Hotjars way of chewing data is changing making Hotjar simpler to use

The sharpest knives in the drawer: how we’re making Hotjar’s tools smarter and easier to use

August 19, 2020 by Megan Murphy , Alex Jost

If you’re serious about cooking, you don’t want a swiss army knife in your kitchen. You want a proper set of kitchen knives. The same principle applies to software tools, and how we’re thinking about building Hotjar.

In this article we reflect on Hotjar’s past, and look boldly ahead to its future: a sharper set of tools for understanding how users really experience your site and how to provide them with better experiences.

The ‘TL;DR’ update

Here’s the quick version of the update:

Hotjar’s way of chewing data is changing: pageviews will soon be gone, sessions will replace them, and this will make using Hotjar a lot simpler.

Hotjar capturing data based on pageviews has limited our product innovation. Pageviews are a static instance of a webpage loading: inherently inconsistent and unreflective of the dynamic experience on a website today. Hotjar’s way of working is evolving to capture user sessions: recording a user’s visit to your site (a session) and providing behavior analytics based on their whole visit. We will be updating our subscriptions to be based on how many user sessions you want to capture on your site per month.

No more ‘snapshots’ of data filling up inconsistently: Hotjar is heading to Continuous Capture

Manually starting and restarting a ‘snapshot’ of pageviews to analyze user behavior has been an unnatural step in our users’ workflow. There’s inherent gaps in this kind of data. With our new Continuous Capture mode of gathering insights, you just need to open Hotjar and all the sessions within your plan’s sample will be available to analyze. Less manual work, cleaner data, better Hotjar.

Hello Surveys 2.0, goodbye Forms and Funnels

We’re merging Polls and Surveys into one more powerful Surveys tool. Adding context to behavior analytics data through user feedback is key to improving site experience and increasing conversions. We’re doubling down on the analytical depth of Hotjar’s feedback tools.

We’re retiring Forms and Funnels. For us to focus on improving Hotjar’s flagship tools (Heatmaps, Recordings, our feedback tools) we have had to make difficult decisions and prioritize: Forms and Funnels are underused, and we’re open about them not being competitive tools in their space. They’re no longer going to be part of the Hotjar toolkit.

We’re changing the prices on Hotjar’s paid plans.

Hotjar’s basic plan is staying free forever. We’re increasing prices of our two most affordable plans - the Plus plan and the lowest tier within our Business plans - by 10 bucks per month. That’s it - nothing crazy or drastic. That’s already gone into effect for new customers. For existing customers: we’ll be in touch to give you plenty of heads-up of the date new pricing comes into effect.

Read on for the story of why and how we’re evolving Hotjar, and more cooking analogies than you can shake a pepper mill at.

The deep dive: what’s coming up in Hotjar

A note from Megan, Hotjar's Director of Product 👋

Hi, I’m Megan, the Director of Product at Hotjar. In my early days as a product manager, the founder of a startup where I was working told me something that has resonated throughout my entire career: “Your product can be a steak knife or a swiss army knife. The swiss army knife tries to do a little bit of everything, it pleases everyone a little bit, and no one a lot. Or you can build a steak knife that does something at a very high quality, learn more about who’s using it, and find out what other knives you can build for them.” At the time, I didn’t have the heart to tell the founder that I was a vegetarian, but the point still rings loud and clear in my memory. It has largely shaped how I think about building products, and really helps me keep a laser focus on solving for customers’ evolving needs.

At Hotjar, we have the pleasure to serve customers with very different businesses, but we share one thing in common with all of you: we have to make product decisions that continuously weigh the impact and effort of our work. There are so many exciting things that we want to build for you, and with that comes some trade-offs along the way. In this blog post, I’m going to share what those trade-offs are, why we’re making them, and why we believe it’s the right evolution of our product: to keep sharpening our knives to provide more useful insights that will help you create experiences your users love, and that help your business thrive.

Hotjar’s evolution: from swiss army knife to an ultra-sharp set of kitchen knives

I’m going to build on the kitchen knives analogy here, so do forgive me for peppering this story with cooking puns. You’ll see where I’m going.

