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How to understand user behavior and improve your website

September 25, 2019 by Hotjar team Read/Write Comments

Imagine you’re running a brick-and-mortar store. From your perch at the counter, you can see and fix any issues the customers have as they move around the shop: if they have trouble navigating the aisles, you can make adjustments and help out; when they come up to the counter, you can strike up a conversation and learn who they are and what they’re looking for.

An e-commerce website doesn’t work like that.You can’t really see people as they wander through your site pages, and you can’t informally chat about their impressions during checkout. Your access to your users is limited, and you may have a hard time understanding their behavior or knowing what they want.

That’s where studying user behavior via user behavior analytics (UBA) comes in, giving you a window into the user experience you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Table of contents

What is user behavior?

User behavior encompasses all the actions visitors take on a website: where and what they click on, how they scroll down a page, where they stumble, and where they eventually drop off the page and leave.

Tracking user behavior gives you an inside look at how people interact with your site and what obstacles or hooks they experience in their journey as your customers.

What is user behavior analytics (UBA)?

User behavior analytics (UBA) is a method for collecting, combining, and analyzing quantitative and qualitative data to understand how users interact with a product or website, and why.

When you want an answer to pressing business questions such as “Why are people coming to my website?” or “Why are they leaving?,” traditional analytics alone can tell you that quantitative activity is happening, but can’t give you any of the ‘whys’. That's where user behavior analytics comes in, with tools that help you get a full picture of user behavior:

  • Session recordings are renderings of real actions customers take on your website such as clicks, taps, and scrolling, that you can review to learn how people actually interact with different pages during their journey
hotjar-recording
A 2-minute long SESSION RECORDING on one of Hotjar's pages
  • Heat maps show you where on a page customers are spending the most time and where they are clicking, so you can see which buttons, CTAs, videos, or other clickable assets get the most and least interactions
heatmaps-hub-lp-split-heatmap
Two types of heatmap: scroll (left) and click (right)
  • Funnel analysis helps you track the page-by-page steps your users take to complete a goal (for example: a purchase) so you can see the biggest barriers between your customers and conversions, and narrow down which pages to focus your optimization efforts on
funnel-example
A 4-step funnel
  • On-site surveys can be targeted to specific pages and help you collect personal responses from users about what is working and what isn’t
sign-up-poll
  • Feedback widgets such as Incoming feedback let you get hyper-targeted visual feedback on specific pages of your website
hotjar-incoming-feedback-widget
The incoming feedback widget in action on one of our pages

4 benefits of analyzing user behavior on your website

Spending time and effort analyzing user behavior helps you do for your website what a brick-and-mortar shop owner can do in her shop every day:

  1. Get real, first-hand insight into what people are interested in, gravitating towards, or ignoring
  2. Identify where they get stuck, struggle, get confused, and leave
  3. Investigate how specific pages and sections are performing
  4. Understand what your customers want and care about

Start collecting user behavior insights today 🔥

Grab a free Hotjar trial and find out the drivers/barriers/hooks behind your users' behavior.

Free forever. Get started!
Hotjar-8-tools-behavior-analytics

A 3-step framework for your user behavior analysis

Now that you know what tools you'll have to use, you can start thinking about how you're going to use them.

To get a full picture of user behavior, you have to be strategic about the data you collect, and use it to understand three key things about your users:

  • The DRIVERS that bring them to your website
  • The BARRIERS that might stop them or make them leave
  • The HOOKS that persuade them to convert
04-drivers-barriers-hooks

This is a 3-step framework we use a lot at Hotjar, which relies on a combination of traditional analytics, behavior analytics, and user feedback. Let me show you how it works.

Step 1: find out why people are coming to your website

To learn WHY users are coming to your site in the first place, you need to identify the drivers or triggers that motivate them to visit it.

Hotjar’s CEO and co-founder David Darmanin thinks there are three types of website users:

  • Just-browsing wanderers: people who are just looking around and have no intention of buying your product
  • Determined heroes: people who have arrived with the sole intent of buying your product, and will get to the end despite any obstacle they encounter
  • Undecided explorers: people who may be on the fence about whether or not to buy from you
user-equality
Not all users are created equal...

You’re unlikely to win over the just-browsing wanderers, and you’ve already secured the determined heroes. Who you really need to focus on understanding and catering to are the undecided explorers. And to do that, you need to really get inside their heads.

So how do you find that out? Ask them.

Use analytics + on-site surveys to learn user motivations

First, use Google Analytics to learn which channels bring in the most users. Log in and go to Acquisition> All Traffic> Source Medium.

GA 1

You will see a list of your most fruitful sources. Let’s say, for example, you find that organic search has a higher conversion rate than social media. From here, you can infer motivation: the people coming in via search are more motivated to buy than those coming from social media. So you may want to expand your SEO efforts rather than your Facebook campaign.

GA 2

You can further narrow your search to find out which landing pages organic search users frequently arrive at, by clicking on google/organic and choosing Landing Page as a secondary dimension of the report. This will further help you assess your users’ search motivation, but it will also help you figure out which pages to place surveys on.

source_landing page

Once you have a list of your most popular landing pages, place a survey on them. Tailor the question to learn who your users are and why they are visiting your site, and gather psychographic data on their’ attitudes, values, and desires.

