See what your audience sees, through Heatmap & HotSpot testing

As researchers, we sometimes struggle with diving deep into your audience’s perceptions of any imagery or visual creative. Even when you get those insights, the steps to getting there are timely, and the ability to break down the ‘sums’ or ‘parts’ of an entire image can be challenging, and many require asking your audience additional questions.

Fortunately, Heat Map and HotSpot testing are two great exercises that offer you a high-level understanding through graphical representation of what gets your audience’s attention. It also helps you to understand what they like, what they dislike, and even perhaps what your audience ignores or doesn’t care for in your creatives. Both exercises offer quick ways for respondents to provide feedback on images, creative visuals, or other media content. They can be particularly useful with visual storytelling when language or wording itself is a barrier between you and your audience.

Gather research insights

What is the heatmap analysis question?

A heatmap is a visual storytelling exercise in which survey respondents can drag-and-drop, or click, certain areas of an image or visual creative to reflect what they liked (or at least what got their attention), and what they disliked. Think of this as a graphical representation of data. Respondents’ values are contained within a matrix, and the data is represented in a warm to cool color spectrum. When doing the analysis, you have an instant feel for your audience’s behaviors or values by visually understanding what got their attention in an image. The richer the color of specific areas are, the more your audience likes, or dislikes, that particular part of the creative image (depending on the question you are explicitly asking).

Heat map exercises are conducted in four different ways:

  • Attention Maps – This is the most common type of heat map exercise and typically involves dragging and dropping. It reveals which part of an image or a page gets the most attention to respondents, and can include what they like or dislike about an idea or a page.
  • Scroll Maps – This exercise involves dragging and dropping (or highlighting) and focuses on which parts of a page or image visitors view the most. You can also determine how much area on a web page is visible to respondents without scrolling or how much members will scroll on a page before leaving the page itself.
  • Click Maps – This exercise involves clicking rather than dragging and dropping and reflects what the areas that get the most clicks (usually when analyzing a web page) are.
  • Hover Maps – This is similar to click maps, but instead focusing on where respondents would most likely click on a page reflects areas on an image or page that respondents are most likely to hover their cursors over.

Heat map questions are best when running the following types of research:

  • Gathering feedback on web design – What does your audience find to be the most attractive or least attractive about your website or webpage? Where is your audience most likely to navigate or click or view/read on specific webpages?
  • Concept testing for different product designs – For researchers who want to test out new products but can’t decide on which to go with, your audience will be able to point to you what they find attractive (or unattractive) when looking at all of the potential product options.
  • To further break down the ‘why’ for respondents selecting an image option – If you’ve already asked your audience or have already run a different exercise evaluating between other imagery, heat map analysis can further unfold the “why” by understanding what the most popular areas of a specific image are.

What is HotSpot image testing?

A very similar exercise to heat maps and hot spot questions involves showing an image to your respondents. They would decide if they like or dislike areas in the picture already predefined. By asking your audience about their options towards these predefined areas, you are getting direct feedback on areas that you mostly wanted to evaluate. Within each predefined box, respondents have the opportunity to like (by clicking a ‘thumbs up’ icon), to dislike (by clicking a ‘thumbs down’ icon), or to ignore entirely.

Hot spot image testing is useful when trying to evaluate the following:

  • Concept testing for different product designs – By comparing the number of “likes” and “dislikes” of a specific image, researchers can then know right then what the most attractive or popular design is within or across different concepts.
  • Usability testing – If you’re showing other variants of website designs in a usability testing exercise, your audience can indicate whether they like some aspects of a page/design.
  • Feedback/follow-up survey questions – If the respondents ignore sections of a survey or exercise, you can follow up on creative design and ask for their explicit feedback.

How to set up heatmap and hotspot

For both Heat Map and Hot Spot exercises, the steps for initial set up are very similar:

  1. Make sure that the survey taken by the target audience you need to complete these types of activities and give you the insights that you need.
  2. Add the question type to the survey.
  3. Upload the image of your choice for the exercise.
  4. Make sure to provide instructions for your members to avoid any confusion or skewed data.
  5. Finally, enable the settings of your choice (*the more detailed and specific you have these exercises set up, the better the insights you will discover from the results).

Settings for Heatmaps Exercises

  • Type of analysis done – Do you want to evaluate your data by clicks or by what respondents drag and drop?
  • Maximum number of areas respondents can select.
  • Background and border color of the “hot” (or “selected”) areas.
  • Validation that you want to have set up – request or force response.

Settings for HotSpot Exercises

  • Labeling that reflects the color-codes (do you prefer to use wording different from “like” and “dislike”).
  • Color-coding for each option (to best reflect the brand or product, or whatever is most feasible to digest when analyzing).
  • The predefined areas that you wish to focus on.
  • If you want to include textboxes or not, understand what your audience thinks of these images through open-ends.

Gather research insights


By using Heat Map and Hot Spot exercises for your surveys, you’ll be able to save time and resources by gathering feedback early in the evaluation process, which would include what your audience likes/dislikes, and were specifically on a design or a product that they want the most. For your respondents, they have the opportunity to break from all of the text and button-selecting that comes with completing surveys and exercise a more hands-on and enjoyable exercise, providing insights that are both genuine and exact.