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14 min read

The best heatmap software and session replay tools

By Miguel Rebelo · March 14, 2023
Hero image with the logos of the best heatmap websites and session replay tools

Sports managers improve their teams by watching hours of replays, studying each play, and using that information to develop the best strategy to win. While a website isn't an all-star basketball team, watching replays of your visitors' interactions with your platform can give you insights that'll help you improve user experience and conversion rates across pages.

When analytics aren't enough, using session replay and heatmap software will let you see where your audience is struggling—and where you're doing everything right. It's as if you're looking over their shoulder as they click and scroll on your website (but much less creepy).

I spent time researching and testing dozens of heatmap tools and session replay software options, and these are the ones that came out on top.  

The best session replay and heatmap software

  • Hotjar for surveys and user feedback

  • Crazy Egg for A/B testing

  • Smartlook for tracking conversion rates using funnels

  • Lucky Orange for chatting with your visitors

  • Zoho PageSense for creating personalized experiences

  • Microsoft Clarity for free heatmap software and session replay

What is session replay software, and how does it work?

Let's start with a quick guide on how session replay software works. The app gives you a piece of code that you paste on your website. Whenever a visitor starts a new session, that code unpacks itself to cover all the elements on each page, setting up the functions to track events in the browser window.

As the visitor moves their mouse, scrolls, or clicks buttons, the information is sent back to the session replay app. It starts building a video that shows how the user interacted with the page as if you were watching it on their screen. This data is then used to power a range of reports, including heatmaps and clickmaps, along with the analytics dashboards that you're used to seeing.

Due to the vaguely invasive nature of this kind of software—after all, it's tracking every action that every visitor is carrying out—there are a few things you should be aware of when working with behavior analytics:

  1. If you have security software running on your website—think WordPress plugins like Wordfence Security—you'll run into several warnings. This is normal. Remember to allowlist everything related to the session recording app you're installing. If you're having trouble doing this, refer to the documentation of your security widgets.

  2. If you use browsers with lots of privacy settings, such as Firefox or Brave, they may block a few features of the session replay tools, or even break parts of the app. Consider using a browser with more permissive privacy settings just to register and use these apps.

  3. Since you're tracking your users, you need to secure consent to be able to run this software on your website. Update your cookie notice and privacy policy to disclose what kind of tracking you're using, for how long you'll keep the data, and the purpose of these recordings.

  4. If you deal with sensitive information—for example, you have a form where your users enter their address or medical information—refer to the help documents of these session recording tools on how to identify the input fields so that information isn't recorded and passed on to the platform.

What makes the best heatmap software and session replay tools?

The best session recording tools help you collect data that'll give you insights on how to improve the user experience on your website. They're easy to install, offer a clear interface to watch the session recordings, and add other reports to help you make better decisions.

While session recording and related heatmaps are at the core of the apps on this list, you'll see that each one offers a range of extras that you can combine to drive more value from the collected data. This includes things like A/B testing, user surveys, feedback collection, and website notifications, to name a few.

As I tested each app, here's what I looked for in the best session recording software:

  • All-in-one. Stacking too many analytics apps on a single website can hurt performance (and your budget), so I was looking at apps that offered more than just session replays.

  • Easy to use and install. I looked for apps that offer easy no-code integration with the website in question. Where this wasn't available, I considered apps that need you to just copy and paste a JavaScript snippet—but only as long as there was an informative guide to help do this.

  • Performance impact. I excluded any session replay tool that added more than 500 ms to the loading time of my website.

  • Analytics and insights. The session replays should offer all the basic analytics, including, at the very least, a heatmap report. The dashboards should be easy to read, understand, and drive additional insights from.

  • Value for money. While the pricing ranges quite a bit, I excluded any apps that were in the thousands-of-dollars-per-month segment. Most of these apps do almost everything you might need anyway, without that price tag.

I tested these website heatmap tools over the course of a week or so. I installed each separately on a shared hosting WordPress environment, either by using available WordPress plugins or by adding the code manually. I then hopped on a private window and visited the website as if I were a regular visitor, clicking and scrolling around. Finally, I went back to see the replays and the data that was generated from these visits (including the website heatmap) and played around with the reports and other features on offer.

