As the name suggests somewhat forcefully, a recording begins when a visitor arrives at your site and starts their session and ends when they leave.
But, somewhat confusingly, there’s no standardized term for web visitor recording tools. They have more names than a mumble rapper and you’ll find called any of the following:
Customer experience analytics, digital experience analytics, in-page web analytics, mouse recordings, session playbacks, session replays, user experience replays, user recordings, user replays, user session replays, visitor behavior analytics, visitor recordings, visitor replays, visitor session replays, visual analytics, and visual session recording. And, relax!
In this article, let’s hang our Stetson on session recordings as the expression for your new keyboarding obsession - it’s the most descriptive term available.
But, regardless of what you call them, session recordings are a potent tool that enable marketers, UX designers, and product developers to see their website through the eyes of its visitors.
Session Recordings enable you to follow the movement of a visitor’s cursor, see how far down a page they scroll, and where they navigate to.
Some tools will even record keyboard entries, though any website analytics platform worth its salt - and we’re worth a Himalayan halite mine of the stuff - will disregard such sensitive, personally identifiable information.
History of Session Recordings
User experience has been the touchstone for website performance ever since the internet developed into the essential business channel it is today.
But back in the day, companies were only able to assess this through usability studies, which involved inviting Guinea pigs into the office, physically observing them on the digital hamster wheel, and getting feedback from them in person.
This seems clunky by today’s standards; useability studies were time-consuming and expensive, with UX expert Steve Krug estimating that they cost up to $10,000 a pop.
What’s more, participants often had trouble describing their experiences - what difficulties they faced, what they liked, and what changes they’d prefer. This made it hard for businesses to draw tangible insights from the process.
Some companies still swear by usability studies, but the invention of session recording software in the mid ‘00s gave them a more effective way to gauge the experience of their website visitors.
As a result, they’re now hugely popular and form a $246 million market that is expected to grow by more than 400% over the next seven years (Status and Outlook).
It hasn’t all been plain sailing; session recordings were embroiled in controversy back in 2017, when research from Princeton University revealed the potential of this tool to expose the medical conditions and other sensitive information of website visitors.
People were understandably shocked - who wants Walgreens employees, for instance, to know everything about their health, prescriptions, or addictions?
However, technology has progressed.
Many session recording software companies have since worked to develop this tool in a way that respects internet user privacy, as well as GDPR and other modern data privacy laws.
Today, there are a wealth of visitor recording tools - like Visitor Analytics - that marketers can use without worrying about collecting, and misusing, the personal data of their website visitors.