Heatmaps: Seriously Underrated Data Visualization

thermal image of hand on computer and phone

Heatmaps can be a seriously underrated data visualization technique, but they are incredibly versatile and beneficial for a variety of professions. Just look at healthcare, military, weather forecasting, and other industries and it’s not hard to find a practical application for heatmaps. Sometimes the relevance and methodology behind heatmaps are questioned, but with a careful approach, they can prove to be highly accurate depictions of data in marketing research.

What Makes Up a Heatmap? 

example of a concept heat map

Using an algorithm incorporated into the backend of software, heatmaps gather data points and organize them visually to show the data’s population density. At a high level, heatmaps use various colors to visualize the highest frequency of data points in a region—the warmer the color gets in a region, the more prevalent the data points in that region are. For example, attributes such as clicks on a static image could be gathered to depict where people clicked most. If the image was a website or digital ad, then ideally results would show the most clicks around a call-to-action.

Since heatmaps are able to gather and interpret large data sets, they have proven very beneficial in a digital world. Clicks on web pages, digital advertisements, and even scrolling behavior all provide insights on how to increase conversions for marketers through heatmaps. And not only can heatmaps quickly gather and show a lot of data, but they do so in an intuitive way. Very few people have difficulty interpreting the meaning behind a heatmap, which is incredibly impactful and the main driver behind their widespread usage.

Heatmaps and Marketing Research

As it’s probably becoming clear, heatmaps can be an effective tool for marketing research as well. At GutCheck, we often utilize them in order to add context and visuals to research results. However, heatmaps should not be the primary tool used in a study; they simply provide an additional way to gather feedback from consumers, particularly when it comes to an image or concept.

In many of the concept testing studies we conduct, we employ heatmaps to show what consumers like and dislike about a concept or what’s working and what’s not—often following up with open-ends for respondents to elaborate on why they liked or disliked what they selected. Regardless of how you may incorporate heatmaps into research objectives, there are some considerations to keep in mind when interpreting them:

  • Avoid trying to determine how many people clicked a specific region, as that defeats the purpose of heatmaps, which already provide the visual needed for a quick answer
  • Don’t force everyone to click—insights into how many people didn’t click are just as impactful as the clicks themselves and help to understand engagement in general
  • Heatmaps are not meant to be viewed on a person-to-person basis and should be kept high-level to avoid making assumptions about what could be isolated behaviors
  • Bias can impact heatmap questions too, so account for those who may be click-happy or misinterpreting the instructions when it comes to heat maps

Heatmaps will continue to evolve as new technology allows for more accurate and additional tracking of things like the computer mouse, eyes, and time spent on an image or on a location. Download this report to see how we apply heatmaps to our Concept Prioritizer™ study in order to understand what does and doesn’t work when it came to a craft brewery’s label designs.

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