Best heatmap tool and session replay software for surveys and user feedback

Hotjar (Web)

Hotjar, our pick for the best heatmap tool and session replay software for surveys and user feedback

Hotjar is a leading heatmap app, and you might be here because you're looking for Hotjar alternatives. But if you're just starting out with this category, it's a great pick. With a solid feature set around session replays, Hotjar adds a few important extras: it'll help you push surveys to your website to ask for your visitors' opinions, and it'll give you the option to get qualitative feedback from more targeted user experience research.

After you set up the tracking code—on WordPress, it's as simple as installing the plugin and pasting a number over there—the connection is made. Data is now flowing into Hotjar. And the same way it comes in, you can push it out as well, helping you configure surveys in Hotjar's dashboard that'll appear on your website.

When you click Surveys on the left-side menu, you can quickly set up an NPS score or an exit-intent survey. If these quick suggestions aren't useful to you, you can browse dozens of templates, containing usability and market research surveys, among other possibilities. The control you have over the display of the survey is pretty impressive: you can customize the position, which devices will see the survey, and whether it should show immediately or wait a bit before popping up.

This is a good starting point to get feedback on how to improve. But what if you need to talk with a visitor and understand their pain points better? In that case, Hotjar lets you run research projects: you can either invite users you already know for an interview, or draw a profile and select from a pool of over 170,000 testers from around the world. Set the number of participants, add the compensation for each of them, and get your questions ready. As the sessions are scheduled, you'll be able to interview these users live over a video call, giving you a much more nuanced idea of the highs and lows of your website's user experience.

The most important part about collecting data is that you use it to make better decisions. While some of these decisions may happen while you're on Hotjar, there's a high likelihood you'd like to bring this data to other platforms you use. For that, you can connect Hotjar to Zapier to get the data moving seamlessly. Here are some example workflows, but you can connect Hotjar to thousands of other apps on Zapier.

Create Trello cards from new Hotjar survey responses

Create Trello cards from new Hotjar survey responses
  • Hotjar logo
  • Trello logo
Hotjar + Trello

One last detail I found useful is how you can collaborate on each recording. When watching a session replay video, you can mark places in the timeline where there may be a bug or a conversion problem. Pick the emoji that best represents the issue, add a comment to unpack it, and forward it to your dev or marketing team.

Hotjar price: Free plan available for 35 daily sessions. Plus plan starts at $39/month, raising the cap to 100 daily sessions. User interviews, surveys, and feedback are part of separate pricing plans, and you can build your own plan based on what you need.

Best heatmap website and session replay software for A/B testing

Crazy Egg (Web)

Crazy Egg, our pick for the best heatmap website and session replay software for A/B testing

A/B testing in 15 seconds: create a variation of a page on your website, serve the original and this variation to equal parts of your visitors, and see which one performs the best. Rinse, repeat, and watch conversion rates climb. With Crazy Egg, this routine will become second nature pretty quickly.

When you click to create your first A/B test, you get a quick onboarding tutorial on how to use the controls. You can create multiple variations of each page, editing the copy and visual properties of any element there. Make sure to only test a few things at one time: if you change absolutely everything on the variation, it'll be hard to tell which parts need the revamp and which were already ok.

You won't be able to make big changes in terms of layout—you'll have to do that on your website yourself, if you want to—but that won't constrain your freedom too much. And there's the added advantage that you'll have all the stats here, making Crazy Egg the central place for testing and optimizing almost anything.

A/B testing isn't the only thing on offer. There's a dashboard with a live activity stream, showing what your visitors are engaging with right now. Crazy Egg generates snapshots of your pages, a place to start analyzing if you don't want to go through the inactivity moments of a full recording. The screen that displays this data is one of the best on this list, letting you look at:

  • Page speed stats, so you can stay on top of how long each page is taking to load and become interactive

  • Basic error tracking stats, with total errors and page bounces

  • A breakdown of dead clicks (users clicking on non-interactive elements) and rage clicks (users clicking multiple times on an element that's taking too long to respond or not working as expected)

  • A heatmap with three views: classic (hot and cold), confetti (isolates clicks on elements), and the button popularity overlay, helping you tell the best-performing buttons from the worst ones

Need surveys? They're here too. You can start from one of eight templates, adding as many questions as you need. And if your website throws errors frequently, you can start hammering out the bugs with the help of a dedicated error-tracking screen, keeping track of everything, so you can get your troubleshooting hat on.

