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How to use Hotjar to validate assumptions (and stop guessing)

You're brainstorming potential reasons your site is falling behind on forecasted signups, and the team is split on their assumptions: a marketer suggests changing the 'Sign Up' button’s location, whereas a designer thinks it's time for a complete homepage overhaul.

Sound familiar?

Assumptions exist to simplify your observations about the user experience (UX) and carry them over to the problem space. But—and you know it's a big BUT—you should never take a shortcut and start building solutions without testing those assumptions first.

Last updated

14 Feb 2023

Reading time

8 min


Teams validate assumptions to bridge the gap between uncertainty and understanding. It's usually done early on to avoid making (costly) mistakes and have the opportunity to test new assumptions that may be closer to the truth.

This blog provides a simple framework you can adopt to verify assumptions and iterate fast. All you need is the issue or challenge, adequate data, Hotjar's tools and features, and your team's combined expertise.

Prioritize brilliantly with Hotjar

Dig deeper into user insights to reduce assumptions and make the right decisions.

A 7-step framework to reduce assumptions and validate ideas

If your ultimate goal is creating a product people love, gut instinct only gets you so far. Proximity to your website or product can cloud your judgment, and your perceptions might differ vastly from your users’. 

When you make rash decisions—and fail to validate assumptions with hard data—you risk:

We all know better than to hold on to weakly validated assumptions. So here’s the framework we promised to help you move quickly and confidently with your product decisions:

1. Spend time in the problem space

As we said earlier, you need enough data to determine what’s blocking users from what they want to achieve. Take the time to empathize with them while searching for clues from qualitative and quantitative data sources.

Hear from customers: talk to customers about their actual experience, including what they hate or love about your product—and what they need from it. Use tools and tactics like user interviews, surveys, and feedback to capture people’s thoughts and feelings.

#Hotjar Engage lets you conduct interviews to learn from your customers
Hotjar Engage lets you conduct interviews to learn from your customers

Gather user behavior data: find out what users are doing on your app or site to bridge the gap between what they say and do. Hotjar tools like Recordings and Heatmaps offer an objective view of visitor interactions to solidify your user research.

#An example of a Hotjar heatmap showing call-to-action (CTA) clicks
An example of a Hotjar heatmap showing call-to-action (CTA) clicks

Hotjar empowers you to see exactly what your users are doing, how they're feeling, and ultimately their reactions to the changes you make.

Karl Rowlands
UX Manager, Matalan

Once you’ve gathered the data, give your team space to analyze it thoroughly. Identify patterns and topics repeatedly appearing among users and across data sources. Then, define key user problems by developing discovery questions and hypotheses.

For example, imagine a product team just released a new online calendar tool for time management and meeting coordination. They might ask:

  • How can we help our users integrate our solution into their workflow?

  • Why aren’t people using our new product? Is another calendar software fulfilling their jobs to be done, or are they just reluctant to adopt a new tool?

User research and problem identification are both stages of product discovery, a process involving continuous research and validation to build effective solutions for problems. Excellent product discovery cuts through assumptions, improving resource allocation and generating actionable insights that guide product design and delivery.

2. Turn your assumptions into hypotheses

This means creating a strong hypothesis instead of simply assuming aspects of your users’ experience. Leandro Lima, a former UX designer at Google, defines a hypothesis as “a logical assumption about how things will behave.”

However, not all hypotheses are created equal—some are good, and others are not-so-good. 

An example of the latter would be, "Create a good design to make users happy." 

Why? Because it raises questions such as what is considered ‘good’ design? and the slightly more philosophical, what defines happiness?

On the other hand, a good hypothesis should be testable, measurable, falsifiable, and consist of an independent variable (something being manipulated) and a dependent variable (the outcome being measured). 

Here's an example: "A pink button (independent variable) that will generate 15% more clicks (dependent variable).”

3. Watch recordings and create heatmaps to test your hypotheses

Now it’s time to deepen your website analysis by going back to the data. Continuing with the example above, let’s say you based the ‘pink button’ hypothesis on session recordings of users skipping the CTA button. You plan to replace the existing button with a color that has more contrast but doesn’t deviate from the site’s color palette.

In this case, you’ll want to view additional data, such as relevant heatmaps displaying scroll depth and clicks. Heatmaps validate or disprove ideas, so you can be sure about what to do or not do. For instance:

  • Another clickable element is confusing users and causing them to ignore the current CTA button. In this case, your best bet is to go ahead with your initial plan of introducing a pink button.

  • The CTA button does not appear above the fold, so people tend to miss it if they don’t scroll further. This requires changing not only the button’s color but also its location on the page.

Incorporate recording or heatmap analysis into your routine

You might be wondering: why bother viewing recordings and heatmaps? Aside from the invaluable insights you’ll gain from testing your hypotheses against actual user experiences, you mean? 

Well, viewing visual data is like having a front-row seat to your users’ journey, opening you up to opportunities you’d otherwise have missed.

What’s more: recordings and heatmaps make it easy for you to share your findings. Do you need to convey a message or refute an assumption without ruffling someone’s feathers? Just show and tell!

Here are some tips on how you can make the most out of Hotjar’s Recordings and Heatmaps tools:

  1. Spend 15 minutes a day catching up on what your users are doing. Viewing your visual data is the 2023 version of flipping through the paper while sipping your morning coffee.

  2. Remember to take notes. Create a log of all the pain points you see and go through each, assessing their importance to the user and your business.

  3. Follow in the footsteps of Spotahome’s customer knowledge manager: gather the team and host an hour-long Hotjar Watch Party where everyone watches a series of session recordings related to your hypothesis.

