Something's been going on. Something behind the scenes that you may not know about. Something that's been helping me increase the effectiveness of my websites and blogs.
Right under your nose. Er, I mean finger.
As you know, I'm a fanatical tester. And I test constantly. But what you may not know is that, it is not only limited to split-testing copy.
Well, let me let you in on a secret.
Right now, as you're reading this very post, I'm watching you. Yup, I see exactly what you see, where your mouse goes and what catches your attention most. (And what you read, too.)
Now, don't worry. I'm not invading your privacy by infiltrating your computer with spyware. And I certainly don't know who you are — nor do I care (well, I do, but not in this context).
There are various pieces of software running in the background, on this web page, that track your movements. Not for the sake of discovering who you are or what you do, but of learning what appeals to you the most on the same page, what you click on the most, what captures your attention best, and where you are most “active.”
Let me share a few of them so you can start implementing these tools on your site. (Using these tools, I have already doubled my effectiveness of my site, whether it's my ads' clickthrough rates, my conversion rates or my “stickiness” factor.)
One of them is CrazyEgg.com.
CrazyEgg is a click tracking tool. But its power is not in its data but in its delivery. Surely you can track your clicks on your website with most software that can spit out the data (often in tabular format), and analyze it for you — if it's intelligent enough.
What about density of clicks? What about mouse movements? What about attraction and eye gravity? Heck, what about clicks on a webpage on objects that are not hyperlinked? I mean, anywhere?
Yes, you can discover exactly what people are looking at and clicking on, whether it's a link or not.
CrazyEgg tracks the mouse activity on your web page. But that is not its main strength. Its core benefit is that it visually demonstrates, through the use of “heatmaps,” the activity, patterns and density of your readers' mouse actions.
Why is this important?
Aside from knowing which ads get clicked on, which links get more attention than others, and where people gravitate on the page, you can instantly see, in a snap, what drives the most attention — and action.
In fact, one of the most astounding discoveries I've made is that graphics (not large graphics but icons, pictures, avatars, audios and videos) tend to attract click activity, whether or not they are active links.
For some reason, people tend to click on objects and graphics — they are mostly smaller boxes or pictures within the middle of your content — either to see where it leads (out of curiosity), or to specifically do something or go somewhere, likely to retrieve additional content related to what the graphic communicates or implies.
That's not all. Not only can you track what gets clicked on the most (and that can be any area of your web page), you can use tracking tools like CrazyEgg to test different designs, layouts, ad placements (such as with your AdSense ads), colors, graphics, navigation, forms, copy elements, order pages, etc.
Here's an example.
Here's a look at what CrazyEgg tracked on my blog's front page. The small circular graphics show click activity. Notice the difference in color. Blue are less active ones, and the color ranges all the way to green, yellow, organge and then red, which represents the “hottest spots” that generate the most clicks.
You can click on any of these objects, and it will open up a bar graph representing not only how many clicks it received but it's ratio in comparison to other clicks tracked on the page.
This tells you what people clicked on the most, in relation to all the other links — and even clicks on objects or non-links — on the page.
You can open these graphs individually, but here's what it looks like when you “open all” (there's a toggle button to open or collapse all the bar graphs on the page).
Look at how it highlights some of the most active areas.
Of course, if you're the more traditional “just-give-me-the-numbers” analyst (or if you simply prefer a tabular format for further analysis), you can also retrieve a full list of all the clicks on the page, as well as their click density ratio.
Here's the kicker.
When you get CrazyEgg to transform the bar graphs into an overall heatmap, that is a visual representation of the “hotspots” on the page, you get a stunning visual overview of mouse activity at a glance.
On the front page of my blog, post excerpts are displayed with several links that lead to the entire post. One is in the title itself, another is the “read more” link at the end of the excerpt, another is the “comments” link, and then there's the icon itself, which I try to hyperlink as much a possible to the rest of the post — or something related.
The discovery? Notice that the hottest spot is the “read more” link after the excerpt of the post.
People click more on this link to continue reading than they do any other link. (And that's pretty much the same for every new post I publish.)
But it doesn't stop there.
I've tested different wordings, such as “read more,” “read the rest,” “click here to read,” “continue reading,” and just plain “more.” (And a few others.)
The winner is the one you see on my blog right now. (But I'd also like to test arrows, animated arrows, different colors of arrows, etc.)
And nope, that's not all, either.
