Commentary

Every Click You Take, Every Move You Make: Analytics Gone Wild

Did you ever sit a family member or friend down in front of your or your client's Web site and just watch how they interact with it? From mouse movements to the way they scroll, to the pauses between actions, every move you make on a Web page should tell publishers something about the effectiveness of their intended message. Clicking, page counts and hang times are pretty rough tools for evaluating how users are really absorbing your site, yet those are the metrics most owners use now. Sure there are costly eye-gaze studies and intense focus group testing going on all the time. But what if it could be done on the cheap and on-the-fly, and tied to a dashboard that let you aggregate and filter a large number of interactions so you could visually view what they do?

This is what fascinated me about ClickTale, an analytics approach that actually records mouse movements, scroll behaviors and form-filling actions at Web sites. The technology literally makes video recordings of people's activity on a site that a marketer can review or translate in aggregate into heatmaps of on-site activity. The company started offering the video replay product several years ago, but has recently added a new dashboard that allows for greater manipulation and viewing of aggregated data off these recordings. According to Director of Marketing Communications Shmuli Goldberg, the technology involves a JavaScript planted on a client's site that records every scroll, mouse movement and keystroke. "The correlation between eye movements and mouse movement is about 88%," he says independent studies show. "So this is a way of doing eye-tracking studies on a massive scale."

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Well, maybe. I am not sure in my own Web use I see quite that correlation. After all, how many times do I decide where I want to click and then have to figure out where my mouse cursor is on the screen? At any rate, the mouse movement heat maps that I saw do seem to indicate something about where a user's attention is. For instance, ClickTale used the technology on its own site to see the difference between how existing customers and newcomers were viewing and paying attention to the site. According to the heat maps, for current customers pretty much the entire site was invisible to them except the log-in button. In other words, if you wanted your customer base to see news and new content, they needed a different design or needed to find another way to get through to them. Interestingly, new customers also play close attention to the log-in button, but their attention was also drawn to obvious action cues like a video play button and an oversized Plans & Pricing button set off in a different color.

The power of the system comes in the filtering technologies, which the new dashboard implements. For ClickTale clients like Vegas.com and Microsoft, thousands of videos of user movements have been compiled. Companies can set limits on the number of visitors they want to record. "We have a behavioral search and filter system that lets you drill down through the videos to find the conversion funnel and find the people who dropped out of the funnel," says Goldberg. "You can find the customer who makes it through four pages and drops."

Heat maps can also be generated according to how much of a Web screen a user is seeing, the location of the fold, and how far down he scrolls coming from different platforms. Publishers can use it to see how their design templates are performing across different browsing platforms. "Attention" heat maps can tell you how long people were lingering over sections of a page relative to their time on-site.

Watching a user this closely, even anonymously, obviously raises questions about privacy. Monitoring clicks and hang times is one thing, but visually recording mouse movements and keystrokes is a new order of surveillance. Goldberg insists that in addition to not identifying users, ClickTale also will not record password fields. Asterisks are displayed during video playback. Form text that is filled out but not submitted is also hidden. And ClickTale says that blocking of sensitive information from the recordings is a requirement of partnerships. Partners have to use the APIs from the company that block these fields from being recorded, or they violate terms of service.

Of course creating actionable metrics like these is a far cry from actually taking action on them. One of the persistent ironies of the "most measurable medium" is that it creates such enormous pools of data that marketers often just skim the top. It will be interesting to see the kinds of design changes and decisions that could evolve from having such detailed surveillance of an audience.

1 comment about "Every Click You Take, Every Move You Make: Analytics Gone Wild".
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  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 21, 2010 at 6:28 p.m.

    Do you think the FBI and CIA uses these systems as they watch the "chatter" lines to prevent destructive occurrences ? How do you think your favorite big brothers are using these systems to influence your preferences for products/services/opinions ?

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