The last couple of years I've gotten to use a bunch of different analytics tools to really get to know what users do on sites or web apps we've produced, but also how they come to do it. This post is all about the how and watching real users browsing and using your website to really get to know how your site is used. It's time to evaluate these tools and compare them to make a conclusion on which session replay tool is really the best one.
The quick results are shown below in the table. And below it, I explain how the score was distributed amongst the different solutions.
To really get to know the biggest user experience problems it takes more than just Google Analytics or Site Catalyst. It is a matter of a combination of tools providing quantitative insights together with tools that provide really qualatative user insights. It is also a matter of setting up business oriented goals and focusing on achieving them by helping the users performing their tasks online.
Being Addicted to Numbers
How many times have you installed Google Analytics in the projects you've worked on? That's right, a bunch of times. How many times have you looked into those nice graphs, realised something then changed your site based on those graphs and numbers? Oh really? Never?
The graphs are pretty and all, I know. They are even prettier when they show positive trends. Stop comparing different time frames, while druling at the numbers, they won't do your users any good.
Google Analytics tells you stuff on a quantatative level, stuff like pageviews, conversion rate, unique visits, how many visitors are currently viewing the site and so on. However, it does not give you an idea on how your users are really using your site. It does not tell you where users tend to get stuck, abandoning your site and never coming back. It does not tell you why they leave, right?
Being Addicted to Users' Experience
Say hello to mouse tracking tools, session recording tools, session replay tools or whatever you'd like to call them. They are a special kind of analytics tools that are all about qualatative analytics, stepping down to a lower level enabling you to sit down, have a cup of coffee, all while watching recorded "videos" of the exact same things the user sees on the site.
You can really follow the user from the point they entered the site, navigating through it, trying to find what she is looking for, interacting with elements, filling in forms and hopefully hitting the "buy"-button. You can rewind, take notes and browse through user sessions in your own paste. Being a UX nerd, it's almost as good as watching a good movie.
Here's some more information on how different mouse recording tools differs.
Defining Session Replay
There are plenty of nicknames for these kinds of tools. When talking to colleagues in the business I've heard terms such as:
- Website video replay
- Visitor recordings
- User experience replay
- User replay
- Mouse recording tools
I find the term "Session Replay Tools" most fitting as it implicitly includes the whole user session as well as the actual replay part of the tools.
Session Replay is simply:
The ability to replay a user's complete journey on a web site or web application including all its mouse movements as well as dynamic content making it very similar to what the end user is experiencing.
When to Record, Replay and Study Users' Clicks, Movements and Experiences
So where and when do these kind of tools come in use? I'd say from day 1. Or rather before you've even deployed anything. They are generally quite cheap and will supply you with great insights when it comes to the "real interaction" on your site. In fact, there is little reason not to.
What is the ultimate session replay tool?
How should one rank the best User Session Recording / Replay tools? What is the most important parameter for tools like these to be the best in its category? Is it accuracy, pricing or performance maybe?
After talking to some of their users I realize that these are the most important factors for most of them:
- Integration - How easy is it to set up and start using?
- Support - most of those I talked to wanted to be able to have a chat when they got some trouble, usually integrating the tools.
- Performance and stability in the front end - It should not have any impact what so ever on the end user experience, while recording the user. This goes for speed and performance.
- Session filtering - Tagging sessions in the backend, starring them and also be able to filter based on session length and other factors.
- $5 - $500
- Session Replay, Heatmaps, Storage, Form Analytics
- Good performance, bad integration
- $? - Seems enterprisey
- $10 - $X - a combination of enterprise pricing and complete self service
- Session Replay, Heatmaps, SLA, Funnels
- Good performance, a bit messy installation process where you have to download a Zip and unzip it to get the tag and paste it
- $$$ Custom Enterprise Pricing
- $$$ Enterprise Pricing
- Plenty of features, hard to try out without spending thousands of dollars or plenty of time
- Can't really find out what makes this stand out, other than their target customers being mostly big companies
IBM Tealeaf CX is a giant in this product category. Founded 1999 as a spinoff of SAP, Tealeaf CX is now adapted by business users and call centers among other bigger enterprises. Since 2012, Tealeaf CX is a product of IBM.
- $15 - $299
Making this comparison about user session replay tools for websites, was really cumbersome, especially finding out that two out of five solutions needed to be bought as an enterprise solution. Unfortunetaly I won't, in a long time, be able to approach the enterprise solutions since I'm not running a large enterprise (yet).
Before making this comparison, I had a somewhat sceptical view regarding the value of these kinds of tools. Now I know that there is a definite concrete value in knowing how the end users really use your web app, SaaS or website. I managed to find out a couple of problem areas in a sign up user flow, which was really helpful. It can be really, really powerful.