Relevant questions to ask:

  • What’s the main reason for your visit today?
  • How did you hear about us?
  • How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
homepage-3-hotjar-poll-example-crop.width-750

You can use Hotjar’s on-site survey feature (also known as Hotjar Polls) to target questions to a specific page of your site. From the Hotjar dashboard, list the pages you’d want the Poll to show up on:

Targeting Polls

Once you’ve gathered a significant amount of information, you can use the data to create user personas that reflect your customers. A simple user persona should answer the following questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What’s your main goal?
  • What’s your main barrier to achieving this goal?

Use the answer to the questions you asked to draw conclusions and create short profiles of your ideal customer(s), which you can used to inform and improve your marketing and design efforts (if you want to know how to do it, here is a step-by-step guide to creating user personas).

Step 2: find out what makes users leave your website

In our DRIVERS/BARRIERS/HOOK model, barriers are the pain points that stop website visitors from becoming customers. That could be anything from the way prices are displayed to the wording on a product page to a broken form at checkout. User behavior analysis can help you understand why people are dropping out of the funnel, so you can plug those leaks and increase conversions.

Identify problem areas, then use recordings and heatmaps to investigate

Instead of performing user behavior analysis on every page of your website, focus on problematic pages first. You can identify them through Google Analytics by looking for pages with the largest exit rates. Go to Behavior> Site Content> Exit Pages.

exit pages

This will give you a list of the top pages that users view right before they leave your website. Once you have identified the pages you want to investigate, use Session Recordings to see what users were doing before they jumped ship. Filter the recordings by exit URL to watch only users who bounced off the page in question.

Session recordings-exit page view

Watch as many videos as you can, and take detailed notes on what exactly users did before leaving. Here’s an example of a user recordings analysis spreadsheet, used by Joel Klettke to analyze Divorce Online UK:

annotated

In addition to session recordings, set up heat maps to see where on each page users move, click, and drop off. Look for evidence that people are failing to interact with important links, buttons, or CTAS.

See it in action: in the following heat map on our careers page, you can see that while most users read about Hotjar’s culture, almost nobody scrolls down far enough to read the “What Is Hotjar?” section (the bit in blue at the bottom of the page). If that were essential to the message of our hiring page, then we would really need to move it up to a more prominent position.

hotjar-scroll-map

TIP: check out our guide on heat map analysis and user recording analysis for an in-depth look at how to interpret the insight you get from each tool.

After gathering enough information, you should be able to see exactly what users were doing, reading, or looking at before they decided to leave a page. From there, you can draw conclusions about the cause(s). Maybe your CTA is missing, or a link is broken, or your page is rendering incorrectly.

zenprint-hotjar-heatmap

For example, Zenprint, an online printing service provider, used recordings and heat maps to look for specific issues that caused visitors to drop off of their product page. After discovering a design problem in their pricing table, they tested other designs, found and implemented one that was more conducive to sales, and eliminated that initial barrier.

Step 3: discover what convinces users to convert

A powerful way to increase conversions is by investigating what happens when people do convert. This is one of the most overlooked factors in user behavior, because when things are going right, we tend to celebrate instead of learning from it and applying that takeaway elsewhere.

Knowing why people convert will help you:

  1. Pinpoint the strongest selling points of your product, which you can play up even more
  2. Figure out the most persuasive parts of your website, so you can build a stronger funnel
  3. Inform your user personas (discussed above) by helping create a clearer picture of your ideal customer

In order to understand the ‘hooks’ that persuade certain users to complete the checkout process, you need to find out what these users themselves all have in common. What brought them to your website? What made them skirt the ‘barriers’ listed above?

Find out what went right by collecting user feedback

In this case, too, the most effective way to learn about your customers is by asking them. You can do this in a few different ways:

  • Set up a post-purchase survey on the thank-you page. Ask customers, “What convinced you to sign up/convert today?”
poll 1
  • Send email surveys to customers and ask them questions about themselves and their decision-making process, including:
    • What was the obstacle in your mind that would have stopped you from using/buying [product]?
    • How would you rate your overall purchasing experience?
    • What almost stopped you from completing your purchase?

  • Interview people. Ask dedicated customers if you can call them, and have them talk you through the checkpoints of their buying experience. While you may not be able to speak to a statistically significant number of people, you should be able to identify commonalities from just a handful of interviews.

Then, analyze the answers you’ve collected to home in on what went right and how you can maximize it throughout your site.

Start tracking user behavior right away

At Hotjar, we believe in obsessing over our customers. User behavior analysis gives you the tools to do the same by getting to know your users intimately. The best part is that it’s easy, protects user privacy, and gives you quick, usable results.

Are you convinced yet? Get started right now by signing up for Hotjar’s suite of user behavior analytics tools.

Start collecting user behavior insights today 🔥

Grab a free Hotjar trial and find out the drivers/barriers/hooks behind your users' behavior.

Free forever. Get started!
Hotjar-8-tools-behavior-analytics
Screen Shot 2018-03-27 at 16.30.26
Hotjar team

80+ Hotjarians, 20+ countries, 1 goal: to give you and your team the insights you need to create experiences your users love.