Insights · 9 min read

6 things to look for in a session replay platform

The Fullstory Team
Posted May 15, 2023
6 things to look for in a session replay platform

In digital experience analytics, “session replay” is a phrase that’s thrown around a lot. And whether or not you realize it, all session replay is not created equal. It may not seem like a big deal at first blush, but having top-tier session replay is critical to digital experience optimization (and explain what sets Fullstory’s apart). 

In fact, most session replay tools are lacking or incomplete in some way. The majority of tools record session data and event data separately, then piecemeal these datasets together. This tells an incomplete story because it limits the interaction data captured—not to mention this method is often harmful to performance and can open your site to data security risks. 

Fullstory, on the other hand, provides what we call operational session replay.

It gives you crisp, complete X-ray vision into the ongoing user experience and elevates your existing digital experience strategy. Operational session replay uses autocapture to extract and analyze all events on the server, making session data the source for all ensuing digital experience insights. This means a client receives complete digital experience data that can be retroactively analyzed, in a performant and privacy-first way. 

Operational session replay uses autocapture to extract and analyze all events on the server, making session data the source for all ensuing digital experience insights.

Why having best-in-class session replay matters to you 


At the end of the day, operational session replay helps organizations grow revenue smarter, save time and money, and innovate confidently. In the current economic climate (and, really, in any economic climate), teams should be squeezing the most utility and value out of each of their platforms. Fullstory’s approach to session replay ensures it’s impactful and used often–and by many members of many teams. 

Here are six important lenses through which it’s critical to view and evaluate session replay platforms. 

1. Accuracy, fidelity, and completeness

Fullstory’s Digital Experience Intelligence (DXI) platform is built on top of a patented data engine that captures and interprets complete, reliable session data. By autocapturing session data, we ensure every DX datapoint is at your fingertips. With this autocapture approach, signals, insights, and session replay are able to work together to provide a truly complete picture of the digital experience. 

Other solutions might say they’re using autocapture–but they aren’t. With other solutions, these fundamental elements are often siloed or Frankensteined together—leaving gaps, questions, and missed insights. 

Here are some signs that–despite what they might say–a session replay tool doesn’t use autocapture (which means they’re leaving key insights on the table and creating risk for your business). 

Tagging

Session replay tools that rely on manual tagging rather than autocapture can only pinpoint the friction you anticipate. Let’s say you notice a behavior in a session that you want to learn more about. When you’re limited by tagging, you can’t learn about behaviors you didn’t tag—you’d need to tag that event and wait for days or weeks while data is collected to be able to analyze it. 

Fullstory is the only session replay solution that automatically gives you all the data to dive into specific instances of struggle without needing to define what you want to monitor. 

Random sampling 

Often, session replay tools use heavy sampling to gather session data. While sampling isn’t always a bad thing, random sampling can create dangerous biases in your data. Plus, tools that take a random sampling approach to session replay likely can’t capture all sessions without harming a site’s performance. 

While Fullstory does employ sampling at times, it’s anything but random, and therefore tells a much more accurate data story than other tools. 

Mismatched quantitative and qualitative data

Many session replay tools attempt to offer cohesive quantitative and qualitative information—but fall short. This is because these tools have essentially “bolted on” session replay to their product, while continuing to derive the quantitative counterpart from an entirely different data system. So you may be getting both types of data—the sessions and the analytics—but they aren’t originating from the same source of truth, which degrades their reliability. 

With the digital experience data engine at its core, Fullstory takes a different approach. Quantitative DX insights are derived directly from session-capture data, ensuring cohesive, apples-to-apples analysis across quantitative and qualitative data for every user interaction. 

Flight Centre identified an API-level error that prevented visitors from completing their booking using session replay and Dev Tools in Fullstory, decreasing their booking fail rate by 22%. Read their story.

2. Performance 

Operational session replay shows you exactly what a user saw and did on your site or app without slowing it down or negatively impacting the user experience. If session replay is getting in a user’s way, it’s not operational. Unfortunately for mobile apps, the industry standard is to screenshot or video record screens—but this can have negative and costly effects on mobile app performance and end-user privacy. 

Instead of a clunky, outdated approach that slows sites and apps down, Fullstory captures the structure of your site at the DOM level (and the delta between the view hierarchy of your mobile app) and uses that information to recreate sessions with perfect fidelity and no impact on performance.

And that's critical: 72% of global consumers say that slow page load times are their most frustrating digital issue. 