Hotjar began in 2014 with a mission “to change the way the web is built and improved by democratizing user analytics and feedback.” We did a mighty job of that - bringing easy, accessible behavior analytics to hundreds of thousands of website owners who wanted to understand how their users really experience their sites. We offered ‘all-in-one’ tooling, everything you’d need to get an understanding of user behavior, and for free -- if you got a lot of value out of Hotjar, then you could increase that by hopping onto one of our paid plans. Easy.

The consequences of us offering loads was that our tool ended up being… loads. Loads of different things. Like a swiss army knife.

Hotjar started off like a swiss army knife with loads of useful tools
Hotjar started off like a swiss army knife: loads of useful tools. Now we know some tools need sharpening because there are new challenges for our users.

Here’s the thing though - as Hotjar users, your own websites and products have also evolved along with your customers’ expectations of what great online experiences should involve. The consequence is that marketers, designers, and product pros are developing more refined needs from analytics tools like ours. From our research, we’ve learned that Hotjar users need better data resolution, and better tools for deriving meaning from data insights to provide new value to their customers. You as a Hotjar user come to us to get things done, and we need to grow with your expectations.

Think of it this way - Hotjar as a swiss army knife has been a useful tool for cooking when you’re out camping. It worked superbly well for getting small jobs done quickly and easily. But now that your cooking has evolved, and you’re in a pro kitchen with more going on and at higher volume, the swiss army knife isn’t going to cut it.

We know: getting through a big list of recordings in Hotjar has been hard work and big changes are on the way.
We know: getting through a big list of recordings in Hotjar has been like using a swiss army knife to chop 100 pumpkins - hard work. Big changes are on the way.

Delivering game changing online user experiences at scale isn’t campsite cooking, you’ve got to be in a pro kitchen with pro tools to match. Let’s say that the perfect dish you’re creating is your website or product. It converts, it sells, it retains users by providing them what they need. When it comes to you using Hotjar, our role in helping you achieve that perfect dish is giving you a recipe: a better understanding of your users so that you can make better decisions about the experience you provide. So how does that recipe go? Think of it as the process of identifying user-facing issues and blockers to conversion, and prioritizing and testing fixes. How this works in Hotjar is through collecting user behavior data and gaining user feedback. The next step in the recipe is chopping these insights down into small, manageable chunks.

You approach this pile of ingredients -- your behavior data and your feedback, and there are two very valid thoughts you might be having that shed light on what’s holding you back in Hotjar:

  1. This swiss army knife can cut these vegetables but if the knives were bigger and sharper I’d be having an easier time of it.
  2. How are the tweezers and screwdriver helping?

At Hotjar, we want to enable you to gain higher-quality insight about your users and their experiences – faster. That's why we want to streamline our product experience and focus on developing the tools that matter the most to you. It’s about us making decisions about what is most important in our product, and doubling down on improving our most valuable tools.

Here’s how we’re going to sharpen Hotjar’s knives.

Hotjar will work based on sessions, rather than pageviews

Until now, when you’ve come to Hotjar ready to get to work you’ve had to grapple with understanding how we measure your traffic in pageviews and work with ‘snapshots’ (an on-demand report based on a quantity of pageviews) to get your data. We know this is a pain.

  • First off - Which Hotjar plan do I choose? How many pageviews do I need Hotjar to capture per day?
  • Then in Hotjar - how many pageviews do I need to capture in a recording or heatmap snapshot? How do these snapshot sizes relate to my plan’s pageviews?

Digging deeper in Hotjar - How much of my traffic am I really capturing? Can I rely on it being significant?

Pageviews as a measure of your traffic in Hotjar will soon be a thing of the past.
Pageviews as a measure of your traffic in Hotjar will soon be a thing of the past.

There’s no way around it: we haven’t been able to properly build out truly holistic analytics in Hotjar with a model based on pageviews. This is because pageviews - an instance of a webpage loading - aren’t reflective of how our tools need to grow to show you how your users dynamically engage with- and experience your sites throughout their session. Processing data through pageviews is also holding us back from presenting you data that is continuously building and always available.

A data capture method anchored on pageviews is inherently inconsistent. It makes it hard to make connections between behavior trends and qualitative feedback (can I see all the user feedback and sessions where people bounced without making a purchase?), or work with comparative insights over time (are my customers rage clicking or u-turning more this week than last week, after we rolled out new designs?), as two examples.

