A picture is worth 1,000 words … and 10,000 data points.
Google Analytics is darned near ubiquitous. It’s the top Website Analysis and Measurement tool in just about every category, whether you look at it by total reach (#1 Most Popular on the Top 10,000, 100,000 and 1,000,00 sites on the web) or by region (The Most Popular in the United States, in the UK, and on “The Entire Internet” in Application Performance).
Just because GA is ubiquitous doesn’t mean it’s easy to use or, easy to install and set up correctly. According to expert Google Analytics agency The Rectangles, as many as 90% of the Google Analytics accounts they work with would benefit from optimizations (if not overhauls in their setup).
It’s why there’s an abundance of articles about “How to set up Google Analytics correctly”:
Assuming you have Google Analytics setup correctly, the obvious question that follows is “Now What?”
It’s a rich and comprehensive tool, but it’s deliberately not visual, and almost decidedly not easy to understand. What value is there to all of this information if you can’t understand it — or at least, can’t understand it quickly so you can shift more of your time to finding insights and inspiration as opposed to crunching numbers and looking for a needle in a haystack?
Google Analytics has attempted to add visual elements to their toolkit. For example, The Google Page Analytics Chrome Extension is one strong overlay report that works as a first step — but it’s also greatly limiting in the insights in can provide. It fails miserably with dynamic navigation elements. And like anything with Google Analytics, if you have the same link appear multiple times on a page (say a Login, or a Contact Us, or a Buy Now, Enter Email), Google Analytics can’t differentiate between them and as a result, attributes all of the clicks and engagement to each of them.
This is just the beginning. There’s no option to get even richer information like how many people are scrolling, paying attention, or go deeper and follow individual user journeys.
Google Analytics has its limitations which is why, more and more, you see an ecosystem of products built around the data in GA that makes it more usable for specific use cases.
Free Google Analytics Heatmaps
One of the most popular questions we see and hear is people wanting a simple, heatmap view of their Google Analytics data. It’s partially a function of the mind-numbing interface within Google Analytics itself.
But it’s free. And so you tend to get reviews like this, while the score changes from a 1 to a 5 based on how much people value the fact that GA is Free. (Note: I give GA a 5 because it’s free and because it’s powerful — but as someone who’s worked in digital marketing for 20 years now, I’m not the target market nor am I the standard user).
People want a visual way to view their Google Analytics data. A Google Analytics Heatmap. A Google Analytics Overlay. A Google Analytics Extension or Plugin. One of the most popular searches is for a Heatmap because Heatmaps are still one of the most powerful ways to make sense of data quickly, while also making it easy to share data more broadly without needing to provide much context.
A picture is worth 1,000 words … but a picture can be worth more than 100,000 data points when presented as a heatmap.
So why doesn’t Google Analytics provide a Heatmap?
A quick search of Google Analytics Heatmap will bring you to a sea of colorful gradients. Unfortunately, the focus has either been on adding color gradients to Google Analytics charts and reports (modestly valuable, but still overwhelming):
The other option is to follow an incredibly complex set of steps using Google Data Studio, Google Tag Manager, and a whole of of an Engineers time to generate a one-time heatmap for yourself. Which … is truly juice that doesn’t seem worth the squeeze.
Why doesn’t Google Analytics just give you a heatmap?
We don’t know. And not knowing, and more importantly, not having one available, was no longer good enough.
Why is Crazy Egg so interested in creating a Google Analytics Heatmap?
Over 300,000 websites are using Crazy Egg in some form today and the single most popular partner product we see, without fail, is Google Analytics.
So we stopped asking the question about why Google Analytics Heatmaps don’t exist, and we set out to create a simple, one-click solution for those of you who are interested in one.
There is no shortage of data available to all of us at our fingertips. The challenge now is getting the data in a format that makes it easy to understand, interpret, and ultimately, use to ask better questions and make better decisions.
Google Analytics is one of those problem areas; rich with data and information, but challenging to understand and even harder to translate into insight and action. Crazy Egg launched at the same time as Google Analytics, and for almost 15 years hundreds and hundreds of thousands of companies have used Crazy Egg in partnership with Google Analytics to get to insight faster.
Which prompted the question: how can we do even more to help people get insight from Google Analytics faster?
Heatmaps have always been an excellent way to get rich, powerful, comprehensive insights, quickly. However historically, in order to get even a reasonably accurate heatmap, you had to install a script on your website, and then wait for new visitors to engage with your site before a valuable heatmap is made available to you.
Installing JS to precisely track elements on a page is still the only foolproof way to get an accurate heatmap. It’s also the only way to do more complex and powerful layers of information atop that heatmap, like understanding scroll depth and engagement, segmenting users into cohorts, and creating individual recordings of users interacting with your site. You need a script to do make these complex insights possible.
