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Session Replay and Session Recording in 2020: The Ultimate Guide, and Latest Functionality for Enterprise

Welcome to your go-to guide to session replay: discover 2021’s latest functionality, how best to wield it, and learn what the future holds.

Session Replay and Session Recording 101

To start, let’s get into the must-know basics of session replay, also known as session recording (from here, we’ll just refer to it as session replay). Consider this your 101-level course covering the nuts and bolts of session replay. 

What is session replay?

In a nutshell, session replay refers to technology that enables digital teams to watch back videos of real, anonymized users interacting with their websites or apps.


With an ‘over the shoulder’ view, teams get a first-hand look at the real problems causing user frustration and derailing user journeys. And, according to an Econsultancy survey, 95% of practitioners find session replay effective to highly effective for measuring online experiences. 

Given that data-driven organizations are 23 times more likely to acquire customers, 6 times as likely to retain customers, and 19 times as likely to be profitable as a result, every insight you have matters whether it’s quantitative user data from analytics platforms or qualitative user data from session replay. 

Why use session replay?

As WiderFunnel’s Michael St Laurent says, “session replays provide incredibly in-depth insights. In fact, they often offer the easiest, most cost-efficient way to get into the minds of your customers.” 

You’ll notice this rings true when you no longer spend countless hours guessing the problems behind your web analytics data, or when trying out endless rounds of user experience testing just to hit dead ends and start over again. 

With session replay, you can investigate user experiences and discover the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ that web analytics provide to your team.  

When watching back user sessions, you’ll discover digital body language cues like multi-click behavior which signals clear user frustration, or mouse reading behavior which indicates positive levels of user engagement. This simplifies how you understand and measure user experience quality. 

In the end, ConversionXL-certified Dustin Drees sums up the digital tool well: “session replays are unique for providing a window into the raw user experience. Site visitors are not being influenced by tasks that you have provided them or changing their behavior. They’re doing exactly what they’d usually do. The result? Session replays take out the bias from website evaluation, removing how you believe a website visitor will behave from the equation.” 

Who uses session replay?

This answer will depend on your own team and organization. Simply put, whoever’s responsible for finding user experience issues within your website or app will want and need access to session replay the most. 
However, limiting access of this tool to a single person or team may be shortsighted. In fact, 80% of companies say their digital transformation efforts involve multiple business units or the entire company. 

who uses session replay

Digital marketers, web analysts, customer success managers, digital optimizers, UX designers, and ecommerce specialists, all stand to gain insights from session replay that could enhance how each team delivers on customer experience goals. 

Marketers could learn how to better optimize website content, meanwhile UX designers and optimizers may rollout interfaces that improve navigation, and ecommerce teams could fine-tune the all-important checkout process.  

With team-wide session replay access, each role becomes highly focused on improving the end-user experience, which in-turns makes your customer experience strategy truly customer-centric. 

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6 Strengths of Session Replay

Like all analytics systems and digital tools, session replay carries a specific set of strengths and weaknesses every end-user should know about. Learning the subtleties behind session replay will only allow you to gather more actionable insights, while avoiding potential user errors or functionality issues along the way.

Below we narrowed down the six core strengths of session replay you and your team will benefit from the most.

Creates a first-hand view of the user journey

Imagine seeing and experiencing everything your users do as they navigate through your website or app. Well, you don’t have to imagine because session replay will show you! 

From start to finish, you get to see every click, scroll, mouse movement, and page view, which makes getting into the mind of your user close to effortless. You can now dig into why metrics like your conversion rate or abandon rate are underperforming and empathize with users running into problems that cause frustration.  

With a first-hand view from session replay, you can become truly customer-centric in an era where  81% of companies view CX as a competitive differentiator. 

Enables in-depth investigations of specific user experience issues

Session replays are not for watching back every user session at random, but for really digging deep into know user experience issues so you can resolve them.  

Whether you’re seeing rising abandonment at checkout or high bounce rates on the homepage, session replay allows you to get granular and dive into those specific user experiences. You can watch back replays of every user who’s interacted with those pages and analyze those sessions for definitive clues explaining why your metrics are taking a hit. 

After in-depth investigation you may pinpoint a broken form as the issue behind cart abandonment, and a messy interface causing high homepage bounce rates. 

Reveals the ‘what’ and ‘why’ behind user behaviors 

Actions speak louder than words. This rings especially true when using session replay to investigate user experiences. 

Watching session replays provides you the ability to observe how users behave and interact with your website. From frustration behaviors like multi-clickbird’s nest, and zooming to engagement behaviors like mouse readingselect & copy, and scrolling, you can look for these as signs to understand the quality of your website or app’s UX. 

Let’s say you’re watching back user sessions to finally find out why you’re seeing fewer conversions on a landing page. The issue becomes obvious when you see several users rapidly clicking on a broken textbox preventing them from completing the form.  

