August 25th, 2009 | by Ben Parr2 Comments
This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable () regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.
The more information you have about your customers, the better off you are. There’s a reason that advertisers will pay generously for detailed demographics on potential shoppers and customers. On the web, we usually gather this information via web analytics platforms such as Google Analytics (), which track things like where visitors come from, how long they stay, and conversion rates for events such as “how often does someone buy shoes on our site?”
Sometimes though, you need to take your web analytics to the next level. It’s not just about where your visitors came from or why they left, but what they were doing. One of the best ways to track this is by recording what parts of a web page a user clicks on, also called clickstream. What exactly is a clickstream? Why should you measure them? And how do you do it? This guide provides answers to all those questions.
What’s a Clickstream?
A clickstream is the recording of what a user clicks on while browsing the web. Every time he or she clicks on a link, an image, or another object on the page, that information is recorded and stored. You can find out the habits of one individual, but more useful is when you record thousands of clickstreams and see the habits and tendencies of your users.
What Benefit is There to Measuring Clickstreams?
Short answer: You can build a far better, more usable, revenue-generating website.
Long answer: Clickstreams will tell you about user behavior. You could record 1,000 clickstreams and find out where people are clicking and where they aren’t. This will help you set up your web page. Perhaps the top right corner has the best conversion, or using different text will get you more clicks. Perhaps you realize that lots of people are clicking to one specific web page. All of this information combined is valuable data that goes beyond normal analytics.
Clickstream tracking is ideal for e-commerce websites and websites that depend on ad clicks. You need users clicking in the right places to make money.
What Tools Are Available to Measure Clickstreams?
Many analytics programs, including Google Analytics, come with basic clickstream analysis functionality (in Google Analytics, it’s called “site overlay.”) If you’re a smaller company or website that really wants more though, we suggest CrazyEgg, which will not only track clicks, but provide a listed summary of where people clicked, a visual overlay of where users came from, and even a heatmap of clicks. There are other solutions for enterprise (e.g. Clickstream Technologies), but we suggest doing detailed research before picking any analytics provider.