Last updated Jan 08 2020
The complete guide to session recordings
Session recordings (or session replays) are one of the best tools in your UX toolbox when you want to see how people really navigate through your website and collect the insight you need to fix the user experience and improve conversions.
This guide starts on this page with a full introduction to session recordings. Other chapters include a deep-dive into the best ways to watch recordings to get actionable insight, a list of case studies and success stories, and a step-by-step set of instructions to help you get started. There’s nothing quite like watching real users interact with your website for the first time so… let’s get you there!
What are session recordings (or session replays)?
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 replays, user recordings, and user/visitor replay tools, session 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.
5 ways session recordings help you understand your customers
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. 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 users’ 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.
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 users focus, what they click on, which sections they spend a lot of time on, what 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
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.
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 user 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.
5. Help team members, clients, and stakeholders make decisions
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?
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 tools work just as well on mobile—scrolling and taps are captured in recordings.
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 visitor's journey across multiple pages without interruption.
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.
Useful extra reading
If you decide to give Hotjar recordings a try, it’s important that you know privacy is crucial to us. Read more about Hotjar’s approach to privacy to get a better understanding of what information you can and cannot see with recordings—and, yes, our session recordings can be used to comply with the GDPR.
What to look for in your session recordings
If you’ve never watched user recordings before, we recommend just sitting back, clicking ‘play’, and watching a few — it’s always a ‘wow!’ moment when you see real people interact with your website for the first time.
After the first few recordings, you will probably begin to spot trends in your visitor behavior and the way they interact and engage with your website or app. You’ll start noticing:
- What elements visitors use to navigate from one page to another
- How visitors interact—or fail to—with buttons and clickable elements
- Unusual mouse activity, for example, wild scrolling or repeated clicking
- If it takes too long to complete an action
- How visitors move around on the page and where they stop
You’ll also be able to see problems that need fixing, for example:
- Page(s) that load incorrectly across different devices and/or browsers
- Functionality that doesn’t work like it should (example: log in not working, search bar not returning results)
- Elements that render incorrectly, are missing and/or broken
We’ll cover this more thoroughly in the chapter dedicated to user recordings analysis.