Recognizing and detecting these behaviors allows you and your team to learn exactly what triggers users and why they act certain ways. 

Contextualizes voice of customer (VoC) data and customer feedback

Ah yes, VoC data and customer feedback are the key to understanding customer experiences, right? Well, not exactly. 

Metrics like Net Promoter Score (NPS) or Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) and surveys or reviews raise clear red flags around poor experiences, but that’s really it. These methods often lack specific details you can act on, but fortunately for you, session replay solves that problem. 

session replay and nps

With session replay you can contextualize this VoC data and direct feedback by investigating the experiences behind any lackluster results. Now, you can watch back sessions linked to your customer data and pinpoint UX friction causing that negative feedback or low NPS. 

Removes biases and guessing games from optimization  

Too often, teams may notice a drop in conversions or engagements and immediately jump to conclusions. This is a perfect recipe for imprecise and shoddy optimization efforts. 

Whenever you notice a dip in your analytics data, you can rely on session replay to investigate and validate your first reactions before making any large-scale changes to your website. Now you can dig into your hunch that the new navigation menu is causing users to drop-off before they get to product pages and learn if that’s actually the case. 

Not only does this remove biases and any wasted time guessing, but you streamline your optimization process and improve the accuracy of your UX fixes. 

Promotes organized and targeted optimization efforts 

A never-ending to-do list of user experience problems can become overwhelming. And if you don’t have any clear leads it can really set you back. Session replay makes it easy for you tackle items one step at a time. 

As mentioned above you can stop your guessing, and use session replay to find underlying UX issues, highlight fixes that need to be made, and move onto the next one. First, you may investigate why average time on site is longer than usual, then move to why monthly repeat visits are down, and finally dive into why there’s a spike in negative survey feedback. 

Session relay allows you to systematically run through user experience investigations and keep your optimization efforts rolling. 

Start Scoring the Quality of User Experiences on Your Website Today. Request a Quick Demo.

4 Weaknesses of Session Replay

Despite the wide-ranging benefits of session replay, it does have its own set of flaws you should be wary of when using it. Learning about these potential pitfalls will allow you, as a user, to get the most bang for your buck without running into any surprises along the way.

Here are the four weakness of session replay you should know about before using it on your own website or app.

Time intensive nature of case-by-case session analysis  

While watching back individual user sessions is great for getting a ground-level view of the user experiences, it’s not exactly the most efficient process. 

Even if you’re looking for specific issues like frustration behaviors on new seasonal product pages across your site, it can become very time-intensive and counterproductive sifting through so many user sessions at the enterprise level. It’s best to avoid reviewing session replays ad nauseum. You’ll get the best insights by using it sparingly to investigate specific user experience problems you know you need to fix. 

Requires granular focus to maximize the value of replays

Session replays allow you to get hyper-targeted in your UX investigations, but really fall short when it comes to looking at the big picture. It’s best to designate session replay for diving deep into websites and apps like understanding UX issues behind metrics like conversion rate, retention rate, or NPS. 

If your goal is to gain a comprehensive bird’s eye view of user experiences quality across your website or app, turn to tools like heatmaps, behavior detection, or Decibel’s Digital Experience Score (DXS) which work well in larger-scale investigations. 

Older versions lack advanced insights and time-saving features, and can be inaccurate 

Plain and simple, technology ages and session replay is not immune to it. If you’re relying on older versions you likely won’t be able to maximize the value of this tool, and struggle to gain actionable insights quickly and accurately.  

However not all session replay tools are limited by dated features.  

Innovative session replay vendors, like Decibel, have added time-saving features to make this widely popular tool more efficient and effective at the enterprise scale. These modern features and their benefits are covered with detail in the upcoming section. 

Privacy concerns around collecting PII data

Of course, any tool used to record user interactions and behaviors will bring a privacy concern. The biggest worries come up surrounding the potential compromise of site visitors’ personal initiable information (PII) – like names, phone numbers, emails, and more. 

However, session replay vendors like Decibel utilize secure design principles to dissolve any data privacy issues before they have a chance to arise. We’re trusted by some of the most regulated companies in the world thanks to our robust security features like selective masking, full masking, and privacy by design, which work to mitigate and eliminate any privacy or security concerns. 

session replay pii

Just make sure you do your due diligence and ensure your session replay provider has security and privacy covered. 

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7 Must-Have Capabilities of Modern Session Replay Solutions

Not all session replay solutions are the same. Older versions or less robust solutions fail to provide advanced features and capabilities that make this tool far more effective at investigating user experiences at the enterprise level.

We’ve put together a checklist of the seven most important capabilities you and your team should look for in a modern session replay solution like Decibel’s.

