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The Best Session Replay Tool

Last Updated July 28, 2020
Reading Times:
Summary only: 1 minute
Full guide: 7 minutes

Introduction

We think LogRocket is the best session replay tool — it’s substantially more affordable than FullStory without missing any crucial features, and avoids the pitfalls of Hotjar’s sampling methodology.

Hotjar is a good alternative for less complex products (think sites like Satchel without any complex webapp) or for a site with a high volume of anonymous usersThese two tend to be highly correlated..

Fundamentally, session replay tools create recordings of how your users interact with your site/productAny session replay tool worth its salt will be smart enough to not record anything that might contain sensitive information.. You essentially get to be a fly on the wall when users are using your product or navigating through your sales website.

Some examples: if a user starts the sign up process but fails to fully convert, you can see when and where they hit a blocker. If you see users performing the same workflow over and over, you might get ideas on how to consolidate the number of required steps. And if a user encounters an error, you'll be able to visually see the steps they took leading up to it.

The ability to reproduce a user’s journey is valuable in debugging and iterating quickly. Session replay is useful enough that many of the founders we spoke with said they’d feel comfortable with a session replay tool as their main driver for early stage product improvement and would consider forgoing more traditional user analytics.

In this guide, we're focused on web-based session replay. We'll add more info and recommendations for mobile-based session replay in the future, but you can reach out if you want to know our thoughts before then.

Our Recommendation
LogRocket
For complex webapps
The goldilocks service that provides session replay at a better price point without the structural tradeoffs of Hotjar. A bit more developer-oriented, with functionality for logging during the session recording.
logrocket.com
Our Recommendation
Hotjar
For less complex products and/or products w/ a high volume of anonymous users
Better suited for sites with a lot of traffic or webapps with lots of anonymous users. Just as easy to implement as the others, and by far the most affordable product. However, watch out for sampling and recording limits — these can cause startups to miss recordings they might have wanted to see.
hotjar.com

Ratings Matrix

Session Replay Tools
Session Replay Completeness
Core Functionality
Integrations
Other (Non-Session Replay) Functionality
How far you can get without paying
Paid Plan Affordability
LogRocket
Our take: The goldilocks service that provides session replay at a better price point without the structural tradeoffs of Hotjar. A bit more developer-oriented, with functionality for logging during the session recording.
Hotjar
Our take: Better suited for sites with a lot of traffic or webapps with lots of anonymous users. Just as easy to implement as the others, and by far the most affordable product. However, watch out for sampling and recording limits — these can cause startups to miss recordings they might have wanted to see.
FullStory
Our take: Has smoother onboarding, more polished UI, and a bit more guidance and integrated analytics functionality, although it comes at the (literal) cost of being quite expensive.

Preliminary Tips

About half the startups we interviewed approach their session replays in the same way: they connect it to Segment to attribute a recording to a specific userYou don't necessarily need Segment to accomplish this, just that Segment makes it a bit easier.. This allowed them to follow a user from their initial discovery, e.g. a Facebook ad or link from a blog, through their on-boarding journey, which gave teams the ability to evolve a product or sales funnel really, really quicklySegment also helps to decrease vendor lock-in, which we talk about a bit in our Web Analytics Guide.. Another suggestion, mentioned by multiple founders, was to link recording session IDs to log and error monitoring tools like Sentry. This allows for fast debugging as triggered errors get coupled with a user recording complete with a full visual navigation of what happened at the time of the problem. Even without further integrations session replay is invaluable for how much it tightens the loop between customer behavior and an update to a product or website.

For all of these tools you should check with your network to see if there are discounts available. Many accelerators offer major discounts on session replay tools or additional cash support towards purchasing this kind of software. If you still feel that the price-to-value is high for LogRocket and FullStory, then your product is probably a type that would benefit most from Hotjar, because this typically comes about with lots of anonymous users. But more on that in a bit.

Our Recommendation: LogRocket

We think that LogRocket is the best default pick if you have a web-based product. It faithfully records sessions and has integration coverage for every usecase we could throw at it. Mostly though, you don't have to worry about sampling and it's much cheaper than FullStory, with just as good performance and a little less fancinessWe were originally going to say polish, but LogRocket is a well-polished product. A more apt statement is that FullStory is more luxurious, for lack of a better word, with the associated price premium..

LogRocket stands out for its simplicity, as it focuses on doing a good job of collecting sessions and logging any warnings and exceptions that occur at the same time. It really does feel like the tool caters to developers, but we think it's still simple enough to be used by non-technical team members. This is partly due to the fact that LogRocket is straightforward — it only focuses on session recordings and console logging during those sessions. There are no heatmaps or surveys à la Hotjar, and no basic analytics à la FullStory. That said, we think this is the right fit — all of the founders we talked to overwhelmingly cared about session replay and mostly didn't touch the other functionality, simply because there are better tools out there for those purposes.

Better in two situations: Hotjar

We think Hotjar is a better choice than LogRocket for high-traffic websites or webapps with a large amount of anonymous users. The general idea is that if you don't need to dive into the experience of a particular user, then Hotjar should be a perfectly fine choice.

Hotjar focuses on offering 80% of the value of session replay at a much lower cost and with a complementary set of tools for collecting user feedback. The service is more affordable because Hotjar only uses sampled sessions to store a statistically representative portion of your users’ behavior. This approach is particularly well-suited for sites with a large number of visitors, or for webapps with anonymous users. The obvious drawback is that all sessions won't be available, so if it's important to be able to see a particular customer interaction with your product, e.g. to see how a specific subset of users use your product, or to help debug an error for a specific customer, then LogRocket is the better budget choice.

Hotjar does have a bunch of other functionality to get user feedback, such as heatmaps and surveys. We think that these can be helpful, but not to the extent of a dedicated tool for those purposes. And most of the Hotjar users we talked to didn't take advantage of this functionality. Almost all the founders expressed an interest in exploring these bundled features, but most forgot about them after session recordings were set up. A few founders reported using heatmaps and surveys, but none cited these as a make-or-break features in choosing their session replay provider. One Hotjar user we interviewed made use of the surveys and user feedback tools and described them as a fine drop-in solution, but not necessarily as their preferred choice for collecting that type of feedback.

Commentary on FullStory

For a web-based product, we think that LogRocket or Hotjar (depending on your usecase) are likely better choices than FullStory.

FullStory serves much the same usecases as LogRocket, as they both share a capture-all-the-sessions approach. In general, FullStory is a bit more user-friendly than LogRocket, specifically for non-technical users, but substantially more expensive (around 3x the pricing for the same number of sessions, starting around $300/mo).

FullStory provides some analytics functionality on top of their session replay, using the fact that they already capture all user events to provide autotrack-like functionality (take a look at our web analytics guide for more info, specifically the section on Heap, for more info on how this works). However, we would strongly recommend against using this as your primary source of metrics — you can't programmatically instrument any events, which has the same issues as relying on an autotrack-only approach.

Although this was underexplored in our interviewing sample, Fullstory has more in-depth integration with native android and iOS apps. This is relevant for users who care about mobile-first use-cases where LogRocket can still struggle with performance-related issues or a lack of mobile-specific instrumentation. We'll take a deeper look into mobile usecases at a later point in time.

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Tomy
Went with LogRocket after reading this guide! Good to hear well thought out features being compared as opposed to the usual marketing blogospam.
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