Session Replay: What It Is & How to Use It Effectively

Learn what session replays are, how to capture them, common problems they solve, and how to pick the right session replay tool.

Best Practices
April 29, 2022
Image of Audrey Xu
Audrey Xu
Solutions Consultant, Amplitude
Session Replay

Session replay is a reconstructed presentation of how a user experiences a website or mobile application. It captures things like clicks, mouse movements, and page scrolls. Then it creates a walkthrough-style video that shows you what the user did while on your website or app. Think of it as a “session playback” or “user experience replay.”

Session replay is also known as Digital Experience Analytics (DXA) because it offers a lot of qualitative and quantitative information that builds on what other analytics tools offer. This information is critical for understanding and improving the digital customer experience. Most analytics tools only offer numerical information and don’t help you view the customer experience from the customer's eyes.

Key takeaways
  • Session replays are reproductions of website events used to improve the website experience. They’re used by product, marketing, design, and customer support teams.
  • Capturing session replays requires you to enable and configure them to suit your needs. Following the right steps in this process is the key to capturing them appropriately.
  • Some common problems solved with session replays include poor conversion rates, design problems, website bugs and errors, website security threats, and customer support issues.

What is session replay?

Session replay is a powerful tool that enables teams to see and learn from the behaviors of individual users. While traditional analytics tools provide data like bounce rates, clicks, and views, a session replay is a more visual way of understanding what’s happening on your website. It’s possible to see what your users are trying to do, what their experience is like, and what needs to be improved by seeing through their eyes.

Imagine a scenario where a customer walks into a retail store. By keeping track of their movement, you can use that information to recreate their shopping experience as they lived it. That’s exactly what a session replay is, except for digital experiences.

What is session replay not?

A session replay is not the same as recording a video of the user while the user is on the website. It’s also not the same as recording the user’s screen while they’re browsing the website. It’s a reconstruction of events on the website. Recording a video is about capturing things as they flow using a camera or screen capture function, whereas a reconstruction of events captures the actions of the users in a change log, then reconstructs a playback from that captured information. It’s a very subtle difference, but an important one to learn what a session replay is.

Understanding how session replay works

Every time a user interacts with your website, it’s considered an “event.” These events are maintained in a very detailed log. It’s basically the equivalent of storing every action a user takes on a website in a journal or diary.

Along with these events, the actual structure of the website is also stored in this log. When any action is taken on your website, the log captures both the event that occurs and the structural website changes that happen. A session replay reconstructs everything stored in this log, producing a video of the user’s experience, so you can see what your users see.

Imagine that your website is a house, and the user is a human being inside. Opening a door in the house would be an event. The opening of the door would mean the person could walk from one room to the other, where both rooms in the house are structurally different—different sizes, different layouts, different everything. The log records both the opening of the door and the changes in the house that occur as the person walks from one room to the other. A session replay would be reconstructing the opening of the door through the eyes of the person who opened it. The approach the human took to open the door, where they walked before opening it, and where they went after opening it would all be captured and presented.

Who benefits from using session replay

Anyone involved in improving the digital customer experience reaps the benefits of session replay. This includes a broad range of people across your entire company, including:

  • Product team: Product managers can identify where technical bugs are by replaying sessions with website errors. They can then investigate issues to uncover and fix them instantly, rather than trying to decode the bug reports written by users.
  • Design/UX research team: UX teams can learn more about their users’ pain points by watching session replays of users interacting with the current website design. For instance, the session replay might show that users don’t play a video on a webpage as it's placed too far down. Your design/UX research team could use this information to run an A/B test, bringing the video to the top of the page, potentially drawing more views.
  • Marketing team: Marketers use session replays to optimize engagement and conversion rates. Marketers are empowered to run more accurate A/B tests, design website experiments, and build better campaign landing pages by leveraging the qualitative data in session replays.
  • Customer support team: Session playbacks give customer support teams context on the issues users are facing, which saves time and helps them resolve customers’ problems. It’s much easier to understand your customer’s issue if you can see it through their eyes.

