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Getting actionable insights from user recordings

Watching recordings is a great way to understand what visitors do and how they interact with your website or app—it’s one of the closest things to being in the same room as them and seeing exactly what they do as they click, tap, scroll, and move on and across pages and screens in real time.

You can sit in front of hours of visitor recordings and insights might ‘pop out’ at you, but you will get way more out of them if you have a structured approach. This chapter teaches you the six steps you need to take to conduct session recording analysis and get actionable insight quickly and on an ongoing basis. We use the Hotjar Recordings software , but the approach should be relatively similar with whatever tool you choose to use.

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Last updated

21 Sep 2023

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1. Get ready for a watching session

Before you even start watching recordings of user sessions, you need to ‘get in the zone’ and create a focused watching environment.

Find a place where you can spend 12 uninterrupted hours

It usually takes about 10–15 recordings to get into a good watching flow, and the task is faster and more efficient when you can avoid distractions or interruptions.

There isn’t just one way to watch recordings—after talking to several Hotjar users (ourselves included) we’ve heard of people binge-watching from their sofa, locking themselves in a meeting room, and even reviewing recordings while power-walking on a treadmill (!).


Whatever your favorite viewing location is, make sure it helps you (and your team) stay focused on the watching task. It might help if you book a recurring 2-hour slot in your calendar every couple of weeks, so you get into the habit of watching regularly.

Prepare everything you need to take notes

When you watch recordings, it’s highly likely that you will want to take notes about what you are noticing while you are noticing it. You again have different options, including:

  • A simple sheet of paper to jot down your notes

  • Color post-its if you want to color-code your observations

  • A spreadsheet if you want to type and share your notes quickly

  • A Trello board (or any equivalent) for collaborative watching

  • The Hotjar Recordings dashboard itself if you are on a PLUS or BUSINESS plan

<#How a Hotjar team member takes notes: pink post-its for the site page + yellow for each issue spotted on it
How a Hotjar team member takes notes: pink post-its for the site page + yellow for each issue spotted on it

You probably already know which note-taking system works best for you, so make sure you go into your watching sessions with everything you need for it.

You can then copy and paste the URL of each recording and add it to your notes to refer back when needed. You can also generate a unique URL for each recording and share it with stakeholders or external people who don't have access to your Hotjar account.

2. Define the goal of your watching session

Whether you have tens or thousands of recordings to go through, start by identifying what you want to get out of your watching session: knowing what you want to achieve helps you determine which recordings you should start with.

Here are the four most frequent goals we encounter when analyzing visitor behavior:

1. Find out where people are hesitating or getting stuck on an ecommerce website

If you own or work for an ecommerce website, focusing your attention on the checkout process usually helps you see how people progress (or fail to) through it and identify what may be causing them to leave.

2. Understand how to improve a SaaS product and its features

By looking at recordings of how people really use your product/service, you are very likely to empathize with your users as they experience friction and spot opportunities for change and improvement.

3. See where people get stuck on a lead generation website or page

On websites or landing pages whose primary function is getting someone’s contact details, you can be laser-focused on visitors who fail to complete your forms and the customer journey they took before getting to the form in the first place.

4. Find bugs and opportunities for improvement

When you're in charge of managing a website, watching visitors move around pages and experience failure points (e.g. an error) helps you formulate clear plans to fix issues, remove barriers, and make the overall digital experience more efficient and enjoyable. With console tracking, you can identify errors and understand what’s causing them before they become problems. 

3. Use your goal to narrow down the data

Once you know what you want to get out of your watching session, you’re ready to get onto the recordings page, which will look something like this:

You can see in the top right section of our dashboard that we have more than 6 million recordings (!) available—you may not have as many, but it’s still important that you narrow them down so you are able to find the recordings you need in less time.

