Survey fatigue is a real problem. The days of the 15-plus minute survey have come to an end or are nearing their end rather quickly. In general, people always feel pressed for time and that burns true at both ends of the survey candle, from respondents not having the time to take long 15-plus minute surveys, to top management not having the time to review findings from all of the questions covered in a 15-plus minute survey.

So inevitably, the question becomes: “How can we get more with less?”

The question is an interesting one because it works on two facets:

  • (1) In addition to respondents not willing to stay long to answer survey questions, if a respondent “drops out” of a survey that means they actually had to “drop in” to take the survey in the first place. In reality, getting a person to participate in a survey is a larger barrier than keeping them in the survey. A firm that can create a reputation for making surveys fun and interactive will not only get respondents to remain engaged in the survey longer, but also get more respondents into the top of the funnel to participate. Therefore, you get more return and more survey completes with less sampling effort.
  • (2) Making surveys interactive by using heat maps and images keeps the respondent engaged and attentive. What is going to provide a company with more genuine data? A) Showing a respondent a picture of a new concept vehicle’s interior dashboard and asking them to pick the first three things they see that are most important to them or B) Using a written grid series using 1 to 10 scales of importance asking the respondent to rate 12 features of a  new concept vehicle’s dashboard? Images help recreate a consumer experience in market research and make the data more authentic. You get more quality data, all while having the respondent spend less time doing so.

With that being said, what exactly is a heat map and how can you use visuals in online surveys for better insights?

A heat map is a graphical representation of data where information is displayed in tiered zones or matrices using different colors to illuminate variances. The differences in colors show variances in frequency in looking at/scanning specific pieces of an image. Heat maps and image selection tasks can be applied to many online survey projects, but some of the most relevant applications are for visual stimuli testing (print advertisements, store displays, etc.), website usability testing (where do people look on my homepage?) and new product concept testing. It also works great for point-of-purchase goods where shelf placement, branding and packaging all impact a buyer’s decision to consider a product.

Here is a theoretical example of a print advertisement displayed through a theoretical online survey screen. A simple question can ask the respondent to click on the first item that catches their eye, second item, third item, etc. The colors show frequency of clicks (dark red represents a higher number of clicks, yellow represents a lower number of clicks, followed by green, and lastly white). Additional follow-up questions can be asked to probe as to why that item caught their eye, what they liked and what they disliked about each zone clicked. Heat maps illuminate what your customers and potential customers are looking at first and their impressions of it. In this instance, this technique helps the business optimize and re-focus the print ad so it stands the best chance of being noticed by customers to generate leads.

online survey heatmap

Example of RMS Heat Mapping

Below is a theoretical example of a heat map for a website’s homepage. Heat mapping techniques work great for website usability testing so a business can understand where visitors are focusing their attention on web pages. The online survey would include a question on the prior screen, which states: “The next page of this survey will show you a screen shot of a market research firm’s homepage. When you click “next” please use your mouse to hover over the point on the webpage that first catches your attention and click there for some follow-up questions.” The data collected from these efforts would be represented through colored zones, similar to what we viewed in the print advertisement above. The top three clicked areas on the market research firm’s website homepage were: 40% clicked on the ‘superior marketing’ slogan on the top left, 18% clicked on the ‘what do we do?’ paragraph, and 11% clicked on the homepage buttons – ‘about’, ‘services’, ‘industries’, etc.

website heat map

If you are interested in using our heat map technology and reporting for your website usability testing, concept testing or ad testing, RMS can assist your business with its needs. Contact our Business Development Director Sandy Baker at or by calling (315) 635-9802.