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.