It’s clear to us that Hotjar’s core audience of marketers, designers, and product folks don’t spend most of their time thinking about pageviews. The most all-encapsulating benchmark of traffic is a session: the unique period of time your user is actively interacting with your site. Tracking user engagement across the whole site journey is more valuable when you’re working with sessions rather than pageviews.

We’re excited to announce that Hotjar is moving to a sessions-based model of capturing data. In practice, this means all of Hotjar will operate off the same standard unit of measurement: Hotjar records your user session, and one user’s visit to your site equals one session. Data capture aligned to the same standard unit across all Hotjar tools is going to open up exciting new possibilities for making Hotjar insights way more holistic.

The new sessions-based Hotjar will make it:

  • Easier to know what % of your site traffic your Hotjar plan can track.
  • Easier to capture data and provide insights in a uniform way across all Hotjar tools.
The old way of collecting data in Hotjar: pageviews The new way Hotjar collects data: sessions
Your Hotjar plan works based on your site’s daily pageviews: instances of a webpage loading Your Hotjar plan works based on sessions captured by the Hotjar script on a monthly basis
Gaps in data Your visitors’ whole session is captured: the duration a user is active on your site
Pageviews as a metric not intuitive More cohesive data capture
Can be hard to understand what you’re capturing when you get to work in Hotjar The benchmark metric of a user ‘session’ is more useful for marketers, designers and product pros who focus on optimizing user experience

Evolving from pageviews to sessions unlocks an even more fundamental and positive change for how you work in Hotjar...

Hotjar will continuously capture data

We know that for most of you, manually creating ‘snapshots’ for your recordings and heatmaps hasn’t been ideal. If you forgot to restart a snapshot you might have had gaps in your data.

Hotjar will automatically and continuously capture data within the amount of sessions that your plan allows

Capturing data in ‘snapshots’ was a great way to bring you on-demand reports in the early days of Hotjar, but also an unnatural step in your workflow. We’re moving on.

Candidly, working with manual snapshots has meant that the value you got out of Hotjar was dependent, in part, by the amount of time you invested. Hotjar is evolving to Continuous Capture.

Here’s how it works:

Continuous Capture in Hotjar

On Continuous Capture, Hotjar will automatically and continuously capture data (page visits, events, actions, etc) within the amount of sessions that your plan allows. Insights in Hotjar that you get through tools like Heatmaps and Recordings are all going to continuously build - there’s no need to manually intervene.

On Continuous Capture Hotjar will automatically and continuously capture data vs manual collection of snapshots of data
The old way in Hotjar: manually creating snapshots Continuous Capture: one-time setup
Planning in advance that you want to track data. ⏰🤔 Your Hotjar data is already available, ready to analyze. 😎
Spending time setting up snapshots: choosing a ‘bucket’ of pageviews to record or collect to fill up a heatmap. 🔢🤔 No setup needed. When capture is on, Recordings and Heatmaps will automatically fill up with behavior data from your users. 🤸‍♀️
Spending extra time and energy on needing to remember and be available to manually ‘restart’ snapshots. 😩 Guessing what happened on your site during dates you’re missing data for. 🔮🤔 Continuous data capture over time. 🤖. No gaps in your sample. 🙌 How much data you capture is based on how many sessions are available in your plan, not on the time you have to (set up and) maintain Hotjar.
Having snapshots of user data fill up unevenly. ⏳ Unbalanced understanding of seasonality and trends in user behavior. 🗓🤔 Gathering data evenly over time, so you can be more confident about making comparisons. 📈 🔍

Continuous Capture is arriving first for Hotjar Business. More news to come on Continuous Capture in other Hotjar plans.

What Continuous Capture means for Heatmaps and Recordings

  • Saving time that can be better spent finding insights.
    No more manual effort setting up snapshots in Heatmaps and Recordings, your data is going to be constantly building.
  • More comprehensive data.
    All the sessions you can capture with Hotjar within your allowance will be ready to view.

