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Recordings: the complete guide

Everything about session recordings: what they are, how they help improve your website, and how to use them to get actionable insight.

Last updated

11 Jan 2024

Reading time

4 min


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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, website session recordings, 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're one of the closest things to being in the same room as your users and seeing 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.

Start here: the benefits of session recordings

🔥 Already using Hotjar? If you're short for time, sort recordings by frustration and engagement scores to launch straight into session recordings jam-packed with valuable insights.

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.

🔥 Already using Hotjar? With console tracking, you can view JavaScript errors alongside your session recordings. You can also filter sessions by rage clicks, u-turns, and errors to quickly identify new issues and understand what’s causing them.

Open the console from the recording player to understand where the issue comes from, fix the issue, and run a usability test to validate the fix.

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 on board 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 (note: with Hotjar, you have the option to speed up or slow down the video you’re watching). To make it easier to spot patterns, movements are displayed as red lines that remain on the screen.

Replay scrolling and taps on mobile

Most session replay tools work well on mobile—scrolling and taps are captured in recordings.

Multiple page views across multiple tabs

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. In Hotjar, the same applies if they move to a new tab or browser window.

Record keyboard strokes

Session recordings will track keystroke data (information typed by users) in limited cases if you allow certain 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'll begin to spot trends in your website visitor behavior and the way they interact and engage with your website or app. You’ll notice:

  • What elements visitors use to navigate from one page to another

  • How visitors interact—or fail to—with CTA buttons and clickable elements

  • Unusual mouse activity—for example, wild scrolling or repeated clicking

  • If it takes too long to complete an action and users drop off your conversion funnel

  • How visitors move around on the page and where they stop

You’ll also be able to identify 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—for example, log in not working, search bar not returning results

  • Elements that render incorrectly, or are missing and/or broken

We’ll cover this more thoroughly in the chapter dedicated to user recordings analysis.