What are the pros?
- Shows actions done by real visitors
- Easily scalable to other pages
- Shows both static and dynamic data
- Able to capture keystrokes
What are the cons?
- Movement can't be tracked on mobile
- Easily scalable to other pages
- A script has to be added to the website
- Heatmaps fill up slowly with few visitors
What data will be analyzed?
Click and tap tracking
This first method of tracking looks at the position on the screen at which a visitor clicks its mouse or taps its finger.
Images per screen resolution
If the mouse tracking software allows you to do so, you can view separate images (called heatmaps) per screen resolution. This enables you to segment the behavior of visitors using phones, tablets and desktops. Do note that in order to get reliable results after such segmentation, you will need to track more visitors.
Mouse movement tracking
The position of the mouse on the screen (and the amount of time it stays at a given position) can also be tracked and display in movement maps. Though the correlation is limited, studies have shown a link exists between mouse tracking and where a visitor is looking (also called their eye gaze).
Predictor of where a visitor is looking?
Therefore, the position of the mouse can be used as an arguably weak - but certainly cheap - predictor of where a visitor is looking. At the very least it shows what areas drew their attention enough to move their mouse towards them in order to explore them further. Unfortunately, because touch-controlled devices don't have an equivalent of a mouse cursor, the movements on a page of visitors using such devices can't be tracked.
This third form of aggregated mouse tracking looks at how far down a page you've scrolled. It enables you to determine how much of your content is - and perhaps more importantly, isn't - seen by what percentage of your visitors. This information is then compiled into a scroll map that uses colored areas to show how far your visitors have scrolled.
Depending on your software solution, this information might also be available segmented per screen resolution group. Assuming you're using a form of responsive design, this would allow you to optimize the page for several different devices.
While the clicks, moves and scrolls of a visitor are often aggregated by the previously mentioned methods, they are measured on an individual level for session replays. These combine all three forms of tracking into a moving video that shows a visitor interacting with the website.
While this tracking on an individual level might pose ethical dilemmas, it also provides additional insights into the behavior of visitors on the website. For instance, it can show them struggling with forms and navigation elements. The dynamic nature of these session replays (which are also called user videos) allows you to analyse these interactions in a way that the three aggregated methods of mouse tracking do not.
How effective will this be?
This one is mostly a matter of privacy. While online shoppers of consumer electronics might be upset if they found out how much of their movements online are being tracked, the image is probably even grimmer for industries such as banking. So, if you're deciding whether mouse tracking is a good idea for your organization, keep in mind what industry you're in.
Rule of thumb
A good rule of thumb would be that the more traditional your industry is, the less inclined you should be to start mouse tracking.
Even if the industry you're in is supportive (or at least not extremely opposed) to mouse tracking, you will still need to consider whether your organization is ready for it. Here the online maturity level comes in handy. It describes the level that an organization has reached in its online ventures.
Are you data-driven?
For instance, an organization that is already on its way to take data-driven decisions might be well-suited to add mouse tracking data to their mix of sources.
On the other hand, an organization that is still tightly controlled by the people in the boardroom will probably not gain much from the tracking. After all, their findings will probably not lead to many changes in the course of the organization anyway. Similar logic applies to a company that is running a website that hasn't been updated for several years; they probably aren't ready yet and are better off focussing their attention elsewhere for now.
Which findings will it deliver?
✓ Know where your visitors (don't) click
If a heatmap shows you that many visitors are clicking on something that looks like a button but isn't, you should change this. Either by linking the button to its expected destination or changing the looks of this element so that visitors won't mistake it for a button anymore. Similar findings can be derived when you determine that people aren't click on something you want them to click on.
✓ Know where visitors (don't) move
If your movement map shows visitors consistently hovering over the sidebar in your website, but not clicking, this might indicate that an element drew their attention visually, but doesn't offer enough value to click on it. Perhaps the related articles aren't that closely related after all or something about the newsletter sign-up scares them off?
✓ Know where your visitors (don't) scroll
If you scroll map shows visitors don't scroll far down the page, you could look into that. Perhaps the top of the page contains all the information they need to convert or the information lower on the page is mostly aimed at pleasing the search engine robots rather than human visitors? Assuming only a small percentage of the visitors are scrolling down, you might even A/B test whether conversions increase even further.
Will my data be secure?
“We take appropriate security measures to protect against unauthorized access to or unauthorized alteration, disclosure or destruction of data.“
Another way to assert maximum control over the security and whereabouts of your visitors' data is to develop an in-house solution. Do keep in mind though that your own servers aren't necessarily better guarded against hackers than those of companies that have specialized in a particular service.
What are the privacy implications?
First off, I'm not a lawyer, nor do I have any formal education in the law, anywhere in the world. Having said that, it appears that mouse tracking is legal. This conclusion is based on the fact that I was unable to find any evidence to the contrary. On top of that, mouse tracking appears to be used by a large number of organizations.
Some countries (such as Germany with its Bundesdatenschutzgesetz) require that organizations keep all their privacy-sensitive data either in-house or within country limits. Whenever you're looking to deploy any mouse tracking on your website, make sure that you know what rules and regulation you'll have to conform to.
Used by many (large) organizations
For instance, ClickTale claims to have more than 100,000 businesses using their product and so does CrazyEgg. The companies using mouse tracking include giants like Pepsi, Virgin, Philips, and Dell. While it's certainly possible that such companies are using borderline legal services, it seems unlikely to me that so many of them would be doing it out in the open.
Is mouse tracking unethical?
That depends on what you (or your organization) would consider ethical. Personally I think mouse tracking borders on an unethical or at the very least privacy violating practice. Though I suppose this depends on the level of detail that you're keeping track of.
Aggregated data vs. individual sessions
As outlined above, the data captured by mouse tracking can be displayed into various forms. While anonymously capturing aggregated moves, clicks or scrolls seem relatively harmless ethically, I would say this already changes for individual session recording videos, and probably tips over when keystrokes are being logged as well.
How long does it take to gather data?
What output do you want?
You have to keep in mind whether you are looking to get reliable data in the form of click maps, movement map, scroll maps or session replays. Because of their individual nature, session replays are 'reliable' after just one entry while the other methods need more data before they become useful.
How many visitors on the page?
Another parameter is, of course, the amount of visitors that you have on a given page. If you are tracking the homepage of a popular website, then you will gather data much faster than on the final checkout page of a small e-commerce webshop.
How does it work technically?
- A visitor with a suitable browser visits on of the pages that are being tracked. Most of the mobile browsers are supported as well.
- The script starts capturing the visitor's action. Such data might include X and Y positions on the screen, which elements are clicked, how far he has scrolled down, etc. Some services apply a form of sampling to this data capturing as well.
- While the visitor continues surfing on the website, the script will send the data that it captures back to the services' capturing server.
- The server that receives the packages processes the data and saves it to a database for later retrieval.
- Once a user of the mouse tracking service requests any heatmaps or playback sessions from the server, the data is once again parsed and presented in the desired form.