For most site owners, Google Analytics (GA) is the go-to tool for understanding how your website is performing. When set up correctly, it allows you to, at a glance, see who is using your website, how they are navigating it, and track conversions. When enhanced with event tracking using Google Tag Manager, you can track almost any interaction your users make with your site. Overall, this is a good starting point for developing meaningful insights into user behaviour.
The ‘what’ but not the ‘why’
But GA is, by its very nature, limited to numerical reporting - it allows you to understand what your users are doing, but not necessarily why they are doing it. To delve into the why, we want to build a more qualitative view of our users’ behaviour. A fantastic method for obtaining this insight is by conducting user research: observing and interviewing users as they navigate and interact with your site. This has the benefit of allowing you to understand the experience of real-life users, who you can ask detailed questions to and adapt your methodology for as necessary. Well-conducted user research can be a game-changer when it comes to taking a user-led approach to improving your website, though it can often require some time commitment and careful planning.
However, in the middle of these two options are the opportunities offered by behavioural tracking tools. These can offer a greater level of qualitative and quantitative insight than GA, whilst building a foundation for your user research. These tools offer a way to automatically track how your entire audience is interacting with your site, allowing you to understand user behaviour in a way that may not be evident in GA. Once implemented, this tracking can also be set to run continuously, providing insights that can then guide any further user research. These tools work brilliantly as both a precursor to a full programme of user research, and as your day-to-day insight whilst in the midst of it.
When it comes to behavioural tracking tools, there are many different options available. And whilst every tool is different, they all share some of the same core features for gathering that extra dimension of insight into your users.
See how users move around your pages with heatmaps
Heatmaps are an excellent way of getting an aggregated view of how users are interacting with each page - or when appropriate, groups of similarly laid-out pages (e.g. blog posts or product pages). Much like heatmaps in football show how players move around the pitch, a site heatmap shows you how users move around the page. This could be where they’re clicking, where they’re moving their cursor, or how far down the page they’re scrolling. In the map below, we can see an aggregated view of how our users have been moving their cursors around our blog pages:
This information can be hugely helpful in, say, identifying which calls-to-action users are interacting with the most, or deciding where best to place content on the page. As an example, take a look at the scroll-depth heatmap below for the Microserve homepage: here, the red ‘hot’ content is what nearly everyone sees as they explore the page, whilst a much smaller proportion (less than 50%) end up scrolling to the blue ‘colder’ content.
We can see here that less than 75% of users see our secondary ‘Find out more’ CTA, and less than 50% of our users are scrolling further down and seeing our inspiring case studies! We might decide this isn’t good enough, and use this insight to advise moving some of this content further up the page, where more users will see it.
Observe your users with session recordings
Much like running an ‘en masse’ round of user research, session recordings allow you to observe how real-life users browse your site during a session, as if they are using the website in front of you. Often this can shed light on issues or suggest insights that simply can’t be discovered through aggregated stats about your audience as a whole. Having real-life examples to watch back and analyse can help you to make sense of the data, and understand users on an individual level.
Whilst the idea of someone secretly watching your browsing session can feel a bit Nineteen Eighty-Four dystopian, it’s also worth mentioning that all screen recording tools will anonymise by default any keystrokes and user data entered on screen, so no specific individuals can be identified from a recording.
Find the struggle points in forms
Often, one or more of your website goals will rely on having your users fill out and complete an online form - perhaps to enter their billing details to make a purchase, or to sign up to a newsletter. And whilst it’s easy to use GA to track how many people see the form and how many complete it, it cannot tell you how many people are starting it, and where they might be giving up on it.
Form tracking allows you to analyse how users are interacting with and progressing through the different fields in your forms. By considering stats such as time spent and drop-off rates on each field, you can begin to understand where your users are struggling to complete the form, and how you can optimise it.
This method also works well for directing where you could conduct some further user research, to fully understand the cause of any issues. For example, say that a high percentage of people are exiting the site when prompted to enter payment details. This might be because you’ve missed out a popular payment method for users, or perhaps they are lacking trust in the security of your checkout. Or in the example below for a contact form, users tend to spend the most time on the ‘preferred time to contact’ field - perhaps the form could be optimised by utilising a ‘drop down’ feature for this field, rather than as a basic text entry?
Get some real user feedback with surveys and polls
Sometimes, after you’ve analysed the data, crunched the numbers, and watched the recordings, the best thing to do is just ask the users themselves! With surveys and polls, you can easily ask your users any pressing questions you have about their experience, that might not be answerable by only looking at the data. These questions will then appear on your website, like in the image below.
You can design a set of questions much like with any online form, and decide if you want your survey to only display to certain user segments or under certain conditions, e.g. to mobile users, on specific pages, after a certain amount of time, etc.
Care should be taken when setting up any polls or surveys, as this form of tracking is actually visible to the user and can affect their experience. That is, it has the potential to create unnecessary friction and come across as invasive. You should think carefully about how much you need a poll, and whether the questions or audience is appropriate. Most tools also allow you to also customise the style and appearance of the poll - you should run this by any designers or other site owners before deploying it!
Behavioural tracking on your site
When used correctly, behavioural tracking tools can be an excellent resource for adding depth to your data. By using analytics and behavioural data in tandem, it’s possible to build a clear and intimate understanding of your users. At Microserve, we take this approach to inform further user research and conversion rate optimisation (CRO), to ensure that when your users visit your site, they have the most positive, easy, and streamlined experience possible.
If you'd like to know more about anything here, or if you feel your website could be performing better, get in touch.