And you can get all this information wherever you need it by connecting Crazy Egg to Zapier. Do things like sending emails or creating new spreadsheet rows for new survey responses in Crazy Egg, among nearly infinite possibilities.

Crazy Egg price: Basic plan starts at $29/month, tracking 30,000 page views and offering 25 snapshots and 100 recordings per month.

Best heatmap tool and session replay software for tracking conversion rates using funnels

Smartlook (Web)

Smartlook, our pick for the best heatmap tool and session replay software for tracking conversion rates using funnels

Smartlook will help you understand how your users are exploring your site after you set up a few funnels. A funnel here is a set of actions that lead to a desired outcome—for instance, adding products to the cart, subscribing to your newsletter, or filling out a form. But before you can start looking at the data, you have to set up these funnels yourself.

To do so, click Funnels from the menu. You'll have to map out the process: At which page does the user start their journey? Where do they click through to next? Use data you already have and your intuition to create the sequence that your users will likely take to carry out that target action.

Once that's done, you'll start seeing a graph like the one above: from left to right, you can see where there are the steepest dropoffs in conversion, so you know which pages to focus on first. Maybe your call-to-action needs to be refreshed, or there isn't a button that clearly tells your users what to do next. As you optimize these details across the funnel, you'll start seeing the conversion rates improve, with more and more users reaching the end of the funnel.

Smartlook brings all this to the table in addition to session recording, heatmaps, and event tracking. When installing it on your website, you may be confused for a bit after setting up the code and seeing that nothing happens on the app. It's ok: open a private window and visit your website. When Smartlook picks up on traffic, it'll let you know that you installed it successfully. Apart from this quirk, the rest of the installation is a breeze.

To tie together all the data you're collecting here, you can head over to the Dashboard page, where you'll see a summary of all the major stats (a unique one here is the payment process conversion rate). If you're collaborating with other departments, you can create customized dashboards based on what each team needs, helping keep everyone on track. And if you'd like to send them more data via other apps, you can connect Smartlook to Zapier and do that too. Here's an example.

A side note: Smartlook's blog is filled with mountains of useful content to help you take advantage of all its features. Make sure to spend some time there—it's worth the read.

Smartlook price: Free plan available for 3,000 monthly sessions. Pro plan starts at $55/month, unlocking most of the features and raising the session cap to 5,000.

Best heatmap tool and session replay software for chatting with visitors

Lucky Orange (Web)

Lucky Orange, our pick for the best heatmap tool and session replay software for chatting with visitors

I love Lucky Orange's name. I've invented a few variations as I tested the app, but I'll spare you the pain of being exposed to dry humor and easy puns. Instead, let's focus on the live chat features and all the possibilities you'll have to connect with your visitors.

When onboarding with Lucky Orange, you'll arrive at the part to install the tracking code on your website. There's no direct link to the walkthrough document, so save a Google search and click here to get started. That's about the last hiccup you'll face, as Lucky Orange has the smoothest user interface on this list, with impressive functionality to match.

Once you're up and running, click Chat to start customizing the integration. You can, for example:

  • Set up your office hours

  • Require pre-qualification (request name and email before starting the chat)

  • Show or hide information about who the visitor is chatting with

  • Control basic settings about positioning and the look of the chat button

Ready to go? On the top-right, click your profile initials, and tick Available to Chat. Now, Lucky Orange will behave like any other customer support app and notify you when there's a visitor wanting a 1 on 1.

To help you find the better times of the day to be online, the dashboard includes information about your website's busiest times of day, so you can sync your schedule with that of your visitors. If that doesn't generate a lot of conversations, you can set up announcements and surveys and even configure chat invites that'll alert your users that you and your team are available.

The replays screen is simple and polished. In addition to the clicking and scrolling, you'll also be able to review the chat history with each user. If you have their email and name, you could even send it over to your CRM and let your sales team pick up from there. Instead of doing the copy/paste dance, you can connect Lucky Orange to Zapier and let the robots do it for you.

The dashboard has plenty of useful information, but take some time to explore the Analytics menu as well. There's a lot there, including heatmaps and funnels, making Lucky Orange a really smooth and complete session replay tool overall.

Lucky Orange price: Free plan available for 500 page views/month. The Build plan goes for $18/month, raising that limit to 10,000.