Carvana captures millions of sessions every month with no discernible impact on site performance from Fullstory. Read their story.

3. Omnichannel journey

These days, people have multiple devices—and preferences about what they do on which device. Operational session replay should follow a customer or user’s full journey across tabs, devices, and sessions. If your session replay tool can’t, it’s impossible for you to understand how a user progressed through the digital customer experience. 

Mobile apps

Capturing mobile app sessions is a requirement for understanding the complete digital journey. The average person spends upwards of three hours on their smartphone every day. If you’re not capturing those sessions, you’re missing a huge piece of the puzzle. 

Fullstory’s session replay for mobile apps is considerably ahead of others on the market in its scale and accuracy of data capture. We take the same approach that we do for desktop session replay, capturing the structure and data needed to reproduce a session with perfect fidelity. And, just like web, the insights are derived from session data, rather than capturing the two separately and duct taping them together later. 

Tabbed browsing

On average, an internet user has nine tabs open at any given time. Are you still able to understand what a user is doing or trying to accomplish when they open new tabs on your site? If the answer is no, you’re missing key digital experience data. 

Fullstory offers the only session replay with detailed visibility and interactivity surrounding browsing behaviors across one or multiple tabs. You can now accurately visualize the creation, closure, and navigation between tabs. 

4. Privacy and security 

It’s a given that you need session replay analytics to keep your end-users’ data safe and where it should be—on their devices. Fullstory’s advanced approach to privacy gives you the power and confidence to experiment with changes to sensitive flows (like your checkout flow, for instance) without danger of losing visibility into what is or isn’t working. 

If you capture sensitive information—even unintentionally—you risk eroding trust, and it can open your organization up to large fines. Safe, reliable privacy controls free you to iterate, experiment, and learn without fear of losing data or accidentally capturing unwanted information. 

Some platforms only block specific data out-of-the-box that they deem to be Personally Identifiable Information (PII), leaving room for error. We think differently. We prioritize partnership with you when it comes to privacy. With features like Detections, Fullstory automatically monitors your site for select categories of sensitive data, such as credit card numbers and passwords, and proactively identifies and categorizes PII, so your teams can take action quickly. This is a win for you, your users, and your security team. 

Finicity seamlessly and confidently manages sensitive data with Private by Default. Read their story.

5. Implementation and maintenance

Operational session replay doesn’t require a huge lift to implement or constant, costly maintenance from your team or your vendor’s. Ultimately, session replay should help you save time and money—not use a bunch of it. Let’s look at this point from two angles.

Implementation

Most session replay vendors’ tags require customization. In this case, your business has to rely on the vendor to write bespoke code to capture all of the data you care about during the initial implementation—which is time-consuming for both parties. Plus, the “data you care about” will likely change over time, requiring updates to that code at every turn. 

This adds substantial time to insights and introduces the security risk of having a vendor write code to your website on your organization’s behalf–not to mention doesn’t even result in retroactive DX data.  

Implementing Fullstory is as simple as adding the data capture snippet into the "<HEAD>" element either via your Content Management System (CMS) or directly into your application’s code. Captured sessions will appear in Fullstory within a few minutes, as long as users are visiting your site and navigating.

Maintenance

Operational session replay shouldn’t require ongoing manual labor—by you or your vendor—to keep running smoothly. With many session replay tools, either you or the vendor must continuously work behind the scenes to keep things running as you push various updates to your site or app. Your organization pays for this one way or another—either with your own time or by paying for it in vendor services. 

Gap finds Fullstory’s implementation to be quick and easy compared to other analytics tools, with no tagging or manual instrumentation required. Read their story.

6. Collaboration 

Operational session replay should bring teams together around a single source of truth. Tools that pull quantitative and qualitative information from different data systems, as discussed earlier, open up room for doubt, disagreement, and distrust across teams. 

Fullstory’s session replay enables teams to move seamlessly between verifiable quantitative and qualitative information. This means people in different roles around the organization can collaborate more effectively, work from the same trusted data, and improve cross-functional alignment.


Chances are you’re already using or considering session replay in some form—but is it truly operational? If it’s not accurate, performant, secure, flexible, low-lift, and collaborative, then you’re not only missing out on critical insights, you’re sacrificing time and money. 

For a deeper look at the only operational session replay solution on the market, get a Fullstory demo.

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The Fullstory TeamContributor

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Our team of data and user experience experts share tips and best practices.

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