Microsoft takes on Google Optimize with Clarity

Microsoft Corp. today debuted a new web analytics tool called Clarity that’s designed to help developers understand user behavior at large scale.

The tool can help developers to work out why website users struggle or run into problems and why they abandon a site altogether.

The so-called A/B testing tool works by comparing two versions of a webpage or app against each other to determine which one performs better. In today’s world, A/B testing is just a part of an experiment where two or more variants of a page are shown to users at random, and statistical analysis is used to determine in the two different set so that developer can came to know that which is better for a given conversion goal.

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There are already lots of similar tools on the market. Notably, Google LLC has its own Optimize 360software, which was launched in beta in March 2017. Then there are smaller companies such as Optimizely Inc., which specializes in A/B testing tools.

For its part, Microsoft said that these current tools don’t dig deep enough into the reasons why a user might decide to abandon a particular website. Although A/B experiments allow developers to see how their key metrics move, the big problem is a lack of visibility into why they moved, the Microsoft’s Bing team, which built and uses Clarity internally, said in a blog post.

To provide this missing visibility, Clarity boasts a feature called Session Replay that lets developers view individual user’s page impressions, allowing them to see interactions such as their mouse movement, touch gestures, clicks and so on.

Taking this concept further, there’s also an “interesting sessions” feature that relies on machine learning to highlight instances with abnormal click or scroll behavior, JavaScript errors, session lengths and other indicators of potential issues. Microsoft said that should ensure developers waste less time searching for those issues by themselves.

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Clarity is still in beta test mode, and there are a number of unfinished features that will be included once it hits general availability, the time frame for which isn’t known at this point. Upcoming features include “related sessions,” which will group similar user sessions in order to help developers discover how often certain issues crop up and why some users might behave similarly. Then there’s “heatmaps,” which will provide aggregated insights into user behavior via click, touch and scroll heatmaps.

Constellation Research Inc. analyst Holger Mueller said Clarity should be useful because many developers continue to ignore the fact that user behavior can be tracked to make usability improvements to their apps and websites.

“Getting this done is hard, so new tools are needed that simplify this process,” Mueller said. “It’s good to see more tools coming to market, enabling developers to build really usable apps that morph and adopt at the tune to user clicks and usage patterns.”

The Bing team said it’s already using Clarity to explore sessions that resulted in poor user experiences and find out why that was the case. In several instances, it found that malware on the user’s computer had hijacked pages and introduced malicious content.

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