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Hotjar: The User Research Tool You Need ASAP

By The Webspec Crew | Around the Office

When you’re deciding how to redesign your website, where do you begin? The layout? The content? The functionality?

How about with your users?

User research prior to the start of a website redesign project is the key to making sure your website is accomplishing your goals and your users’ goals. I’m not talking about the countless articles of user experience and research data that proliferates the web. I’m not even talking about the audience you’re trying to target. I’m talking about your users, the people who actually find, interact with, and complete an action on your website.

But user research is as simple as combing through Google Analytics data, right?

Not quite.

Google Analytics vs. Hotjar

Google Analytics (GA) is a great place to start and tracks a ton of information. All the data that can be tracked with GA is a blog topic in and of itself, so check out Jess’ blog about how to decode your GA data for an introduction. Google Analytics is a free tool; there really is no excuse why businesses shouldn’t have it installed on their website. But sometimes you need more information on how users are truly interacting with your business online, almost as if you were peering over your users’ shoulders as they navigate your website.

Well, what if you could?


Enter the analysis and feedback tool, Hotjar! Hotjar is a useful tool to observe user behavior and draw big-picture conclusions about how people currently use your site, what they’re missing from your site, and what opportunities you can seize from their existing behavior. The best news is Hotjar is free! Paid options are available, but if you are a small- to mid-size business, the free version should suit your needs just fine.

Hotjar has a lot of metrics to choose from, but my personal favorites are visitor recordings, heatmaps, and polls. Remember when Morpheus said you can record user behavior on your website? Yeah, let’s explore that.

Record Website Visits from Your Users

With a simple piece of code, Hotjar records the sessions from your website visitors. You can actually see them scroll, move their cursor across the screen, and click or tap depending on which device they’re using.

Hold up, what about users’ privacy?

Is recording user sessions a little creepy? Perhaps, but is it a breach of privacy? No, because Hotjar does not collect personally identifiable information about individual users, such as the IP address. Instead, they assign a unique user ID number to differentiate session recordings. Furthermore, Hotjar automatically detects entry fields for sensitive information such as passwords and credit card numbers and does not record the keystrokes. You can also choose to manually mask certain input fields and text in Hotjar’s settings, so you can rest easy knowing that your users’ privacy remains protected!

Okay, good. What else can recordings do?

You can glean all sorts of nuggets of wisdom from visitor recordings! Each recording reveals the user’s country, number of pages visited, time on site, device, browser, and operating system. With this information and the recordings themselves, you can identify problems with how your site renders on certain browsers or devices, observe patterns in user flow, and discover opportunities (or missed opportunities) when it comes to users completing a desired action on the site.


Visitor recordings are useful for determining exactly how people are interacting with your site. The red lines in the photo above indicate the movement from this user’s cursor.

Prioritize Your Content with Heatmaps

Hotjar’s heatmaps create a visual representation of clicks or taps and scrolls across desktop, mobile, and tablet devices, which help you discover exactly what is important to your visitors and what is not. With this information, you can create a more relevant hierarchy, prioritizing your content from the most to least important.

Maybe you have some really important information toward the bottom of one of your pages, but only 15% of your users scroll far enough to see it. You’ll almost certainly discover that what your mobile users consider important differs from what your desktop users care about the most. You know that image slider you paid extra for the last time you redesigned your website? With heatmaps you can see if people are actually clicking on it. Heatmaps provide insights to all of these scenarios and more; they are a powerful tool that will help you develop and implement a sound content strategy as you move forward with your next website project.

The hotter areas of the map (the yellow and red areas) indicate that these are the places visitors are hovering over or clicking on more frequently.

The hotter areas of the map (the yellow and red areas) indicate that these are the places visitors are hovering over or clicking on more frequently.

Ask Your Users Questions with Polls

Video recordings and heatmaps provide excellent data to draw conclusions from, but have you ever considered simply asking your users what they think of your website? You can’t beat direct user feedback, and Hotjar’s polls are completely voluntary without disrupting a person’s ability to use your site. Ask visitors for general suggestions about site improvements, what’s missing from the site, or what’s preventing them from purchasing your product or service. You can set up your poll in a multiple choice or written feedback format. If you find yourself asking more than 3–5 questions in a poll, however, you may want to take a survey instead, which coincidentally is another tool that Hotjar supports.

Quick notes about polls

First of all, most customers appreciate that you care about their opinions, so asking them for their feedback can establish goodwill and will encourage them to return to your site to see if you’ve implemented their suggestions. (Who doesn’t love returning visitors to their website?) Secondly, it’s important to listen to your users, but sometimes their requests won’t align with your brand or your business objectives. Strike a healthy balance of accommodating both your users’ goals and your business goals, and remember that you’ll never go wrong when you focus on providing your customers with the best value and the best experience.


The first question automatically pops up when a user enters the page the poll is assigned to. If visitors do not wish to answer, they can hide the poll by clicking or tapping the downward arrow.

Bringing It All Together

As someone who is responsible for the quality and flow of the content for your brand new website, I cannot emphasize the importance of user research enough. These tools and the data that come from them not only make my life so much easier as a digital marketer, but the value and overall profitability they add to your website is incredible. Yes, the research can be tedious and time consuming, but time and effort spent up front always saves time, stress, and money the closer we get to launching your site.

Hotjar isn’t the only user behavior and analysis tool out there (you may also be interested in Inspectlet), but the important thing to remember is to find the tools that work for you, collect the relevant data, implement, test, and repeat. Really what all this boils down to is doing your homework, or letting us do the grunt work for you, before making decisions about your website project. Redesigning your website is an art, but it’s also a science. Decisions that are not based on facts and data are arbitrary decisions that become lost on the user. Setting your customers up with a positive website experience keeps them coming back to your site and keeps your brand at the forefront of their mind.


Hotjar images courtesy of

Morpheus meme generated by

The Webspec Crew

Webspec Design has an industry-leading team of web designers, web & software developers, content writers, SEO strategists, project managers and marketing staff based in Des Moines, Iowa. We hire the best and brightest to develop creative web design solutions and deliver your business unparalleled results. After fifteen years, hundreds of web design and development projects, and many software development projects, we are proud of our reputation for service.