Automated analysis to pinpoint the most important sessions and time stamps 

Wouldn’t it be so much easier if someone could watch back every session replay for you, and tell you which sessions matter the most? Well, modern session replay vendors like Decibel do exactly that! 

With AI baked into modern session replay, you’ll be notified of sessions that demonstrate key issues impacting your site’s user experience quality, so you focus on watching back sessions that truly matter. This is major time-saver for you and your team, as 65% of workers view AI as something that would free employees from menial tasks and keep them working on bigger priorities. 

Segmentation between high-quality and low-quality experiences

Ever wonder what separates the best user experiences from the worst? With automated segmentation technology embedded into session replay, you can divide and review sessions by UX quality. 

With the ability to granularly segment between high-quality and low-quality experiences, you can cross-compare sessions to pinpoint key differences or discover common themes that make user journeys successful versus unsuccessful. 

This is a major advantage now that 72% of decision-makers believe using automated technology, like session replay segmentation, enables practitioners to focus on more meaningful work. 

Behavior detection – being alerted to frustration / engagement automatically

We know you’ll be searching far and wide for digital body language and user behaviors as you watch session replays, but you really don’t have to.  

Session replays built with behavior detection technology will automatically find and timestamp users behaviors so you can skip directly to those moments to determine what exactly causes engagement versus frustration on your site. 

Consider this like a behavior highlight reel, where you sit back and watch the most important parts of every session replay. 

Detailed user journey mapping between devices and channels

Not all users access your website the same way. Whether they’re on desktop, mobile, or even your app, this will fundamentally change the user journey and their user experiences along the way.  

With intelligent journey mapping, modern session replay will show you exactly which channels, browsers, and devices users operate on as they interact with your website. This enables hyper-focused optimizations that allow you to address specific issues only occurring in a certain segment of user journeys.  

Hint: this is especially useful for streamlining a mobile site experiences as they become more important.

Heatmap integrations to contextualize user sessions

That’s right, to get more from your session replay tool you should supplement it with heatmaps. These two investigative tools complement each other with both a broad view of user data from heatmaps and in-depth views from session replay. 

Given that heatmaps visualize user journey data in aggregate, you pick out areas of interest like a low-traffic product pages or high-traffic landing pages and further investigate those experiences with session replay. This smart integration helps you investigate and better understand how users interact with your website or app.  

In-app filtering, tagging, and commenting for team collaboration 

You finally found it: the broken button causing abandonment to double on your top-selling product page. But you need an easy way to mark it and share it across to your ecommerce specialists and optimizers. That’s where collaborative features make life easy. 

With in-app filtering, tagging, and commenting capabilities, you can easily share your session replay findings with others, so you can streamline the optimization progress. No more unnecessary last second meetings or miscommunications, now your analysis is easily accessible and understandable to those who need it. 

Tech-stack integrations to pair external data with related session replays

So, you want more out your session replay solution? We don’t blame you. One of the best ways to get even better insights from session replay is to integrate with external analytics data.  

Whether you’re using web analytics, customer analytics, or survey data, modern session replay can integrate with these data sources.  This capability not only provides your team with better context around UX issues, it also can directly indicate which sessions are leading to underperforming metrics or negative customer feedback so you can investigate them immediately. 

Start Scoring the Quality of User Experiences on Your Website Today. Request a Quick Demo.

8 Simple Steps for Maximizing Session Replay Insights

Even having the most advanced and technically sound session replay tool doesn’t mean you’ll extract every insight you need to improve your website or app. To truly maximize the value of your session replay solution, you and your team need to master and follow best practices.

We’ve put together a simple and repeatable 8-step process for you to use session replay perfectly and turn every UX issue into an optimization opportunity.

Don’t watch random sessions, review key sessions and timestamps 

Without sugar coating it, Founder of ConversionMax Theresa Baiocco Farr says, “The worst thing you could do when getting started with session replay is to try to watch all the videos, or even choose sessions at random. You’ll never manually find any patterns in user behavior and you’ll waste a ton of time.” 

That’s why you use a session replay solution with AI, so you don’t have to watch every session.  

With AI highlighting the most important sessions and timestamping key user events, like frustration behaviors or webpage bottlenecks, so you can dig into what matters most and move forward with optimizations quickly. 

Contextualize analysis and investigate key user experience problems 

Conversion Strategist Hans Hoogenboom emphasizes that, “Watching session replays and analyzing what exactly is going on can be a very time-consuming task, especially when you have bulk replays and you don’t know where to begin. It’s very important that you have clear focus and use your session replays strategically.” 

It’s safe to say, you should go into every session replay recording with purpose and context. Identify the user experience problem you want to investigate and focus on finding related obstacles – whether it’s a friction-filled checkout process or a site-wide form issue.  

Act like a detective. You alone wouldn’t try to solve every crime all at once, you’d focus on one investigation at a time. 

