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What is Hotjar—and how does it work? | Zapier

If you’re using a data analytics tool to measure behavior like clicks, bounces, and conversions, it’s easy to feel like you’re tracking everything you need to know about how people use your website. 

But what about all the action that happens in between? Hotjar is a product insights tool that gives you a real understanding of user behavior that analytics tools can’t track—things like hesitations, U-turns, and scrolls that don’t lead to clicks.

I’ve used Hotjar a lot over the years to dig into how visitors are interacting with websites I work with, and I’m always so impressed by the insights the tool can pull out. Here, I’ll cover what you can use Hotjar for, show you how to set it up, and walk you through the various features of the tool, so you can decide if it’s something that could benefit your strategy.

What is Hotjar used for?

Hotjar tracks how visitors use and interact with your website or product. As a business, you would use Hotjar to slip directly into your users’ shoes, see firsthand what their experiences are when using your site, and figure out how you can improve it for them. Using Hotjar is kind of like being your own mystery shopper.

Hotjar’s pricing plans are split into three packages that focus on the different reasons why you’d use the tool. Which one you choose to go with depends on what you plan on using Hotjar for (there’s also the option to build a custom package).

  • Observe is the package to get if you’re interested in visualizations of how users experience your website or product (so you’ll have access to heatmaps and screen recordings).

  • Ask is for user feedback.

  • Engage (currently in beta) is for going one step further: hosting moderated user interviews to gain in-person feedback directly from users. 

How to use Hotjar

Once you’ve signed up for Hotjar and selected your package, you’ll get access to the Hotjar dashboard and all the features available to you. But before you can start actually using the tool, you need to connect it to a website so it can start collecting data. Until you do this, the dashboard will be empty. (Which makes sense—there’s nothing to analyze yet.) 

Connecting Hotjar involves installing a tracking code, and how you install the tracking code depends on where your site lives. If you’re using WordPress, there’s a Hotjar plugin in WordPress that you can use to install it. For other web hosts, you can add the tracking code manually or install it through Google Tag Manager

Once you’ve installed Hotjar, it’ll take a day or two to gather data before you start seeing any insights on the dashboard. 

P.S. Special thanks to Ministry of Laser for letting me use their website to test Hotjar for this article and get you all the lovely screenshots you’ll see below.

4 core Hotjar features and why you would use them 

There are four core Hotjar features: heatmaps, screen recordings, user feedback widgets, and the new user interview feature. Let’s take a look at what each of these features looks like in action—and why you’d use them.

1. Heatmaps (to visualize user behavior)

When I first heard about Hotjar, it was for its brilliant heatmapping feature. And as far as I know, it’s still the go-to unique feature that most people use Hotjar for.  

Hotjar creates heatmaps that help you visualize at a glance how people are using your website. The software highlights the most and least active areas of your website in a really visual way; red means busy, blue means less active. And you can view heatmaps based on clicks, moves, or scrolls. 

So for the example below, you can see that the burger menu on the mobile version of this website is really popular with users.

What I find really useful with the heatmap feature is that it throws up UX issues that analytics tools can’t track—like icons that look like buttons when they’re not linked up. In the example below, the arrow icon isn’t a button, but this heatmap tells me it should be, as visitors are clicking the arrow just as much as the button.

Heatmaps over an arrow and a button

You can also create highlights of specific heatmap areas, add comments to explain what you think might be going on there, and save them within the dashboard. You can even create and send highlights directly to someone on your team. For the example above, I could send this heatmap directly to a developer and ask them to link up the arrow so it takes users to the same page as the button. 

Leaving a comment in Hotjar

Scroll heatmaps tell you how far down the page users are likely to get before they move on. Naturally, a lot of users won’t make it to the footer of your homepage, for example, but if your heatmap is showing your website turns blue halfway down the page, that tells you the page isn’t doing what it should be. Users are getting bored or not finding what they’re looking for.

A scroll heatmap

You can flip between the different heatmap options (clicks, moves, and scrolls) using those icons in the bottom-right corner. 

