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Heatmap: A Glance At Its History, Adoption, and Evolution (With Industry Examples)

9 Min Read

What is a Heatmap?

Heatmap is a method of graphically representing numerical data where individual data points contained in the matrix are represented using different colors. 

The colors in the heatmap can denote the frequency of an event, the performance of various metrics in the data set, and so on. Different color schemes are selected by varying businesses to present the data they want to be plotted on a heatmap. Some like eCommerce marketers use the hot-to-cold color scheme whilst others like stock market analysts use the cold-to-hot color scheme.

The benefit that every heatmap user enjoys, irrespective of the industry, study field, and purpose, is the simplification of complex numerical data through visualization that can be gauged at a glance.

The History and Evolution of Heatmap

Heatmaps have been around since the 1800s and have since evolved into what they are today. Having originated in the 2D display of data value in a matrix, where dark grey or black blocks represented larger values and lighter shades represented smaller values, heatmaps have now taken a very unique form. The first known usage of heatmaps is credited to Loua in 1873 for presenting various social statistics in Paris using colors:

Heatmap Original
Image Source: [1]

Loua’s heatmap used dark grey and black to denote higher value metrics and light colors like white and light grey to denote lower value metrics. Other instances of heatmap usage have been earmarked by authors like Brinton, who used heatmaps to present educational data in 1914. Gower & Digby (1981), and Chen (2002) developed a new type of heatmap that represented both the recorded data and the diagonal similarity between matrices by attaching dendrograms[1]. The most recent development in the evolution of heatmaps has been the incorporation of hover and click data into the toolbox. 

Today, heatmaps have become so versatile that they have become the go-to tool for data visualization and analysis not only for statisticians but marketers, business owners, biologists, geographers, and the like.

There are so many examples across industries, where heatmaps have taken multiple forms and have so many varied purposes based on their usage. 

Heatmap Used in Different Industries

Due to their versatility, heatmaps have a wide range of application possibilities. And because it simplifies data analysis by graphically representing it, marketers and UX designers from across industries have started using it more and more as opposed to using graphs, pie charts, excel sheets, and so on. 

Lets us look at some examples to understand how it is being used by different players in the market and for solving what pain point:

1. Website heatmap

Website heatmap represents the hottest (most popular) and coldest (least popular) sections of your web pages using a hot-to-cold color scheme with the warm-toned colors depicting the most popular sections and cool-toned colors depicting the unpopular ones. Website heatmaps are of utmost importance to organizations that have a strong online presence and use the internet as their main revenue channel like eCommerce stores, travel and hospitality websites, OTT media services, B2B SaaS companies, and so on.

Using website heatmaps, businesses can track user behavior and discover actionable insights that help them measure their website’s performance, simplify numerical data, read their visitors’ minds, identify friction areas by identifying dead clicks, redundant links and so on, and ultimately make changes that positively impact their website’s conversion rates.

OTT Media Services Using Website Heatmap

Businesses with an online presence are no strangers to heatmaps as a data collection and visualization tool. And when we talk about over-the-top media service providers, there is no one better than Netflix who takes customer feedback and engagement the most seriously.

It is because the folks at Netflix took it upon themselves to identify their target audience’s streaming interests, the kind of shows and movies they watched, the various genres they identify with, and so on, and then used the gathered data to deliver personalized experiences to each viewer.

Given below are two of the earliest website heatmaps that were plotted by Netflix during a UX research conducted to optimize their TV experience:

a screenshot of the heatmap for Netflix's listing page
Image Source: [2]
a screenshot of the heatmap for the detailed view of a content series on Netflix

2. Geographical heatmaps

A geographical heatmap or geo heatmap represents areas of high and low density of a certain parameter (for instance, population density, network density, etc.) by displaying data points on a real map in a visually interactive manner. Industries like real estate, travel, food, and so on can greatly benefit from the usage of geographical heatmaps.

Geo Heatmap
Image Source: [3]

For example, travel websites can make use of geo heatmaps to represent the most happening and busy spots in the selected destination to help travelers make an informed itinerary depending on the kind of vacation they are planning. 

Travel & Hospitality Industry Using Geo Heatmap

Destination Falkenberg, a company owned by the municipality of Falkenberg, decided to use data that is already available in the country’s tourism departments and branches so they could make the most out of what they already had in hand. The team collected information on the guests’ postal addresses to be able to identify where the most number of tourists came from.

