Website Heat Maps Usability Guide to Going Global

Global usability testing is a vital business process for any website looking to market to an international community of internet users. If the web design and content of a website are not sensitive to the lingual and cultural subtleties of a global audience, its mass appeal and ability to sell internationally becomes limited. After a recent  usability study concluded the strong correlation between cultural trends and web design, we decided to use our own ClickTale website heat maps from our In-Page Analytics Suite to substantiate the results of the study.

The Results

The usability study deduced that high-context cultures, such as Japan, China and Korea, where communication is indirect and abundant in gestures, boasted homepages containing more graphic elements and indirect messages. In contrast, low-context cultures such as Germany, Norway and the US, where communication is more direct, featured more static homepages displaying direct messages.

Interestingly enough, using the same user groups as stipulated by the study, with website heat maps ClickTale identified the identical online behavioral patterns within our own webpages.

Both the study and ClickTale’s experiment confirm how global usability testing enables online businesses to optimize their site according to the browsing behavior of international user groups.

The Experiment

We used ClickTale Segmented Heatmaps of our webpages to compare the online behavior of the two user groups as defined by the study.

We first generated a Segmented Heatmap of our Product Tour Page, segmenting by first time visitors from the US, Germany, and Norway, ie, low-context cultures.

High-Context Vs. Low-context

high context vs low context Website Heat Maps Usability Guide to Going Global

High-context cultures, China, Japan, and Korea vs. Low-context cultures US, Germany, and Norway

We then compared this Heatmap to one segmenting by first time visitors from China, Japan and Korea to the same ClickTale Product Tour page, i.e. high-context cultures.

After comparing these two website heat maps we see the following:

  1. Visitors from the US, Germany and Norway had minimal interaction with the majority of the usability elements on the page. Visitors mainly focused their attention on the text and the navigation bar at the top of the page, i.e. direct communication.
  2. Visitors from China, Japan and Korea spread their focus throughout the product tour page, heavily engaging with the images and call to action buttons, i.e. indirect communication.

As the product tour page included many call to actions and images, we decided to look at our text heavy Terms of Use page, where there are no graphic elements. We wanted to determine whether high-context cultures would still actively engage with the webpage as done on the Product Tour page if no other visuals were provided.

High-Context Vs. Low-context

high context vs low context2 Website Heat Maps Usability Guide to Going Global

High-context cultures, China, Japan and Korea do not interact with the text on webpage vs. Low-context cultures, US, Germany and Norway where there is heavy interaction with written text.

The study still held true! The website heat maps showed that visitors from China, Japan and Korea only scrolled through the page with minimal interaction, if at all and do not even look at half the page. Visitors from the US, Germany, and Norway are now the group reading and actively moving their mouse over half the written text on the page.


Our website heat maps experiment above is just one example of how global usability testing lets you identify who and where your website is reaching, as well as how and why it is being used. In general, if you are looking to aim your website to non-native English speakers, some key usability elements on your webpages that you should keep an eye on include:

  • Text: While English is a universal language, its expressions and symbols are often not understood amongst non-native English speakers. If you maintain an English site meant to reach and appeal to non-native English speaking visitors, keep the English simple and the text short. Avoid slang, clichés and local expressions that might lose your international customers.
  • Navigational Tools: If your visitors do not have a strong command of the English language, they are going to depend on navigational elements within your webpages to help them find their way through your site. Therefore, make sure that your navigation tool bar is clear and well organized to allow for easy navigation. Additionally, you may want to include images or banners with links to product pages or key steps in your conversion process.
  • okay sign Website Heat Maps Usability Guide to Going Global

  • Symbols/Call to Action Buttons: Images and call to action buttons that prove powerful and effective in one country may go against mass cultural values in another. For example, the okay symbol, commonly used in English speaking countries, has an offensive undertone in some cultures. Therefore, avoid symbols and emphasize clear wording.


It is important to conduct regular global usability testing on your website, as you may be uncovering an untapped source of conversions. Once you determine which usability elements work well for which user groups, you can better design your webpages according to the needs and tendencies of your international customers.