Integrating session replay with digital analytics

While session replay tools can be powerful, they are most effective when integrated with a traditional digital analytics product like Amplitude Analytics. Digital analytics products enable you to run reports around funnels, paths, and other items that identify potential conversion issues.

Digital analytics products are great at surfacing the biggest issues on a website or mobile app. Once these issues are identified, session replay tools like Amplitude Session Replay can be used to “view” the problem. The combination of these tools can help organizations find and remedy conversion issues. Identifying these high-level conversion issues via session replay tools alone is possible but may require viewing many replays to find the potential conversion issues.

Integrating session replay tools and digital analytics tools typically involves passing a session replay identifier as a property to the digital analytics product. When you find an issue, you can filter the data to isolate users or sessions that encountered the issue and use the session replay property to zero in on replays that demonstrate the problem.

Check out Amplitude’s all-in-one Digital Analytics Platform that combines Session Replay with best-in-class Analytics.

5 common problems solved with session replay

Now you know what a session replay is. But what problems does it solve? Session replays solve many problems with the overall website experience for a broad range of use cases. Some of these include:

1. Poor conversion rates

Session replay tools give you a lot of detail on what’s happening on your site, which helps with CRO (conversion rate optimization). From the observations in the session replays, you can hypothesize and test (through A/B testing) possible solutions for boosting conversions.

2. Design issues

It’s next to impossible to understand user experience without directly observing users while they use your website, product, or application. Designers aren’t able to see if the design of the site is making sense to users. Moreover, UX research can be very expensive since user surveys and interviews can take a lot of time to conduct.

Session replay gives designers access to UX research on-demand and at scale to see which website design elements are not being understood by users. Designers can also view how users interact with the site across a range of devices, helping them customize the digital experience across multiple devices, like mobile phones, tablets, and laptops.

3. No context while supporting customers

Customers often leave feedback about an issue they encountered on your website without providing much context. Consequently, support agents often have to request more information on the issue, like screenshots or a more detailed explanation from users. If users don’t explain the issue accurately, it might leave support tickets unresolved.

Session replays provide context on the issue and show the customer support agent what’s going on. Support agents have all the necessary information they need to understand and resolve customer issues faster simply by linking customer support tickets with session replays. Some session replay tools can also be used to “go live” with the user and co-browse with them in order to identify the issue, enabling support agents to help customers in real time.

4. Website bugs and errors

Identifying and fixing website bugs can be time-consuming. Without session replays, engineers need to reproduce the bug or website error and spend time decoding user bug reports to uncover the issue.

Session replays can help identify website errors with ease. For instance, they can show you page loading times, any broken links, hidden CTA buttons, and other issues your users might be facing. Replays provide a lot of context on the bug, helping product teams get to the bottom of it and speed up the resolution process.

5. Security issues or suspicious activity

There is always a risk of cybercriminals who want to breach your website and steal what they can. A recent survey showed that 37% of respondents believed cybercrime to be one of the leading risks to businesses in the U.S. in 2022.

Session replays make it possible to identify potential threats. By tracking events and identifying any signs of unusual user activity, you can determine the nature of the threat and take action. The session replay will also show you if your website’s security features work as expected and effectively prevent fraud.

Common misconceptions about session replay

You might think a session replay is a video recording or screen capture of the user’s experience: It’s not. This is a common misconception, as a session replay looks like a video recording. It’s really a reproduction or reconstruction of captured events that’s been turned into a video presentation. It’s a tool that enables you to see things from the user’s eyes but without a camera attached to your user’s shoulders.

Another misconception is that session replays can record everything. You might think a session replay can capture all user actions on your website. This isn’t true. A session replay cannot capture live video chats, streaming video, users clicking outside of the captured window, users taking screenshots, notifications, and off-screen activities. Capturing any of this information would be a serious breach of privacy.

