Good usability is a key success factor for websites, not to mention that only continuous web analysis can provide the important clues needed to improve the browsing experience. However, if website owners want to proceed in being more user-centric, they must delve deeper into the user experience analysis.

Previously, this was tantamount to a walk to an expensive usability lab, but by now there are powerful mouse tracking solutions on the market that can provide professional user experience research even with a small budget. Besides, proper user experience analysis is extremely helpful in the optimization of web forms as well.

Today, web analytics are indispensable to examine the usability of an online presence and for continuous improvement of a website. Through web analytics, an operator knows basically the points at which his website needs improvement - whether it's a step in the order process, where many visitors cancel the process, or a landing page that has a high bounce rate.

What the website owners, however, can’t find out with traditional web analytics are actually the reasons for these problems. Rather they have to make hypotheses, change their website accordingly and then investigate whether in fact there has been some improvement, such as reducing the dropout rate. It means these operators achieve their goal through trial-and-error procedure, though taking a lot of time and money.

If a website owner wants to proceed more targeted and user-centric, he must in fact analyze the user experience of his visitors. In this case, so far there has been only the ‘usability lab’ option for companies, where the subjects receive a task, such as purchasing a product on the customer website, and their course of action is captured by using different methods.

In principle, usability labs are a very good way to analyze the usability of individual web pages. However, there are some drawbacks, such as the artificial laboratory situation, meaning that there aren’t natural users in their familiar surroundings. In addition, we are talking about a restricted scenario with small groups of subjects, not to mention that usability labs are usually reserved for large enterprises due to the high costs and the time needed.

Today, however, there are innovative methods on the market, so-called mouse tracking software, which facilitates smaller operators with a professional website usability optimization for their presence.

Mouse tracking, also known as cursor tracking, aims to gather richer information about what people are doing, typically to improve the design of an interface.

Web developers can track user's mouse movements simply by entering lines of code on a page. It does not require any additional software to be installed on the user's computer, they only have to have JavaScript enabled to collect data from the webpage. Mouse tracking using JavaScript has been deployed on high-traffic websites such as search engines to collect mouse movement data without affecting the user's computer performance. With such software, website owners can record the behavior of their visitors in detail on each and every page without any additional installations or plugins. The mouse tracking data provided by plug-ins is by the way not much different from that obtained through JavaScript, with the only difference that it requires the user to have specific software installed.

Current mouse tracking tools provide a variety of data, including the location of the mouse in terms of pixels, time stamps, any time the mouse hovers on a link of interest, mouse clicks, time spent in areas of interest, and duration of hovers. Additionally, some tracking tools provide more high level analyses, such as heat maps and playbacks which can retrace the mouse's trajectory.

By using mouse movements in usability testing, researchers can determine if users are confused, if their expectations are met, where their attention is focused in addition to much more useful information.

In general, mouse movements and scrolling behavior, all clicks, keystrokes and changes in the size of the browser window are recorded. Therefore it is possible to store dynamically generated page content that can be reproduced in a user-defined manner, together with all the details of utilization.

Thanks to mouse tracking, a website owner can look over the shoulder of his visitors like holding a video camera - just as it would be the case in the usability lab, only on a technical level. That way, he can track with cinematic accuracy how visitors interact with his website and find out what content are really perceived or actually read.

Other than in the usability lab, the details regarding the use of each and every website visitor can be recorded with mouse tracking systems. Moreover, such a solution automatically aggregates at the same time the individual sessions to meaningful overlay maps and places them graphically on the webpage, vividly visualizing the various aspects of user behavior, such as visibility, attention, and perception. Website owners can recognize that way which areas of the website the visitors really sees, in which page elements they are most interested in, and how long they deal with specific content.

In addition, website owners win clarity on how visitors interact with their registration, order-, or contact forms, thanks to detailed form analysis down to the individual field level. It is possible to see how many visitors fill out a form, how many submit it, in which specific field there are dropouts and how long the visitors have dealt with the individual form fields. Thus, website owners come to know at a glance, which form fields should be optimized to increase the conversion rate.

When selecting an appropriate solution, they should however ensure that they preferably set no technical requirements such as plugins and that data privacy protection is 100% compliant as well.

In addition, the solution should integrate seamlessly with the web analysis system, since only a trouble-free data linkage opens up further potential for optimization. Through the combined use, site owners benefit of all new relevant performance figures. If they could previously capture only the time spent on each page with their web analytics system, as an example they now learn through the additional use of a mouse tracking tool, which areas of a site are visited as often and for how long. They can find out how many people have ever scrolled to the end of a page and how much time they have spent in these areas. By linking the data, website owners are also able to even examine the visits of the users that show certain types of behavior.

If in addition an integrated online survey solution is in use, that can collect socio-and psycho-demographic characteristics of visitors, usage behavior can even be analyzed more target group specific. This means, for example, considering only the interactions of the visitors that are between 35 and 49 years old and female, which came via a specific landing page and added a product to the shopping cart, but didn’t purchase it. By using this criteria-based analysis, a targeted usability optimization of the website is easier to achieve.

Fact is that mouse tracking solutions should be valued as much as usability labs with respect to accuracy, but they are less complex, much cheaper and pay off faster for small and midsize businesses. Thus, user-centric and focused usability research has become an affordable opportunity for everyone.

By Daniela La Marca