Establish repeatable and practical notetaking systems for collaboration 

CRO expert Dustin Drees underscores the importance of keeping notes, he says “In my experience the most essential way to control for this is tagging your videos. Establish some baseline tags for the videos that you can apply while watching them, because it can take a while for patterns to emerge in the replays.” 

Using features like tagging or in-app comments can make collaboration and tracking trends in user journeys much easier. You and your team should align on a common process that you find simple and repeatable, yet effective for tracking UX issues that need to be optimized. 

If your optimization program involves multiple teams, this will be a life saver from unnecessary miscommunication and confusion.  

Pinpoint areas of user drop-off and friction with journey funnels

To go narrow you must look at the big picture. In this case, to dive deep with session replay you must analyze the whole user journey with funnels. In fact, 90% of CX professionals agree that a journey-based approach boosts customer satisfaction, retention, and lifetime value. 

Theresa Baiocco Farr recommends using your web analytics to “identify the worst leaks in the funnel for a certain user segment, then session replay can provide more insight into what those people are actually doing on each page.”  

When you see spikes in landing page abandonment or drop-off on a certain login page you know you’ve found bottlenecks worth investigating with session replay. 

Leverage behavior detection to narrow in on key sessions to analyze 

There’s no way around it, digital body language matters! 

While VoC data and direct customer insight provide context, CX thought-leader Kerry Bodine suggests “an understanding of customer feedback doesn’t tell you all you need to know about your customers’ experiences. To get the full picture, you also need to understand actual customer behavior.” 

Integrating session replay with behavior detection will automatically surface key behaviors with timestamps, so you can effortlessly discover which parts of your website cause frustration versus engagement.  

Now you know why 96% of analysts rate behavior detection quite effective to highly effective! 

Step back using heatmaps to find compelling patterns worth diving into replays 

Contextualizing session replay investigations with web analytics and VoC data won’t usually catch every UX issue on your website or app. This is where heatmaps help. 

Using heatmaps to visualize user journeys in aggregate will allow you to see the full picture – literally! Leveraging a combination of hover and click, scroll, and behavior heatmaps, you can pin down patterns on a larger scale that lead to narrow investigations with session replay. 

Stepping back like this with another investigative tool like heatmaps will only create more value and insights from session replay.   

Watch back replays demonstrating experiences behind form analytics data 

The online form A.K.A. the digital gateway to converting users into customers. Knowing this, it’s a no-brainer that forms require special attention by supplementing form analytics with session replay. 

Between validation errors, completion rate, time taken, and abandonment rate, you’ll be able to leverage these form analytics datapoints to launch detailed form investigations.  

Given the tedious and inherently annoying nature of forms, it’s critical to observe how users run into problems – from clunky layouts to broken textboxes – so you can deliver user-friendly forms that drive more conversions.  

Use segmentation to narrow analysis for hyper-targeted investigations

What if you could combine all these tactics into one simple filtering system? Segmentation technology does it for you! 

Using a session replay solution with segmentation brings you an all-in-one way to filter, target, and analyze hyper-specific user session segments. You can easily toggle between funnels, behavioral data, heatmaps, form data, and more to get granular and find sessions that directly impact your optimization project. 

With this final piece of the puzzle in place, you’ll be able to streamline UX investigations and rollout the proper website or app optimizations in no time. 

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See why Decibel is the choice for leading enterprises. Request a Demo Today.

What Does the Future Hold for Session Replay?

Congratulations! You’re well on your way to becoming an expert in all things session replay. But even with all your newfound knowledge, these technologies, capabilities, and features are always developing and in flux.

Let’s dive into what we expect to see with session replay in 2021 and beyond.

Our Session Replay Prediction

You may want to sit down for this. Session replay may become totally obsolete. Yes, you read that right! 

While highly insightful for understanding and optimizing user experiences, the often time-intensive nature of this tool beckons for better modes of efficiency. And advancements in AI are already delivering just that. 

The impact of AI technologies on business boosts labor productivity by up to 40%. With this rise in productivity, it’s no wonder the AI market is expected to grow to nearly $190 billion by 2025, and spending on AI systems will reach $57.6 billion in 2021 

So, how does that impact session replay? There will come a time where you may no longer have to even watch a single session replay.  

Here at Decibel, our AI already watches back every single session replay automatically, alerting teams to user frustrations, bottlenecks, and other obstacles sabotaging your website or app’s user experience. While teams are still encouraged to review example sessions Decibel picks out, it’s only a matter of time until the technology is left to its own devices, plugging directly into optimization and personalization programs that change user experiences on the fly. 

But until then, you can put all your new session replay expertise to good use and investigate user experience issues like a pro. Finally, it’s time for you and your team to make web optimizations that truly move the needle on engagements, conversions, and loyalty. 

To learn how you can get even more out of session replay along with other digital tools, request a demo with a Decibel digital experience expert! 


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