How Heat Maps Can Help Optimize Content

Heat maps are data visualizations representing user interactions on a webpage. They are used in content marketing campaigns and can represent several types of engagement.

Understanding Heat Maps and How They’re Used in SEO

If you’re in the digital marketing or online SEO space, then you may have heard about or be familiar with heat maps. Heat maps are used by SEO and digital marketing professionals to represent raw user interaction data to site owners. They can be used and interpreted in many ways, both independently and in tandem with other web page analytics. Heat maps are a data gold mine for anyone invested in a site’s performance or user interaction. Whether you’ve seen them before or are encountering them for the first time, understanding what a heat map is and how they’re used can greatly assist your SEO efforts.

What Is a Heat Map? 

A heat map is a data visualization that showcases different ranges of user interaction on a webpage. They are a communication tool between marketers and site owners that may be included as a part of a content marketing campaign. By using a heat map, site owners can get real-time data about the performance of their page in an easy-to-understand way that doesn’t require any in-depth SEO knowledge. Heat maps may focus on different types of user interactions, depending on the priorities of the site owner or the focus of the campaign. 

Types of Heat Maps

Different types of heat maps measure different types of interactions. Interactions types may include:

  • Scroll — this tracks how far down the page users typically get before exiting the page, or navigating to another page.
  • Click — this tracks click-through rates of links, buttons, and other navigation tools, and points to areas users are navigating to.
  • Hover — this shows where user cursors spend the most time hovering on the page.

Your content marketing campaign may include one or all of these types of heat maps. Each type can tell you more about your page's performance in relation to user interaction and can be further contextualized with the use of other page analytics.

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How Do You Read a Heat Map?

Reading a heat map is designed to be intuitive for anyone involved in a site or SEO audit. Imitating an actual temperature map, hot colors — reds, oranges, yellows —- demonstrate high interaction rates. This could represent high click-throughs, areas where users are hovering, and scroll patterns. Cool tones — blues, greens, or even whites — display areas of lower or non-existent engagement of all the mentioned types. For example, if your heat map shows that visitors to your page are immediately scrolling as soon as the page loads, this could be an opportunity to optimize your page header, whether it be an ad, image, or content. 

It’s pertinent to note that heat maps don't contextualize why an area may register as a certain color. However, they can jump-start an investigation into what could be causing low engagement in certain areas, or establish a template for success with high engagement areas. This type of real-time, evolving feedback can be a valuable tool when making changes to improve page performance or conversions

How Are Heat Maps Used in SEO

Heat maps provide a rich amount of data that can be applied in many ways to improve your SEO practices or your site structure and design. While heat maps are representative of raw data but don’t contextualize data, there are still many ways that you can interpret and apply heat map data to your desired practices or priorities.

Ad Optimization

Heat mapping can help you conceptualize your overall site structure in an effort to make it more intuitive, user friendly, or to improve the prominence of important elements, such as:

  • Call-To-Action (CTA) buttons — Click-through rates and scroll data can tell you if your CTAs are optimally placed. 
  • Ads or Rich Media — Interactions with pop-ups or other interstitial ads can inform you if your ads are disruptive to your site users, and how much time people spend watching pre-roll videos or how long they’re keeping ad windows open. 
  • Link Trees or Menu Bars — Navigation is a huge part of user experience and site design, especially if you have a lot of content. Heat map data can tell you how frequently users are using your navigational tools, and how well those tools are performing.

You can also heat map ads individually to see if they are getting attention, how well they are designed, if users’ attention is being directed properly, and how fast users try to close out of ads. 

Problem Area Identification

Success areas, or high interaction areas, aren’t the only areas that have value when interpreting a heat map. Cool areas can tell marketers and site owners where people aren’t clicking or hovering, or where interaction is lower. This can be indicative of many things, including: loss of interest, inability to navigate the site, or a mixture of both. You may find that heat mapping shows your content or your ads are too aggressive or otherwise off-putting, and making changes could ultimately help improve your site’s linkability. By using heat maps in tandem with other site metrics and SEO practices, you can learn more about what user interaction tells you about your users’ intent.