There are different ways to start including pertinent recordings and excluding less relevant ones:

  • Filtering filter by user behavior (rage clicks, u-turns), user attributes (job role, whether users already made a purchase, etc.), errors (if you’ve activated console tracking), and more. Check out the full list of filters on this support page.

  • Creating highlights: anything that is a useful event in Mixpanel, Google Analytics, etc. can and should be snipped and saved as a highlight in Hotjar, so you can label, comment, share, or download it.

  • Sorting: change the order of recordings and list them by your criteria of interest (for example, from longer to shorter), so you can start from the ones you need to see the most. Even more useful: sort session replays by engagement or frustration to jump directly into recordings of site visitors who had a good (or bad) user experience.

#Sort by frustration. Those recordings at the top of the list? They’ll likely have the answers you need to make informed decisions and to get your team on board to prioritize a fix.
Sort by frustration. Those recordings at the top of the list? They’ll likely have the answers you need to make informed decisions and to get your team on board to prioritize a fix.

1. Find out where people are hesitating or getting stuck on an ecommerce website

  • If you don’t have any analytics systems in place, you can use the sorting function to watch recordings that help you paint the bigger picture of how people use your website before leaving it → sort by longer journeys (time or # of pages visited) to watch visitors navigate between pages or screens, going back and forth between them, interacting with elements, and eventually dropping off.

  • If you use some form of analytics in your checkout (such as Google Analytics or Funnels), you might already know if your visitors tend to abandon your website on a specific page → use the Exit page filter and input the URL of the page to start focusing on recordings of visitors who leave your website.

  • If your internal data (for example, sales logs) points to a problem that took place during a specific period → use the date range filter to narrow down recordings to that time frame only.

    The same logic applies if the problem was device- or browser- or country-specific → there is a filter for each of these cases, too.

  • If you're specifically interested in reviewing what happens when people add a product to cart or begin the checkout process, you or your dev team can add events such as "cart" or "checkout"—and later, when you filter by them, Hotjar immediately shows you just the recordings where these actions took place.

2. Understand how to improve a SaaS product and its features

  • After making sure you add events for your product and all important actions people can take while using it → filter by “event” to start reviewing specific actions. For example: we added events such as ‘created poll’ or ‘plan downgrade’ to watch recordings of how people are really using the tool.

  • Sort by lengthiest visit or highest number of pages visited to get a clear sense of how users really engage with your product, what parts they focus on the most, and where they get stuck.

3. See where people get stuck on a lead generation website or page

  • To single out journeys where users encounter your form(s) → use the visited page filter and add the URL of the form page so you can watch people interact (or fail to) with it.

  • Sort or filter by device/browser/OS to review specific sessions and identify whether there are problems that affect mobile devices vs. desktop only, or Chrome users vs. Safari ones, etc.

4. Find bugs and opportunities for improvement

  • If you quickly want to spot errors that cause users to leave your website or app shortly after reaching it →  create a Recording segment to track new errors on your most important flows, then watch those recordings to see exactly when the errors happen, which user actions might be causing them, and how they impact your UX. You can view those errors in the console while watching recordings to find sessions with specific errors using the new errors filter.

  • If you want to validate bug fixes → combine the errors filter with other segmentation—like a user’s browser, device type, or the specific elements they click on the page—to understand if those errors still occur. It’s a much easier alternative to trying to reproduce a bug!

  • If you're in charge of managing a website → sort by longest visit or highest number of pages visited to watch recordings of visitors who see multiple pages/screens and find anything broken that needs fixing.

Pro tip: You can bookmark recordings that you and your team want to observe most regularly by creating and saving a segment. For example, if you like to monitor users who abandon the checkout page of your site, you can apply a filter where ‘exit page’ contains: /checkout (or whatever portion of a URL your checkout page has) and save this selection as a segment.

The next time you want to watch recordings of people who leave at checkout, all you have to do is select the relevant segment and you’re good to go.

4. Know what to spot when you watch

Now that you’ve defined your goals and narrowed down the recordings you have to watch, you’re ready to press play.