Addressing the privacy concerns with session replay

Session replay tools need to ensure they’re addressing user privacy issues very seriously. Handling user data with utmost care is the key to building trust with users. Here are a few tips on how to address privacy concerns:

  • Ensure your session replay tool doesn’t collect private and sensitive information or doesn’t play back confidential information during the replay stage.
  • Masking protects private and confidential user data. Users entering their email addresses on your website would be confidential information. Your session replay tool should automatically mask all user input data in the form of asterisks rather than alphanumeric characters, so you can’t actually view the email address during the session replay.
  • Session replay tools should not track users’ activities across the internet. They’re only meant for replaying sessions on specific sections of your website. Therefore, session replay tools should not be used for advertising purposes like retargeting ads.

How to get started with replay

Every tool has its own process to capture and play a session replay. It can be as simple as going into your tool’s dashboard, picking a session to replay, and then watching it. However, there are some prerequisites that set the right foundation.

Enable session replay

Once you are instrumented and start capturing session replays within your application, there are a few settings you should pay attention to beyond simply enabling the replay. Configure the firewalls on your website to enable data flow between your website and your session replay tool. You can do this by adjusting the security settings of your website’s back end. A firewall blocking any data will prevent the session replay from being captured, causing replay issues.

Ensure your tool has an active digital experience monitoring license in order to capture user events. This gives your tool the legal permission it needs to do session replays. Your website should also have a trusted certificate. This authenticates your website and protects your users’ private and confidential information.

Configure the options

Configure the percentage of sessions you’d like to capture in your tool's settings. By default, most tools will capture all sessions, but this will likely use up a lot of storage space. It's possible to capture just a sample of the sessions to optimize your website storage space.

It’s possible to exclude a web page from session replays with “URL exclusion.” This option enables you to avoid specific website pages for session replays if you don’t want to capture user interactions on those pages.

Control who has access to session replays based on user access permissions. This way, only those users with access to session replays can view them. For instance, you may want to enable your product team to have access to your session replays but not the accounts department.

Tips for choosing the right session replay platform

There is a wide range of session replay tools available in the marketplace. You need to choose the one that best suits your needs by evaluating each tool against several selection criteria. Here are a few factors you need to take into consideration while choosing the right session replay platform:

Search or filter sessions

Since tools capture so many sessions, the sheer volume of session replays can be overwhelming. The tool you choose should enable you to filter through session replays and search for them using specific search criteria to make your analysis efficient and focused. Think about it as searching for a product on Amazon. Their user search bar makes it simple for you to browse products and shop. A session replay tool should make it simple to sift through and pick sessions to analyze.

Data retention

Session replay tools store data for different periods. Choose a tool that gives you the option to retain data for longer periods to make long-term data-driven decisions. While most tools default to shorter retention timeframes, the best ones are customizable and can store data for longer periods of time so that you can analyze session replays more effectively

Website performance

Session replay tools will impact your website’s performance in different ways. The technology and implementation of the session replay tool can affect the speed of your website as the tool links with your website to collect important bits of data in real time. Choose a session replay tool that doesn’t negatively impact your website’s speed.

Technology compatibility

Session replay tools may work with some website technologies but not with others. Some tools may work out of the box, while some may require some code before they’re functional on your site. You should choose the platform compatible with your website’s existing tech stack.

Number of sessions captured

Some tools capture only a portion of sessions, while others capture them all. Attaching session replays to customer support tickets and bug reports would be hard if your tool captures only a small percentage of sessions. Choose a tool that ideally captures all the sessions you need for your analysis.


Different variables will affect the pricing of session replay platforms. The most important factors are the number of sessions they capture each month, the number of team members who will have access to the replays, and how many of the sessions you would like to be able to replay. Choose the tool with the right pricing plan for you—or try Amplitude Session Replay for free today.

Now that you know how session replay can help you uncover bugs and increase engagement rates, further your learning with our Mastering Engagement playbook.

About the Author
Image of Audrey Xu
Audrey Xu
Solutions Consultant, Amplitude
Audrey Xu is a solutions consultant at Amplitude, working with companies to uncover areas of opportunity and build better products. She is a self-proclaimed Amplitude nerd, and graduated with a degree from U.C. Berkeley.