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When we write a study or report at VB Insight, we always strive to be forward-thinking and predictive. It forces us to ask, and answer, important questions.

What is happening next? How will it affect us? Who will win?

In my recent 17,000-word study of conversion rate optimization (CRO) tools, I made a predictive statement.

Whether via acquisition, adding features, or via a completely new tool, the next big CRO vendor will be one that offers A/B(n) split testing, multivariate testing, heatmapping, scrollmapping, web analytics, funnel analysis, mobile analytics, user testing, expert feedback, and concept testing — across all content delivery types/channels (website, mobile, email etc.) — within a package as easy to use as Crazy Egg, and priced to compete with Optimizely.

Today, after seven months of beta testing, taking in 18,000 users, 22,800 websites, 43,000 heatmaps, and 424,000 survey responses, one solution comes out of stealth mode to stake its claim on the future of CRO.


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Its name? Hotjar.


Above: Funnel analysis in Hotjar

Image Credit: Hotjar

Hotjar is a new CRO tool that reveals the online behavior and voice of your website users, and its founder sees the product not just as a CRO tool, but as a way to change the very industry it is part of.

“So far, the process of making data-driven changes to sites has been presented to designers and marketers as a complex and expensive process,” David Darmanin, CEO and founder at Hotjar, told me. “It really doesn’t need to be. We want to democratize this process by making it affordable — and, yes — fun!”

With a background in design (on top of his doctorate in law), Darmanin found himself running hundreds of website tests while working for a software house, trying to find the best combination of content and feel. At that time, the more expensive CRO tools were beyond justification, so he had to — as many do — build a stack of solutions and home-grown methodologies.

In 2012, he took this experience with him and joined Conversion Rate Experts, an International CRO agency, where he could help affect the fortunes of the Fortune 500 and had access to the tools that were previously out of his reach. While the tools provided him with the insights needed, he found them difficult to use, needlessly expensive, and fragmented.

With a personal vision to democratize the CRO toolset, Darmanin founded Hotjar, starting a beta phase in August 2014.

Hotjar gained a good deal of interest during its beta phase. The demand was partly due to a “waiting list” landing page — people love to feel as if they’re part of an exclusive club — but Darmanin believes there was another reason.

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“I think it was mainly down to the fact that Hotjar solves a frustrating problem for a lot of people,” Darmanin said. “The waiting process in itself generated a lot of demand, but the biggest growth came from our users spreading the word.”

Here’s how it works.

Hotjar includes two distinct sections: analysis and feedback. The analysis tools allow you to measure and observe user behavior. It is here that you find out what users do. The feedback tools allow you to hear what your users say.

The analysis tools include heatmaps, scrollmaps, full visitor session playback, funnel analysis, and form abandonment information. These tools shows how users interact across multiple devices, making them perfect for those with responsive, mobile-friendly sites.


Above: An example heatmap report

Image Credit: Hotjar


The feedback tools include popup polls — such as the type you may have seen slide up in the bottom-right corner of a website — full surveys, and the ability to recruit users as testers. User testing allows you to determine what your visitors are seeing and how they feel about your website, along with the additional marketing benefit that you’ll form a strong bond with a small group of potential customers.

Technically speaking, the analysis tools use a different methodology than most of the CRO solutions available today. Most solutions collect data from all visitors of a site and then charge based on the number of total visits to the website or the pages being monitored. This approach to collecting and storing data can make it expensive to reveal specific opportunities and insights.

“Rather than expensively collecting data from all pages and visitors, it uses snapshot reports and sampling to make it very fast and affordable to capture data,” Darmanin said.

A proprietary sampling engine distributes these snapshots evenly over the course of a day. Users can generate an unlimited amount of reports from this data, and on an unlimited number of pages.


Above: A Hotjar form abandonment report

Image Credit: Hotjar


Theoretically, this makes Hotjar quicker than many of its peers, able to produce reports for those organizations that are agile by nature. Users that make rapid and repeated changes to websites will benefit the most.

That, however, is also its biggest adoption challenge.

“This new way of doing things requires a shift to a lean and agile mindset — something that not all organizations and teams are ready for,” Darmanin said.

Regardless of methodology, agile capabilities, and the sheer number of CRO tools included in Hotjar, it is the business model and price that ensures it will stand out from the crowd.

“Rather than prioritizing revenue we want to start a revolution! We believe in a future where anyone can build a site around their users by using analytics and feedback,” Darmanin said.

Hotjar launches today with a free-to-use option that limits the number of items a user can track, and a Pro edition that delivers unlimited insights for a mere $29 per month.

But is it the complete CRO tool I predicted will win the day? Not quite.

Hotjar delivers on almost every significant aspect of CRO apart from the ability to manage A/B split tests and multivariate tests. Does it have plans to include these CRO techniques?

“We don’t have plans to introduce A/B testing,” Darmanin said. “Hotjar’s focus is on identifying opportunities and generating insights that will drive change. At the same time, we will tightly integrate and partner with the biggest testing platforms to make the process of collecting insights from tests as seamless as possible.”

Users will, therefore, still need to work with a stack of CRO solutions in order to achieve all their testing goals, but one thing is for sure — Hotjar is one of the most complete conversion rate optimization solutions I’ve seen, and it is only just getting started.

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