Who doesn’t like candy? It tastes great and only makes you want to eat more. However, as recent holidays have already reminded us, eating too much candy can make you sick as well as a cause a myriad of other health issues. Does that mean we should never eat candy? No, but like the food pyramid explains, it should be eaten in small and measured doses. As it is with candy, so it is with measuring every click on every link on a website. Just because the output can look great and provide instant satisfaction doesn’t mean that the data is useful or actionable in and of itself.

Before reading the first part of this two-part post, keep in mind that I’m not advocating an outright ban on measuring clicks. There are times when measuring clicks is appropriate; for example, if you are a pay-per-click business model and every click equates to revenue.  That said, far too much time, effort, and money is spent measuring clicks while the fruits & vegetables of online optimization are ignored altogether. So why are clicks candy instead of a staple? Here are my top 4 reasons:

  1. Click tracking is difficult and costly to maintain, implement, and report on.
  2. Heat maps and other click measurement tools rarely tell the whole story and have inherent flaws.
  3. Accurate conclusions are reached by measuring KPIs, not clicks.
  4. Clicks are not a measure of site usability or navigation effectiveness.

I’ll explore the first two in this post and cover the last two in my next post.

Reason #1: Click tracking is difficult and costly to maintain, implement, and report on.

Setting graphical representations of where users click (heatmaps) aside until the next section, how do you identify what was clicked on? Most sites utilize multiple technologies on their Web sites (iFrames, AJAX, Flash, HTML 5, etc…) and usually have many different vendors and internal technical teams with their hands in the “Web site pie”. As such, the level of effort to programmatically give every link on your site an intuitive name will likely be astronomical, if not impossible.

If a programmatic solution isn’t cost effective, then how about a manual approach? Surely the content design team can simply name the link when they create the page, right? Even if the team agrees to this job, ask them to take responsibility for naming links just for the homepage for a week and see how much time it takes. You’ll quickly discover that the manual approach isn’t easily feasible or scalable….even for just one page.

As if naming/identifying isn’t hard enough, the data that click tracking provides is difficult to report on. Using text/table type reporting, how do you report on 100’s of links on 100’s of pages, especially if position needs to be part of the equation? Open an Excel file and start to build the report using some fake data and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

So, while click measurement can occasionally add some value, one must ask if the time and effort couldn’t be better spent on improved site reporting and governance, investing in a solid testing program, better QA, additional training, advanced campaign attribution, predictive modeling, or other funding-starved programs?


Reason #2: Heat maps and other click measurement tools rarely tell the whole story and have inherent flaws.

Let’s start with the inherent flaws of these kinds of tools. Analytics is all about trends over time. How do you trend with a picture? Most pages change constantly. Modules move around, different stories or offers swap in and out almost hourly, buttons disappear, others appear, etc.

Pulling up the site in your browser and then seeing an overlay with where users are clicking isn’t usually accurate because you’re looking at click data for a few weeks or days on top of a page that is only a few hours old and for objects that may or may not even still be there. Unless each overlay is also a picture of how the site used to look at the time of the click, layering old data on a new site won’t tell the whole story. Assume that a screenshot of the site is taken at the time of the click. Can you imagine the work involved in trying to identify trends using hundreds of pictures?

To solve this issue, a few heatmaps have been developed with the promise of trending because they are using X/Y coordinates to show where the hotspots are over time. Even with this approach, the whole story is not shown. Does your site have a main nav bar on the top or side of your page that slides down or out? How about a rotating banner in the centerpiece of the homepage? How about content and offers that occupy the same space on the page depending on what the user clicks or mouses over? If so, you’ll note that the heatmap will show that those menus and areas are red hot.  But which slot in the rotating banner was actually clicked?

Take the menus at the top of this very page, for example (and in the following screenshots). Clicking on the right hand side of the Financial Services menu option (in red) will register the same as a click on the left hand side of Brad Rencher option (in blue). If this area were were seen as the most clicked, what should get credit? Granted, this is a simple example, but it demonstrates how using X/Y coordinates (even if perfectly accurate) will often not tell users where or what the site visitor clicked.

To be fair, these tools can be valuable for pages that are live for a few days or on pages that are pretty static. However, even then they should be used as a smaller part of a bigger analysis and testing program. The issue with click measurement tools is that because they are very visual, they often replace real analysis, similar to how actual meals are often replaced with soft drinks or coffee. These tools may offer instant and appealing data, but just like bad meal replacements don’t offer full nutrition, click measurement tools don’t ultimately offer solid and actionable data.

Stay tuned for the next post where we’ll cover the last two points, as well as talk about a quick implementation tip to provide actionable data you can use. For now, I recommend enjoying a healthy snack and avoiding all that unnecessary candy.

Click here to read Part 2 of this series.