path. 

The trouble with bugs is they’re not always easy for your QA team and developers to replicate off the back of reported descriptions. 

This is where screen recordings of affected users’ experiences help.

For example, when Audiense noticed a sudden drop-off in sign-ups, they studied a series of recordings and discovered that the password validator was not working, preventing anyone from completing the workflow. 

Once they had seen this, it was simple for the devs to fix. 

How to use session recording insights to drive product adoption for your SaaS

Having looked at how to use session recordings to facilitate product improvements, let’s now turn to how they can also help drive product adoption

That is, as well as suggesting changes to your product, session recordings can help you design in-app experiences that improve UX and get users to realize value faster. 

Here are a few examples of how you can achieve that.

Simplify and shorten your signup flow to remove friction

It’s long been known that simplifying your signup flow has a big impact on signup completion rate. 

As long ago as 2010, Expedia discovered that removing a single line in their registration form saved $12 million

If you’re losing users during signup, check session recordings to identify the points where users are dropping out and what the potential problems might be.

Most common issues that make users abandon the signup flow are:

  • Unnecessary or too many data fields 

  • Too many steps or screens that it's making the process feel long

  • Having to enter the same data over and over again 

  • Field validation rules not working properly

How can you fix it?

  • Collect unnecessary data after signup (using a welcome screen to personalize onboarding, for example)

  • Add progress bars when using multiple steps and try consolidating steps without overwhelming users with too many fields 

  • Offer signup through third-party profiles (like Facebook or Google)

  • Make sure there are no bugs in your signup process

Below is an example of how a welcome screen might look. Using that, you can collect more data about who your user is and personalize their onboarding path based on their needs. 

Collecting data after signup means your signup flow will ask for minimum information only and provide a better experience.

Kontentino in-app welcome screen built with Userpilot

Kontentino in-app welcome screen built with Userpilot

Drive feature discovery with recordings and native tooltips

Feature discovery is an essential part of product adoption. If users don’t realize what your app has to offer, they won’t get the full value. 

So, use screen recordings to identify where users seem to be in need of assistance—for example, by scouring your FAQs or help center, or by hovering for a long time over the navigation menu. 

Maybe they're looking for a specific feature they can't seem to find.

If it’s a very widespread problem that correlates with low task completion rates, you might want to take another look at your entire UI.

On the opposite side, if it’s quite specific and the recordings suggest that the confusion is appearing at particular friction points, you can fix that with in-app guidance messages.

For example, native tooltips: those flickering spotlights that draw the users' attention to a specific point on the UI. Then, when hovered over, they display a short message (and a call to action, why not?).

Native tooltips might look something like this:

Kommunicate tooltip to announce new feature

Use tooltips to give small hints on what's new inside the UI and help users discover new features easily.

Ensure you filter the session recordings to narrow down who is struggling, when. That way, you can push targeted help to different user segments.

Improve onboarding with in-app guidance where needed

Perhaps your adoption problem doesn’t stem from low feature discovery, but from users failing to reach the activation point during onboarding (experiencing the value of the app by engaging with key features for the first time)

For all SaaS businesses, not getting users engaged and activated quickly enough is a major cause of early churn. 

But that can be fixed.

First, identify the cause of low activation rate by watching a variety of session recordings from churned users: 

  • Identify where users drop off on the journey (do they even start the journey?)

  • Rule out bugs and UI issues

  • Identify elements that might be causing friction (going back and forth between pages for example)

Once you have a list of potential issues, start addressing them. 

In-app guidance, like the tooltips we mentioned above, can help guide users on the shortest path to activation, based on their use case.

But you can't (and shouldn't!) clutter your UI with tooltips everywhere. It will defeat the purpose of a tooltip.

Combining multiple UI patterns such as modals, checklists, or specific feature interactive walkthroughs you can improve your activation rate by offering help and guidance when the user needs it. 

Combining a checklist with an interactive walkthrough is a combination that works great to onboard new users.

First, create a checklist that shows the users the steps they need to take. Then simply use a sequence of tooltips to guide users through completing each step.

Kommunicate onboarding checklist

The secret is to let the user 'ask' for the guided walkthrough by engaging with your checklist.

Kommunicate interactive guide for customizing the chat widget

Product adoption tools (think Walkme or alternatives) allow you to build out this type of in-app guidance and trigger patterns without relying on your developers to custom code them in-app.  

In short: session recordings help you identify problems during onboarding and in-app guidance offers help inside the app and improves the onboarding experience.

Why session recordings are essential for product managers

We've covered how to use session recording to improve the user experience and drive engagement and adoption of your product.

But sometimes, the problem is the product itself.

Let’s look at some of the insights product managers can get from session recordings that can help them create better products.

Track user behavior in-app and identify missing UI elements that will improve experience

Your user story may show one pathway to completion of a task, but viewing session recordings will reveal how users are actually getting things done.

And that may prove to be less than ideal. 

For example, product managers may find that users are navigating between separate pages to complete tasks. Altering the UI to allow this to be done on one page would provide a better experience. 

Or perhaps there's a better way to complete that action altogether. Session recordings will provide you the feedback needed.

Identify bugs in production before a product release

Session recordings can play an important part in usability testing programs. Plus, they rely on real users, saving you the hassle of setting up formal tests and removing the known risks associated with testing bias. 

By releasing new products, versions, and features to small groups of users, recording their interactions, and studying them, product managers can identify bugs and other problems before launching the new product release or feature to all users.

Explain and go deeper into your product analytics

One thing that even the most comprehensive traditional analytics tools don’t provide is context: everything they show is based on aggregate behavior. 

Session recordings give you direct insight into the why behind user actions. 

So, if you have a page that receives loads of traffic but isn’t converting, view a series of session recordings featuring converting and non-converting visits to that page. The real-life behavior of users will help you hypothesize solutions. 

How Hotjar helps product teams understand and improve user engagement

Hotjar is a product experience (PX) insights tool, which brings together three functionalities:

Session recordings and heatmaps are perfect complements because the former provides qualitative insight, and the latter, quantitative. 

For example, once you’ve watched enough session recordings to get a sense of how some users are interacting, you’ll want to get a sense of how common that experience is. 

Heatmaps help you visualize click and tap data across users in aggregate, showing you which actions are widespread and which are uncommon. 

And this is enhanced by collecting user feedback through surveys.

After all, the best way to understand why things are happening is to ask the people involved what they’re trying to do, why, and how they feel about the experience provided. 

Hotjar has free and paid packages available, and is built primarily for product teams who want to empathize with and better understand their users.                                     

Final thoughts

Session recordings are an essential part of any product team’s toolkit. 

By showing how real users interact with your product, they help you identify areas for improvement and put your solutions to the test. And that can have a massive impact on key metrics like user engagement and product adoption. 

If you’re not already using session recordings, you’re missing out on critical qualitative information about your users’ actual behavior, which could be losing you customers and revenue. 

But don’t just take our word for it: try out Hotjar for free today and see for yourself what powerful insights they can provide!

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