Making Design Decisions Based on Visual Mouse-Click data from CrazyEgg.com
For the last two weeks, I've been running some tests of DTS's website (which was featured on godbit and just won an best of the web award!) with CrazyEgg.com. We tested our two most important pages, the front page, and the Admissions page. The following information could be discovered via standard analytics but is is far more intuitive and easier to "see" with CrazyEgg's visual tools.
DTS Front Page
|Click map||Heat map|
For those who've never worked on a University website (DTS stats: 2000 students, 200 faculty/staff, 11,000 alumni), the front page must function as: 1) an attractive, informative call-to-action for prospective students, 2) an information portal for current students, alumni, and staff, and 3) a public relations piece for the public and donors. In other words, a University front page needs to convey a lot of information for several very different audiences. Our Lead Designer, Tim Kimberley (of HeLives.com) has done an incredible job laying out all this information. Now, with the CrazyEgg.com data, we've learned a few things that justify our design decisions and will hopefully lead us to make it even better:
1) Be careful with links that don't look like links – In the lower half of the page, the headers "dts family", "feature items", "calendar" are all clickable links that take you to pages with more information in those categories – but, not many people click on them. Perhaps not many users "gets" that those are links since there is no underline. A possible solution is to add a "more" button next to each heading.
2) Unused menu items – From the heatmap, it's pretty easy to see that the top left menu is very popular and that some items are more popular than others. This would be harder to "see" using analytics. The "Become a Student" area is really working and prospective students are using all three sub links. But we also noticed that the "donate" button is not very popular. We may need to rethink how we word that area since it takes up so much valuable real estate.
3) Unexpectedly popular links – The "campusnet" link is a lot "hotter" than we would have guessed. Campusnet is separate website where students login and register for classes. We thought they would just go directly to the website by typing in the URL(campus.dts.edu), but it appears that a lot of them go through this link. In the design phase, I didn't want to include this link, but I'm glad we did (note: we filtered out all web traffic coming from our campus to skew the data toward external visitors, so this link might have been even more popular if we had included students, faculty, and staff using campus computers.)
4) Search – Although we know that many users like to search, it's nice to be able to visually see that the search box is important and heavily used. (note: we also track what the most common search terms are and we display "Popular links" at the top. Ex: fees and bock)
Admissions Page (Become a Student)
|Click map||Heat map|
The Admissions page is probably the most important page on a University website. Once the user has made it past the front page, this is our best chance to layout the information they need and the steps they need to take in order to find out if our school is the best for them. We've done a few things there not found on most sites. In the left column (campus picture and stats) functions to convey a sense of the school and nothing there is clickable. In the right column, we put together some videos about the school and a few interesting links in order to convey a sense of the people at DTS. The center column is focal area where the user can begin to do something. The most important things, "apply" "catalog" and "get information" are prominent icons and the major degree programs are clearly laid out. Lastly, there is a bottom section containing a lot of additional information and links to various admissions related pages. Here's what we learned:
1) Prominent icons work – The center column is heavily used and seems to be functioning perfectly. In our old site, these links were text-only. From the heatmap, we can also see that some users click on the text "apply online" and others click on the graphic.
2) Links don't always need an underline – In the green degree box, users click the "learn more" link under each degree more than they click the title of the degree. Here, users seem to "get it" and both links work.
3) Sometimes icons don't work – The links in the lower right (the two students and one professor) are the least-clicked links on the page. We'd like to keep the faces there, but perhaps we can link to more compelling content to better utilize the space.
4) Lists work if they are clear – The bottom of the page is more utilized than I would have guessed. Users click on all of the links and, because they click on some more than others, we can tell that they are actually reading the links. A glance at the heatmap shows that "Expenses" and "Online Education" are two of the most hit pages. We need to spruce up both of these pages since they are heavily trafficed and also perhaps give them even more prominence (maybe put them in place of #3).
5) Don't rely on anaytics alone! – The "visit campus" link is fairly "hot." Just looking at this data, I probably wouldn't change anything. But, we found out from our Admissions team that if a student visits campus he or she is extremely likely to matriculate. Therefore, it would make a lot of sense to promote this link as well, although we couldn't have known that just from the click data.
It is much easier to quickly understand which links users are clicking with a visual tool like CrazyEgg.com than with a standard analytics tool where one has to manually analyze the data. It's also much easier to justify tough decisions to non-web developers (administrators, presidents, etc.) using a heatmap than a bar graph. But we also know that analytics (visual or non-visual) do not tell the whole story. Standard analytics, user surveys, and interdepartmental communication are still essential tools for web designers. CrazyEgg's visual tools are a welcome and powerful addition to that lineup.