Spotahome’s legendary Hotjar Watch Party in action

4. Incorporate user feedback with each iteration

Complement heatmaps and recordings (what users do) with feedback from real users (what they say). By adding Hotjar’s Feedback widgets and Surveys on your site, you can ask customers about your product or website directly. This straightforward access to what they feel, think, and experience comes with a slew of benefits, such as:

  • A clear understanding of features that meet or fail to meet customers’ needs

  • Better prioritization and customer-led decision-making: know what to keep, remove, or change

  • Strategic use of time and funds, so you can create the best product possible

Uncovering user insights: what numbers alone can’t tell you

Traditional web analytics, like the type you gather from Google Analytics, shows you what’s going on in your site or app. But they don’t give you the reason something is happening. How often have you wondered why users are rage-clicking on a button, or why the bounce rate on a specific page is so high?

Instead of hearing crickets, validate ideas and assumptions with user behavior insights: combine Hotjar and Google Analytics to deepen your analysis and solidify your plans.

Very often, we’ve seen things that numbers alone cannot tell—for example, if people are stuck in one place, then hovering their mouse or reading. These are things data analytics tools do not bring out the box. For me, user insights are a combination of analytics as well as behavior and feedback.

Saurabh Soni
Product Designer, Razorpay

5. Share insights with stakeholders

It’s crucial to build a culture of validating assumptions across the company. So whether you’re on bug-busting, site audit, or laidback research mode (if the latter is ever possible), make it a habit to share your findings with various stakeholders.

For effective cross-functional collaboration, demonstrate the extent of user research everyone can do (especially with Hotjar tools and features😉):

  • Schedule time together (see: Watch Parties ⬆️) to analyze recordings and observe how people use your product or navigate your website in real life. This will help your team understand and empathize with your users’ perspectives.

  • Organize your recordings based on your most relevant set of filters with segments: Hotjar has a range of useful filters, including path, user attributes, device, and our brand-new clicked-element filter. Once you determine your unique filter power-combos, categorize them based on your hypotheses or research focus, keeping things organized and your team aligned.

  • Capture snippets of your recordings and heatmaps using Highlights in Hotjar: group these insights together into 'Collections' for easy review. This provides cross-functional teams with a reliable methodology to identify patterns, validate assumptions, and prioritize brilliantly.

Keep stakeholders in the loop with Hotjar 🔥

Product development is a journey of continuous discovery. From validating assumptions to running full-blown product experimentation, endeavors can occur simultaneously or cyclically. 

Ensure you share insights with company executives, team members, and other employees using our ever-growing library of integrations. Our Slack and Microsoft Teams integrations allow you to send feedback and survey results to the channels where your team communicates every day. They also help teams:

  • Catch the early signs of an incident in real-time

  • Validate ideas regarding improvement opportunities

  • Monitor and discuss user responses to assess the impact of recent changes

  • Shorten the approval time for proposed updates and fixes

Integrate Hotjar with Slack to get user feedback and survey responses instantly, so you can make quick fixes

6. Run with your changes confidently

Relying on guesswork (or your boss' hunches) is one way to go about fixing website bugs or redesigning your homepage. But there are much more effective ways to move forward (have we made the cons clear enough?).

In validating assumptions, you can assess if there's enough user value in your idea: whether it's about a product, feature, solution, or any change on your site or app. In this way, you can proceed if it makes sense to do so.

7. Experiment and test changes to prioritize future updates

You’ll have to reduce assumptions and validate ideas throughout the product management lifecycle. But validation is not a standalone effort—it’s an essential part of product experimentation.

Product experimentation allows you to assess the impact of your solutions and improvements by conducting small-scale tests, embracing failures as you go, and continuously learning, iterating, and optimizing based on the results.

No team becomes proficient in experimentation and validation overnight. It can be tough to figure out how much to test, manage risks, or get everyone on the same page. But when done right, it brings a ton of value to product development.

The dos and don’ts of product prioritization

After thorough website analysis and assumption validation, you’re just a few steps away from prioritization bliss. Here are a few things you should do to inch even closer toward enlightenment, introducing changes that matter the most to your users:

  • DO analyze recordings using filters smartly: replay session recordings of all users exiting your site to understand their behavior before leaving

  • DO perform website analysis with an open mind: approach recordings and heatmaps with zero expectations to reduce assumptions and derive unbiased insights

  • DO keep asking questions: to deepen your analysis, ask probing questions, such as asking why five times until the nature of the problem becomes clear

  • DO see the problem clearly: ensure you can pinpoint the specific aspects of the problem and identify a true solution

  • DO implement Hotjar Surveys: Surveys appear at any point of the user journey. So if you notice something like unusual churn, you can launch a survey to understand exactly what’s wrong

And here are the things you should absolutely avoid doing:

  • DON’T tell a story based on just one Hotjar tool: Heatmaps, Recordings, Feedback, and Surveys—and this one just in: user interviews via Engage—work together to complete the picture that is the user experience

  • DON’T fault users for incomplete flows: assume the issue stems from the site, not the users and how they interact with its features and elements

  • DON’T rely on quantitative data alone: as we repeatedly say, the trends will only make sense if you throw qualitative data, like user feedback and survey responses, into the mix

Question your assumptions; make decisions quickly

Are you excited to try our simple framework for validating assumptions? You don’t need to be a scientist to turn assumptions into hypotheses and test them against actual user experience. 

From Recordings to Heatmaps and Feedback to Surveys, Hotjar has everything you need to remove the guesswork, predict whether changes will work, and make informed decisions for your users and product. 

Don’t let assumptions hold you back any longer. Take advantage of reliable user insights and start making bold moves with confidence sooner rather than later.

Prioritize brilliantly with Hotjar

Dig deeper into user insights to reduce assumptions and make the right decisions.