2. Screen recordings (to see actual user interactions)

Screen recordings are another great feature available on Hotjar’s Observe plan. As soon as you install the Hotjar tracking code on your website or product, it starts gathering screen recordings of individual visits to your site. The software can detect and highlight things like frustrations (U-turns, inactivity, exits) and engagements (clicks, plays, actions), and then it ranks the recordings by relevance, frustration level, and engagement level, so you can jump straight to the juicy bits. 

A list of screen recordings in Hotjar

You can then watch through the most relevant recordings and add reactions and comments at stages of the recordings where you can see something notable is happening. For example, there’s a one-click reaction you can use for bugs, frustrations, and wins. 

At the end of the recording, you’re given the option to send the recording to someone on your team—maybe a product manager or developer—so they can watch it, see your annotations, and make any necessary changes.

Watching a screen recording in Hotjar

The real stand-out with this feature (for me, at least!) is that you can create and save filters for actions that are going to be most relevant to you. In the example below, I created a filter to pull out those visitors who visited the Treatments page of a beauty website but didn’t book a consultation. The software will gather screen recordings (called “segments”) of all the web visitors that follow this journey, so I can watch through these recordings to see exactly what’s stopping them from hitting the button to book.

Creating a segment in Hotjar

You can create segments based on a whole load of other different actions, which you can see in the list below.

A list of filters, including paths, sessions, behavior, user attributes, technology, and more.

Hotjar also integrates well with other apps, so I can set it up to get notified through a messaging app like Slack any time a new relevant recording comes through. And as you can see from the screenshot above, you can also set up a Zapier automation workflow segment, which means you can get notified on a bunch of other apps too.

3. User feedback and surveys (to learn what your users think)

If you’re using the Hotjar Ask package, you’ll have access to two main features—feedback widgets and surveys—that share the same goal of collecting feedback from your customers.

The feedback widget is a simple five-level emoticon satisfaction rating that you can implement on specific pages of your website or product. 

Hotjar feedback widget

Over time, as users leave feedback on individual pages or product features, you’ll learn a lot about what they love and what needs improving. You can also add in custom messages or ask users if they’ll leave their email address, so you can reach out to them for more information.

Customizing the Hotjar feedback widget

Similarly, you can use the survey feature to add in surveys like NPS scoring (where a user is asked to rate their experience from 1-10) and exit-intent surveys that pop up when a user decides to leave the website before converting.

4. User interviews (to engage with your users directly)

The Engage feature is the latest addition to Hotjar’s offering, and it’s currently still in beta. It aims to connect you directly with people who use your website or product so that you can learn more about their needs and expectations when using it. 

You’re more likely to use this feature if you’re using Hotjar to track how people are using a web-based product (like a CRM, for example) than a website. When customers are paying to use a product, they’re more likely to be invested enough to want it to improve. On a website, users just appear, use the website for what it’s built to do, and leave if they don’t find what they’re looking for. 

When choosing who to interview, you can create a target audience to pull users out from your own customer base (like job title, education level, and industry, for example). If you don’t have a customer base of your own yet, Hotjar has its own network of over 175,000 participants that you can recruit. 

The software automates the recruitment and scheduling of the user interviews, which you can then host, record, and transcribe within Hotjar. All feedback calls with users are saved within the dashboard, where you can create clips and add reactions and comments just like you can with the screen recording feature.

With this part of the tool, you can also pull together all the core features, by hosting user interviews with live heatmapping on a screen share while the users move through their journeys in real-time.

Develop your website experience

Overall, Hotjar is a really sophisticated insights tool that will nicely supplement the data analytics tools you already use.

If you’re looking for insights on a product, it’s the kind of tool that will continually help you improve your user experience. On the other hand, if you’re using Hotjar to assess if a website is doing its job, you might find that you only need the tool for a few months. In the past, I’ve signed up to the Observe package for a month or two, gained some excellent insights, and implemented changes where necessary. Once I’d made those changes, I was able to downgrade to the free version until I needed it again.

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