They gathered data of over 50,000 individual bookings that were made, segmented the data based on the type of accommodation booked, and then projected that data onto a heatmap. This is what the heatmap looked like:

Destination Falkenberg
Image Source: [4]

Using heatmaps to visualize and analyze data helped Destination Falkenberg simplify strategic decision making, and enabled them to run targeted marketing campaigns for specific geographic segments.

QSR Industry Using Geo Heatmap

Food entrepreneurs, on the other hand, can create a geo heatmap to identify markets where there is the least amount of competition or to identify markets which have not already been swamped by rival food joint and chains.

Qsr Geo Heatmaps
Image Source: [5]

Geo heatmaps are especially useful for businesses that have more brick and mortar stores than an online presence. They can represent areas of high and low density in terms of population, sectors, high and low selling areas, and more.

This is why businesses from various industries like food, travel, education, etc employ geo heatmaps to visually present their data. Carl’s Jr, a multinational fast-food chain, used geo heatmaps to present their restaurant locations in the United States in volume:

Carls Jr Heatmap
Image Source: [6]

The red spots indicate a high volume of Carl’s Jr restaurants in closer proximity, whereas, the green spots indicate regions with fewer Carl’s Jr restaurants. Having such data presented to marketers enables them to make comparisons without revisiting their data repository again and again, and speeds up analysis and decision making.

3. Stock index heatmap

A stock index heatmap helps identify prevailing trends in the market at a glance. It uses a cold-to-hot color scheme to indicate which stock options are bullish and which ones are bearish. The former is represented using the color green, whilst the latter is highlighted in red.

Stock Index Heatmap
Image Source: [7]

Financial Services Industry Using Heatmap

In the realm of finance, the market value of assets, products, etc., keeps on fluctuating. Manually logging each change into a sheet or a document, drawing inferences and patterns, revisiting numerical data, and so on can take numerous hours. Heatmaps remove multiple steps from the process through the graphical representation of data, whereby, they visualize complex data points in an easy to consume and easy to compare manner. 

Stocktwits[1] offers a free heatmap of trends in eight key sectors namely basic materials, utilities, industrial goods, health care, technology, financials, consumer goods, and services. The heatmap looks like this:

Stocktwit
Image Source: [8]

You can set filters based on the duration for which you want to see the heatmap, industry, and so on.

4. Heatmap in Sports

Sports heatmap is actually a very fascinating use case for heatmaps. By plotting heatmaps of players’ on-field performance, coaches and managers can identify their game pattern, performance areas that need improvement, study their rival’s possible game plan as well as strategy, and make data-backed decisions that not only benefit the players but the entire team and ultimately their business and turnovers.

Let’s look at the heatmap below:

an example of using heatmap in football
Image Source: [9]

This heatmap is depicting the on-field movement pattern of a player in terms of where he spent the most amount of time. Such data visualization can help teams build game-changing strategies that are data-backed and full proof.

Another heatmap example in sports is the comparison of performance of teams by creating heatmaps of them playing home games as well as playing games away. Given below are heatmaps of one single football team playing matches at home and away:

an example of a heatmap comparing the number of matches played by a football team at home and away
Image Source: [10]

By accessing such data, it can be ascertained which condition at home enhances the team’s performance on home turf, identify factors that negatively impact the team’s performance on the opponent’s turf, and so on, and then use these insights to plan and strategize for better results.

Conclusion

Statisticians and analysts employ a plethora of tools and methods to sort the collected data and present them in a more user-friendly manner. To this end, heatmaps help professionals from every industry. To sum up, the reason why heatmaps have gained the impetus they have in the past few decades as a statistical and analytical tool is that:

  • It is visual and intriguing method of data representation
  • It is readily and easily consumable as it simplifies numeric data and depicts them using a color scale
  • One can easily compare various data points plotted on different heatmaps 
  • It is versatile and adaptable as it can record and present both absolute and derived values
  • It removes multiple steps from the traditional data analysis and interpretation process by laying down all the values in one single heatmap

Enumerated above are only some of the examples of where heatmaps have helped businesses across industries visualize data better and make data-backed decisions faster. The possibilities are endless. Try one yourself and see how using heatmaps can help you optimize your business strategies further.

FAQs on Heat Map Examples

What are the various industries where heatmaps are used?

Practically any online business can use heatmaps. Industries such as finance, QSR, software, OTT media and travel & hospitality are just a few that rely on heatmaps for data visualization.

What are the different examples of heatmaps in these industries?

Here a few different type of heatmap examples: Geo heatmaps, website heatmaps, stock heatmaps and field heatmaps (used in sports). Get to know more about these examples in this post.

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Shanaz Khan from VWO

Hi, I am Shanaz from the VWO Research Desk.

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