Heatmaps: search for a page on your site that Hotjar is tracking and hit ‘go’.
With Continuous Capture based on sessions being recorded, you’ll be able to generate heatmap reports with flexible URL targeting. In simpler terms: you want to see a heatmap of any page and just hit ‘go’, allowing you to analyze patterns of user behavior across multiple pages much faster.

With Hotjar Continuous Heatmaps choose where on your site you want to heatmap and hit go
With our new Continuous Heatmaps, simply choose where on your site you want to heatmap and hit ‘go’—the data will be ready.
  • Filter by your own User Attributes.
    They’re already available in Recordings and Surveys, but soon you’ll also be able to filter Heatmap reports by your own User Attributes to analyze behavior trends in your most crucial user segments (on Hotjar BUSINESS plans).
Use your own User Attributes to filter recordings with Hojar
Using your own User Attributes to filter recordings cuts down your time searching for which recordings are going to contain useful insights.
  • Continuous data based on sessions means we’ve got better foundations to bring you new features.
    The way we’re exploring is based on giving you deeper integrations between our tools for better context to understand how customers are behaving on your site, in aggregate (heatmaps) and in detail (recordings). For example: drilling down by date ranges in Heatmaps to factor in seasonality in how users engage with your site content. And another: we’re looking at relevance scoring in Recordings so that the time you spend digging for insights in Hotjar is more efficient.

💡Interested in testing the beta for Continuous Heatmaps? Get in touch with us here.

Surveys 2.0

There’s a recipe that many Hotjar customers love cooking (we get a lot of you reaching out to share your own ‘aha!’ moments, and we love it), and it involves using Recordings and Polls together. To find out the reasons users abandon your site: filter recordings in Hotjar by URLs where user dropoff is high, and then add a sprinkle of feedback— survey your customers with a targeted open-ended question on these pages asking why they’re leaving. You’ll learn the reason they’re leaving and understand the context behind the recordings. Conversion rate optimization at its best. 👌

Hotjar’s feedback tools are good at this stuff, and we’re going to be making them even better. They’re another knife we’re going to be sharpening.

To start with, we’re merging Hotjar’s Polls and Surveys into one new and improved survey tool - a sharper tool you can use to better understand the context behind your user behavior on your site or by invitation.

  • Surveys 2.0 has easier setup and targeting: launch your questions on your site or invite your users to an external survey
  • Richer options for invitations and behavior to trigger surveys
  • Target surveys using your own custom User Attributes
  • Question logic that was previously only in Polls available in external invitation surveys.
Polls and Surveys become one tool in Hotjar
☝️Picking how to start sending your survey in Surveys 2.0. No more choosing between Polls and Surveys, and their different functionality.

When we had two survey tools -Surveys and Polls - you had to pick between two survey tools depending on where you launched your survey. Those tools had different functionality, and we heard you: it was a pain. The new Surveys 2.0 is easier to work with.

Merging Polls and Surveys into Surveys 2.0 also affords us the opportunity to greatly expand our feedback tools’ segmentation and analysis capabilities. We’re looking at bringing you much sharper ways of querying user feedback, making sense of aggregated trends, and providing you actionable nuggets off the back of what your users are saying. That’s on top of us exploring tools for you to find deeper links in your users’ feedback to behavior patterns on your site that you can gather in Heatmaps and Recordings.

There’s loads of exciting stuff coming up in Hotjar and we can’t wait to tell you about it. Surveys 2.0 is just the beginning.

We’re retiring Forms and Funnels

Forms and Funnels are nowhere near as well used as Hotjar’s flagship heatmapping, recording, and feedback tools. We did our homework, balancing quant and qual - looking through our usage data and asking our users about the value Forms and Funnels have added to their workflows. The reality is that from both the feedback we heard and the data we could see, there just isn’t a compelling case to keep the status quo.

Forms and Funnels aren’t widely used in Hotjar and are being retired
Here’s a heatmap of our user activity on Hotjar’s toolbar - Forms and Funnels aren’t widely used.

Coming back to the swiss army knife analogy - Forms and Funnels are the tweezers and screwdriver we’re going to be saying goodbye to. We’re gaining bandwidth to focus on bringing you much sharper knives, fit for the jobs you’ve told us you’re coming to Hotjar to do. In the same spirit that we want Hotjar to equip you to make better decisions (especially the hard ones), we’re taking our own medicine in the case of deciding to retire Forms and Funnels.