You usually need 10–20 recordings to get in a good viewing flow, after which you should be able to start seeing patterns and develop an understanding of where users hesitate or get confused, and what leads them to abandon your site.

Pro tip: combine session recordings with another great qualitative behavior analytics tool like heatmaps to validate or disprove assumptions, as they help you visualize data from website visitors in aggregate.

This is what a Hotjar recording looks like—it's a recording of a previous version of this page:

The interface gives you different options for watching a recording. You can:

  • Change the speed from 0.5x (slower) all the way up to 4x (faster) to slow down or speed up the review process depending on what you need to review

  • Skip pauses to make the watching faster (however, keep in mind that when you skip pauses you are not going to see if and when users hesitated)

Using your favorite note-taking system, start making notes whenever you see something interesting, unusual, or that needs further investigation.

Look at how people interact with your website or app

If the purpose of your watching session is to see and understand how people experience your website or app,

  • Check what element(s) visitors use to navigate from one page to another → if users don’t click or tap where you expect them to or it takes them a while to progress, it may be that page elements and CTAs are distracting or unclear

  • Review how visitors interact with buttons or clickable elements → if they exhibit unusual behavior, such as tapping or clicking repeatedly on an element when nothing happens, you may need to check if your elements are broken or if your design is confusing people

  • Notice how much time it takes to perform a specific action → if you see people scrolling a lot through a page or screen and moving their mouse around erratically before committing to an action, you might need to investigate if they have all the information they need to continue

  • Compare recordings of people who completed an action successfully vs. those who did not, and check if you can spot any glaring differences in their respective journeys.

Look for bugs, issues or glitches

If the purpose of your watching session is to identify problems on your website or app that need fixing, look out for:

  • Compatibility bugs that make the page(s) load incorrectly across different devices and/or browsers

  • Functionality bugs that cause the website/app to not do something it should (example: log in not working, search functionality not returning results)

  • Layout and design bugs that make elements of a page render incorrectly (example: usability issues on mobile devices)

5. Create highlights from your recordings so you can find them later

As you watch your recordings and start spotting themes or interesting elements, you can use built-in functionality to:

  • Snip the interesting parts of your recordings, save them as highlights, label, comment, share (with the Microsoft Teams or Slack integration), and group them into collections where the same action (e.g. a click on a broken element, a drop-off on a specific page, etc.) takes place

  • Depending on what you're trying to achieve, you can agree on labels, comments, and collections to use ahead of or during watching recordings. Some labels we’ve used at Hotjar include error-focused labels like Bug, UI-UX Issue, Frustration or Confusion.

6. Find your first win(s)

At the end of your watching session, you should have a clear list of things to fix, improve, investigate, or change. The final thing to do is decide which one(s) you are going to tackle first.

One way to make this decision easier is to consider factors such as:

  • How much research will be required to understand the situation in depth?

  • How much time/money/effort will it cost to implement a fix or deploy a change (including the time spent planning and getting approval for the fix itself, not just its implementation)?

  • How much will this fix/change improve the customer experience on your website?

  • How many people will be affected by it?

If you prioritize your list based on these parameters, you’ll be able to pick the highest improvement, highest impact, or fastest and easiest deployment solution(s) you need to start from—usually, these will be related to bugs, broken elements, or really obvious obstacles that make the user journey across your site or mobile app impossible or extremely difficult. Those quick wins can have a major impact on your retention and conversion rate optimization (CRO) efforts.

Later on, you will likely focus on research-based tasks to understand the context around other situations you may have spotted. You can accumulate endless data points about something that doesn’t work, but knowing WHAT is going on is only half of the battle: to get to the root of the problem and find a solution, you will need to understand the WHY.

This is where you can run advanced research by using a choice of customer tools, like on-page surveys, which allow you to collect feedback from your users: these people have all the information you need about the problem they are facing and also the key to its solution.

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