“When a user has intent, their experience is actually a little bit different versus when you tell them, ‘Hey use this thing, and tell me if it’s usable or not.’” – Mostafa Elhefnawy, SnapTravel Senior Product Manager
Session recordings, also known as session replays or visitor recordings, are renderings of real actions taken by users or visitors as they use a site or product.
Although session recordings might look like qualitative research (e.g. user tests), they’re more like quantitative research (e.g. analytics). Session recordings help you see what is happening, not why it’s happening.
Recordings can help reveal stumbling blocks, technical issues, and opportunities for improvements. They’ll also help you to come up with hypotheses for further research and improvements, and get a feel for what real usage is like.
Unlike user tests, recordings help you see how users with real intent use your product.
To get started tracking session recordings, you need to install a third-party tool like Hotjar or FullStory. These tools allow you to record user actions on your website or in your product by targeting specific pages, or full sessions.
Initially, it’s a good idea to record all sessions, even quick bounces—visitors leaving almost instantly. Don’t be too restrictive. Leave room for discoveries.
How to Analyze Session Recordings
Watch all recordings in their entirety. Focus on the sequences of events, how users navigate, where they hesitate or get stuck, the core tasks they try to get done, bugs, clicks in the wrong places, and drop off points.
Compare the lengthiest sessions to the quickest, and the most successful to the least. Are there any patterns that emerge?
Take note of the issues. Once you’re starting to get a sense of what normal usage looks like, start evaluating alternate flows and digging deeper into core actions.
At this stage, it’s more about understanding the value, the desire to use the product, and the friction points than trying to improve the product’s usability.
Most session replay tools will allow you to search, tag, and share sessions based on select actions. This can be a useful way to track and compare reactions as you move forward.
It can be tempting, when looking at the feature sets of these tools, to start using heatmaps, funnels, or form analytics. However, these functionalities won’t be very useful at this stage.
Watching people with real intent use your product should help you to reveal opportunities for improving product value and discovery.
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