Here’s what we weighed up in our decision:

  • Hotjar Forms is our least used feature (2% of how Hotjar is used per month), and Funnels isn’t far off (6%).
  • Hotjar Forms has provided less and less value to our users over time - usage retention has dropped over the last couple of years.
  • The forms on many of your sites have become much more dynamic - loading dynamically and frequently appearing on incrementally-loaded pages. Tools that are more specialized than Hotjar Forms are better equipped to give you form usage analytics for the website forms of today.
  • Similarly for Funnels, our tooling is not as robust as what you’ve got available in Google Analytics (GA). We’re not in competition with Google Analytics -- we recommend using GA with Hotjar to really maximize how you improve your UX and boost conversion rates. Like a good wine pairing.
  • The costs of supporting and improving Forms and Funnels doesn’t add up: relative to how much they’re used, and relative to the investments we’re making in our flagship behavior analytics tools that are market-leading and we know we can innovate with.

We won’t promise exactly what we’re going to build next, as we believe in our empowered product teams to set priorities in what they build, so long as the outcomes achieve our business goals and adhere to our mission and values. That said, retiring our Forms and Funnels tools allows us to take on new product discovery work to understand how we can reveal even more powerful insights about your site experience in the future.

Prices on some plans will change

First off, Hotjar’s free-forever basic plan isn’t going anywhere. Whether you use Hotjar for a personal blog, a small eCommerce site, or are just getting your business off the ground, we’re here for you. Hotjar’s here to help you deliver great experiences and help you put your users first as you scale your business.

And then there are Hotjar’s paid plans. We’ve built these to better serve those of you working with higher traffic, whose products iterate more frequently, and for those of you with more advanced needs for segmentation and analysis. Prices for our two most affordable plans - the Plus plan and the lowest tier within our Business plans - will increase by 10 bucks per month. That’s it - nothing crazy or drastic. As many of you know, pricing is really tricky. And our prices haven’t evolved since we initially set them back in 2017. As in our early days, we’re committed to making Hotjar as powerful as possible, but still accessible to businesses of all sizes. These prices have already taken effect for new users since the start of August 2020. For our existing customers on Plus and Business 20k, our pricing won’t change until 2021. We wanted to give you plenty of notice because we believe a respectful heads-up is the right thing to do, and the way to do right by our customers. We’ll be reaching out to folks on those two plans with details soon.

Summary: the future of Hotjar

I hope you enjoyed the read and found this blog useful. There’s a lot of detail here about what’s coming up in Hotjar, so let me wrap this up with a recap.

  • We’re going to be saying goodbye to a couple of lesser-used tools in Hotjar (Forms and Funnels), and focusing on sharpening the depth and context feedback tools give you.
  • We’re welcoming in a new era of Hotjar by moving to a sessions-based model of processing data.
  • Continuous Capture is going to make Hotjar easier to use because there’s less manual work needed on your side, and your insights are more complete.

Bringing you new ways of segmenting data is high priority: we’ve already launched User Attributes - a way of passing your own custom data into Hotjar (things like ‘Total spend’ or ‘Subscription type’) that help you dive into the different experiences have with your site.

Hotjar offers specialized tools for understanding user experience that get the job done easily and efficiently
What we’ve been, and what we’re moving towards: specialized tools for understanding user experience, that get the job done easily and efficiently.

We know how the path our product needs to take to become the set of sharp, and fit-for-purpose kitchen knives you need. At Hotjar we’re proud of our roots as a multifunctional swiss army knife kind of tool, but we’ve outgrown this. The future of Hotjar is smarter, deeper, and easier to use than ever. It’s our mission to make our customers top chefs on their teams.

Co-written with Alex Jost, Product Marketer @ Hotjar.

Megan Murphy.jpg
Megan Murphy

Director of Product - Megan leads the Product team at Hotjar by day and analyzes trends by night. She makes sure every feature we build gets you one step closer to really understanding your users.

Alex Jost

Alex is a Product Marketer at Hotjar. As a wordsmithing product marketer he’s normally to be found chiseling down microcopy while listening to techno.

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