I've tested positioning: the “read more” link on the left, on the right, immediately after the excerpt (inline with the paragraph and not as a separate paragraph), no link at all (the title and “comments” link offer the same function anyway), and more.
Well, the left position, below the excerpt, won hands down.
Here's the interesting bit: I include icons (some people call them “avatars” or post images) with each post, mostly aligned to the left at the top of the post.
As I stated earlier, when I started tracking non-link mouse activity, I discovered that people were clicking on these graphics.
So I thought, “Why not convert them into links?” Some (in fact, most of them) have the same function as the “read more” link. That is, if people click on these icons, they lead the reader to the full post.
And it works!
Even when there's no indication whatsoever that the icons are hyperlinked. People are clicking on the graphic to read the rest of the post just as they would the title or the “more” link.
What I found most interesting, though, is this: if the graphic has what seems to be discernable clickspots, such as controls, sliders, buttons or links (like with the traditional blue-underlined words), people will click them. And they will click the graphic more because of them.
Here's a forinstance:
In one post, I talked about my wife's latest video, where she shaved her head for a breast cancer charity. The post icon used was basically a tiny screenshot of the video indicating the topic of the post. That's it, and nothing more. (And of course, the graphic is hyperlinked.)
But what CrazyEgg has found is that people not only click on the graphic but also on the tiny video controls, particularly the “play” button — even though they don't work! It's as if they were trying to view the video right there.
What this tells you is, graphics with discernable clickspots are not only inducing clicks, but they are also appealing to a more dynamic, one-page process.
Here's my thinking: if the video can run right there, on the same page, without loading in a separate page or window, then people would want to view it right there on the spot.
One of the more common tools in enabling interactivity with visitors (especially in the new Web 2.0, social-based environment in which we now find ourselves), is AJAX.
Basically, AJAX (and its couterpart Ruby on Rails) are platforms and tools that allow pages to load content dynamically within the page itself, without the need to reload.
Content can fly in and out, fold up and down, and be dragged and dropped. (You see this more commonly with a lot of the start page websites, such as PageFlakes.com and NetVibes.com.)
Rather than static pages loading with each click, people would prefer to stay put and have the page change dynamically for them without changing the layout, structure or formatting too much.
Why? It's easier to interact with the site, it's less distracting and there are less changes occurring, and it's seemingly more responsive.
(Ah yes, Web 2.0.)
Now, this is just a semi-educated guess, of course. But my thinking is not just based on this one single test. Many other different types of tests come to a similar, logical conclusion.
For example, Flint McGlaughlin's MarketingExperiments.com, which conducts, well, marketing experiments, have concluded that people prefer more copy (and content) on less pages, than less content that's spread out over multiple pages.
Understandly, his tests are limited. While the results are widely applicable, they are certainly not universal. But it does tell you something nonetheless: it tells you what people prefer, and what trends are going on right now.
(Even CrazyEgg's own dashboard is a one-page interface, where you can add tests, pages and descriptions on the same page, on the fly, all thanks to AJAX.)
One last note:
CrazyEgg is not the only service of its kind. I also tried ClickDensity.com, which is a competitor. I prefer CrazyEgg, but there are pros and cons to each.
CrazyEgg is more flexible and usable, but limited to one page per campaign. While ClickDensity.com may be a little clunky, it's more versatile as it can track all pages within a given domain (the tiny snippet of code can simply be added to a base template, for example, and therefore added only once).
What I like about ClickDensity is that it can track behavior throughout a website, across many pages, and not just on a single page. But it's rather hard to use, and I far more prefer CrazyEgg, which is a lot easier to work with.
One tiny snippet of code dropped into your HTML (or base template), and you're done. However, you must specify each and every page you want to track by creating a “new test” for that page.
What I'd love to see is CrazyEgg implementing a site-wide feature. That would simplify things greatly.
But in addition, what I'd like to add to my wishlist is the ability to track traffic-to-conversions based on click density, layouts and, of course, copy (i.e., calculating click density ratios by comparing the various “hotspots” between landing pages to “thank you” pages.)
Granted, I do that right now with some other tools, but it is a tad complex and I need to take a few extra steps that I would love to avoid if it were possible.
Want better AdSense clickthroughs? Want higher conversions? Looking for more opt-ins? The uses and possibilities are too many to list here, and limited only by your imagination.
I certainly recommend CrazyEgg or any other similar tool. You never know, the results might completely surprise you — as they did for me.