But what if there was a faster way to get started?
As the creators of the website heatmap in 2005, we’ve never been satisfied with the effort required to get a heatmap — and all of the powerful insights they provide — in the hands of our customers. As we do more and more work with Google Analytics, one of our Senior Engineers, Rubem Carneiro, had an aha moment:
- “We can create a smart, intelligent, approximation of a heatmap using historical GA data.”
And that’s precisely what we’ve done with our new Free Google Analytics Heatmap. Found a way to get you insights from your Google Analytics data, faster. Taking analysis down from tens of minutes to a few seconds.
How is that possible? Here’s how our Google Analytics Heatmap is built.
Step 1: Using Google Analytics to Identify Subsequent Pages and Click Frequency
First, through a “previous page query” in Google Analytics, we are able to look at any specific URL and then, identify all pages a user clicks to visit subsequently. Essentially, you see user journeys, from the URL submitted to all subsequent pages. The data you get shows both which pages are visited, as well as, what percentage of traffic visits those subsequent pages. In effect, weighting the links by traffic. This three dimensionality is critical to the construction of the heatmap because we can understand which links on a page are clicked and with what degree of frequency.
Note: This is also highlights one of the shortcomings of this approach. If, for example, you have a single link (like “Contact Us” or “Login”) that appears multiple times on the same page — Google Analytics can’t parse these clicks. Which is why whenever Google Analytics tries to do an overlay, these clicks end up being aggregated and you lose visibility into which of the links in the UI was actually clicked.
Step 2: Using Crazy Egg to Map Google Analytics Clicks to Actual Elements and URLs on the Page
Next, Crazy Egg takes the URL that you’ve submitted, and indexes the page. Identifying and pulling out all page elements and URLs. Once these have been identified, we match the elements on the page to the results we’ve identified from the previous page query run on Google Analytics. This processing takes a few seconds, but that’s because we are indexing the page and then associating the clicks Google Analytics identified to actual elements and URLs on your page.
Step 3: Render the Free Google Analytics Heatmap
Once the associations are made, we shift to presenting the data to you overlaid atop your own website so you can see the data in context. Any URL that is clicked (which translates to any page element or button or URL) appears on the heatmap with some color treatment. Then, based on the frequency of clicks on those elements, the color is intensified (blue means fewer clicks, brighter colors mean more links).
One of the most powerful tools within Crazy Egg is our Scrollmap, which shows how people engage and how attention is distributed on a page based on scroll depth (where do people pay attention, where do people stop paying attention). As a result, we’ve added some additional intelligence to how clicks and heatmaps are distributed when the same link appears in multiple places on a page. We factor in both the size of the element containing the link as well as it’s x and y coordinates on the page, which allows for a more accurate, though still approximate, placement of those clicks.
The final step for rendering the Google Analytics derived heatmap, is employing a Gaussian function to help distribute the clicks on each element in a way that mimics natural, organic user behavior. Without this approach, you’d see all clicks on precisely the same spot on the element on the website. The Gaussian function allows the clicks to be distributed in a more natural way, adding further realism — using a mathematical framework — to the heatmap.
Ready to give the Free Google Analytics Heatmap a try? Step right this way.
A Helpful, Insightful, Hopefully Appetite Whetting Heatmap
The result should first help people understand the importance of visual data. I have not met a person who finds Google Analytics fun or easy to use or interpret. It’s powerful, but that doesn’t make it even accessible by many. This heatmap becomes a way for you to turn what would have been tens of minutes of analysis in GA into a few quick seconds of analysis and inspiration — leaving the remaining time for you to pursue ideas to fix what’s broken and make improvements.
This heatmap has truly just scratched the surface. We also hope that this heatmap shows you what’s possible with a heatmap. Why we believe anyone with a Website should be using a tool like Crazy Egg to quickly understand their customer experience, find inspiration, and test ways to improve their experience and website conversions.
This isn’t a substitute for the power of fully populated heatmaps (scrollmaps, referral maps, click maps, overlays and more). It’s an introduction. We invite you to get even more powerful visual reporting with a Free 30 Day Trial of Crazy Egg here.
Free Webinar: How to get Maximum Value from Google Analytics and Crazy Egg to Increase Conversions
Google Analytics is near ubiquitous on websites around the world. Yet, almost 90% of implementations aren’t right.
Join us to learn a few simple things you can use to fix your Google Analytics installation and, make sure you’re getting maximum value from your data by using the depth of Google Analytics with the powerful interface, visualizations and user recordings from Crazy Egg. Sign Up Now