How to Use Heatmaps to Find Engaging Content and User Painpoints

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At 434 Marketing, we’re committed to dedicated processes that generate meaningful results for our clients. The world of content marketing is complex and always changing – not to mention incredibly competitive. Each piece of content on your website should serve a purpose, whether that’s generating traffic, warming up visitors to convert, or educating leads to make the decision to partner with your organization. 

One of the most important, but often overlooked, aspects of a solid content marketing strategy lies in refining and refreshing content. We’ve all heard the old adage, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” It’s a valid, common thought to have. If a post or page is performing well, why touch it?

But the painful truth is, every piece must be made well and be sustained with regular maintenance. And an even more painful truth – sometimes, even excellently crafted content misses the mark. A post may not rank on the first page of the SERP, or a CTA may not capture leads as intended.

If you’ve ever sat scratching your head wondering what to do to capitalize on the success of a content piece or how to fix an article that’s broken, you’re not alone. We’ve been there, too, and we’ve found a simple, data-driven solution to evaluate user behavior on posts and pages. 

As part of our content refreshing process, especially long-form content, we often utilize heatmaps to analyze how visitors are engaging with the content in order to reduce friction in the user’s experience. 

In this article, we’ll cover:

Heatmap example

Heatmaps allow us to learn more about our target audience and tailor our content to better serve them while simultaneously bolstering search results.

Each piece of content we create is the result of thorough research, creativity, and dedication to our clients’ goals. Once a piece of content ships, we monitor how it’s doing, and strive to make it better. We found that introducing heatmaps was an excellent way to let the reader show us what they’re most interested in, and what we needed to tweak. With a whole lot of curiosity and a dash of problem-solving, a content marketer can use heatmaps to take a piece of content (home page, product page, blog, landing page, etc.) to the next level. Here’s how we like to use heatmaps.

First things first, what’s a heatmap?

Heatmaps are often used by UX and Web Developers to identify user snags in a design or layout. Heatmaps are generated by installing software that records user sessions on a website, either universally or focused on specific pages. The software then uses AI to group multiple sessions together to produce a visual overlay on a webpage that shows user behavior. By the time a heatmap is ready for viewing, you’ll notice the final product resembles thermal imaging, with shades of red, orange, and yellow indicating more activity and shades of green and blue indicating less activity.

We use Mouseflow to generate heatmaps, but other popular providers include Hotjar, Contentsquare, and Glassbox.

Keep in mind that your users’ privacy matters. Using a technology that records a user session should always be done with extreme care. First, you never want to record things like login screens, contact or payment forms, etc. Second, you need to disclose their use through Cookie Opt-ins and your Privacy/TOS statements.

How to use heatmaps:

1) Install Mouseflow

We find it’s easiest to use Google Tag Manager, but you can add the code snippet required to collect sessions through a variety of integrations.

Pro Tip: If you use Tag Manager, you can set up your tag to trigger on specific pages, as opposed to all pages. This allows you to a) avoid unwanted recordings and b) save money. 

2) Collect Recordings

Typically, we wait until we have at least 100 sessions collected on the page we want to analyze. But, depending on the total number of visitors site-wide, you may want to collect more than 100 sessions.

Pro Tip: Not sure what sample size to use? Use this calculator to determine how many sessions to collect.

3) Review Heatmaps

Once you have collected the desired amount of sessions, it’s time to review the various heatmaps your tool of choice offers. In our case with Mouseflow, we look at:

  • Movement—shows the mouse or touch (for mobile devices) movement of actual users
  • Scroll Depth—shows how far visitors moved down the page on average
  • Attention—shows where attention is being placed on the page

What we look for in heatmaps:


Movement Heatmaps

With the Movement heatmap, the user’s actual mouse movements (or touch on mobile) are captured. As a user scrolls and consumes content, they will typically hold their mouse where their eyes are, which allows an analyst to make some assumptions about what people are most interested in. This behavior, known as mouse reading, indicates a user is highly engaged with your content.


Scroll Depth Heatmaps

As the name implies, a scroll depth heatmap indicates how far users make it down the page. Typically, these heatmaps will resemble a gradient, with the top being vibrant red. Red in a scroll depth heatmap indicates most users are viewing that content. As you navigate down the page and view the heatmap, you’ll notice a shift in the color, fading to yellow, then green, then blue. Mouseflow will indicate what percentage (roughly) of users have viewed content as you view your heatmap. 

If you’re placing the most important CTAs or other types of highly valuable information exclusively at the end of your pages – there is a good chance your visitors will never know. The scroll depth heatmap can help you re-evaluate how your content is structured. In some cases, you may even find that a long-form article may serve you better split into two pieces of content.


Attention Heatmaps

Attention heatmaps combine a mixture of user behavior including mouse movement, scrolling, clicks, and even typing to pinpoint where users are most and least engaged on your page. Attention heatmaps are incredibly powerful but can be more difficult to analyze. Since these heatmaps combine a broad range of user behavior, it’s important to be thoughtful and avoid making assumptions about why users are more engaged on certain areas of a page versus another.

After analyzing heatmaps, it’s time to put together an action plan.

It’s no easy feat determining what to do with all the user insights you’ve just captured. If you’re hitting a snag, that’s okay – we’d love to help. As part of your next steps, there are two main types of actions you can take depending on if the content you’re evaluating is low-performing or high-performing.


Low-performing content should be optimized or pruned.

If you’re worried your content is low-performing, that’s okay because it doesn’t have to stay that way! It can be discouraging to find that an article isn’t doing what we anticipated, but it happens. Sometimes, it’s unavoidable, and what’s most important is identifying when there’s an opportunity and taking action to improve it.

You have two main options to consider when facing a piece of low-performing content. You can re-optimize the piece by refreshing graphics, updating content, and even restructuring the page. Or, if the content is already stated elsewhere on your site, or if you think it’s not a topic that resonates with your ideal buyer, it’s okay to eliminate the content altogether. Plants need to be pruned to ensure the healthiest branches and leaves get the attention and nutrients they need – and the same goes for website content.

High-performing content should be regularly maintained.

If you find your content is high-performing, great work! After celebrating and sharing your win with your colleagues or clients, you’ll want to think through how you can make your content even better. While it can be intimidating to consider making tweaks to something that’s working, there’s always room for improvement.

First, if your content is a significant traffic driver, you’ll need to make sure your SEO efforts are maintained. Search engine algorithms change regularly, and your content needs to be adjusted accordingly. We recommend taking a look at your content every 90 days, considering advances in SEO, and making changes based on current best practices. Second, you may find that while 70% of your content is incredibly high-performing, some aspects might need a little work to drive further action from your users. By keeping content fresh and regularly updated, you can hold on to the success you’re experiencing more easily than if you take the “set it and forget it” approach.


Bottom line – refreshing and maintaining content is just as important as initial optimization, and heatmaps can help you know what steps to take.

Tools like Mouseflow can provide you with a wealth of information on your users and the experience they have on your website. If you want another set of eyes on your findings, we’d love to meet you.

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