Best heatmap tool and session replay software for creating personalized experiences

Zoho PageSense (Web)

Zoho PageSense, our pick for the best heatmap tool and session replay software for creating personalized experiences

In addition to the rest of the apps in its varied and solid software suite, Zoho offers PageSense, an app that's surprisingly flexible and brings a few unique features to the market.

PageSense offers the same features in session recordings, heatmaps, and analytics as most of the competition. And like CrazyEgg, it offers A/B testing you can set up in the app. But what if you want to test a different page layout? In that case, you can duplicate the page on your website and use split URL testing. Then, give Zoho PageSense the control URL and the variant URL. This makes the A/B testing feature a lot more flexible, letting you tinker with page structure.

Another feature I was impressed by was content personalization based on traffic source. Let's say you identify that your traffic is coming mainly from LinkedIn and Instagram, but these target audiences have slightly different needs. With PageSense's content personalization features, you can change text and images based on whether your visitor is coming from LinkedIn or Instagram, providing a more interesting and relevant experience for both of them individually.

But to set this up correctly, you need to familiarize yourself a bit with a few settings. There's a trick question during onboarding: unlike all other apps on this list, you can choose to load Zoho PageSense on your website in two ways:

  • Synchronously, meaning it will load with the rest of your website step-by-step, which may slow down the user experience. The advantage is you'll be able to run A/B tests and personalized content much more smoothly.

  • Asynchronously, which means your website's loading process and PageSense's loading are not as tied together. It's a faster user experience, but if you're running A/B tests or content personalization, the page may flicker for a bit as it serves the correct content to each user.

With such a diverse toolkit, you'll be able to tackle website optimization from a few more angles than other apps on this list, which may increase PageSense's usefulness in the long run. And since personalization is such a big part of contemporary marketing, it may surface a few brilliant ideas that can attract and retain the attention of your audience.

Zoho PageSense price: Analyze plan is $20/month for 10,000 monthly visitors. Higher paid plans unlock more features from the whole feature set.

Best free heatmap tool and session replay software

Microsoft Clarity (Web)

Microsoft Clarity, our pick for the best free heatmap tool and session replay software

Clarity is exceptional on all fronts. Sure, it's not an all-in-one like the others on this list—it only offers session recording, heatmaps, and analytics—but the fact that it's so well-developed and lightweight is striking. It's a real privilege to have free access to this tool, especially since it's made by a trusted entity, Microsoft.

Installation is especially easy for WordPress users. After you create your account on Clarity's website, install the WordPress plugin. As soon as you finish activating it, your browser logs you in to Clarity right away, so you'll be done with the installation in two more clicks. If WordPress isn't your CMS of choice, there are plenty of other written guides with step-by-step instructions, so you'll never feel lost while putting it together.

When the first few sessions start rolling in, you'll be able to see it all on the dashboard, which is the most detailed of all the apps on this list. It has all the core stats you'd expect, along with a few special ones of its own:

  • Scroll depth percentage helps you judge which pages get seen all the way through to the bottom.

  • Excessive scrolling helps you identify confusing or low-performance pages.

  • Quick backs helps troubleshoot buttons that users click by mistake (either because they're small, have no adequate spacing, or the button copy doesn't match the expected target page).

When you click to see a session recording—either a live visit as it happens or one previously recorded—you can take a look at what happened through the annotated video. It'll show mouse movement, clicking, device analytics, and the scroll map. There's also an Areas view, displaying the click percentages over each element, which is good to give you an idea of what's attracting attention and what's not.

If you wanted a tool to partner up with Google Analytics, Clarity is a great choice as it has an integration available and it's lightweight to run with. And, of course, not many things can beat free, so you'll have more budget to tackle other problems.

Microsoft Clarity price: Free

What are the best session replay tools?

If you've been using mostly analytics to optimize your website, adding a heatmap website tool and session replays will be refreshing and fun. It makes the process more intuitive, opening up the path for a kind of empathy with your visitors. Seeing frustrated clicks and aimless scrolling will give you hints on what to change first.

All the apps on this list are at least free to try, so you can take them out for a spin. If you try more than one, remember to deactivate the apps you end up not using: if you don't, they'll keep siphoning away data and add a small slowdown on your website.

And if you're looking for higher-end platforms that move into the territory of digital experience intelligence, you can take a look at giants like FullStory, Qualtrics XM, and Oracle CX Marketing.

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A Zap with the trigger 'When I get a new lead from Facebook,' and the action 'Notify my team in Slack'