Along with bounce rate, visitor count and keywords, time on site is a prominent enough metric that it shows up in all sorts of fields by default in Google Analytics. It stands to reason that it’s a valuable metric, and many marketers seem to love it. What is it, how is it measured and is it as valuable as it seems?
Time spent is a fairly self-explanatory metric. How long did the user stick around on your site, from the time the clicked a link to your page to the time they exited? It seems like a simple calculation.
There are, however, a few stumbling blocks.
These are issues that come up to obscure the validity of time spent on site. There’s no single solution to these problems; different analytics software calculates time spent differently. In fact, Upworthy has debuted a system that calculates “attention minutes” for future use with advertising.
Some will argue that time spent is not a valuable metric. Consider this scenario:
At 1:04, analytics records a visit beginning. At 1:05, it records the visit clicking to a new page. That’s it. There’s no poll to keep the session active to see how long it lasts. The visit lasts one minute and reads like a short blip.
Consider another scenario:
One minute to find a headline, two minutes to read it and a blank click to the homepage to leave. Actual time spent: three minutes. However, that five minute snack break is calculated as well, making the time spent metric record eight full minutes of engaged time on site. Inaccurate to say the least.
There are, of course, ways around this problem. One common way is to actively ping the user every minute, to keep the session alive and see where the user is. This helps track the “exit” event, at least.
Time spent is not an actionable metric. You can’t necessarily see with any accuracy how long a user is spending on a page. To do so would require a third party toolbar measuring it, which, incidentally, is what Alexa and a few other groups do. You can’t identify the pages with the best time on site not completely, so taking specific action without supporting information will be a risky venture.
Still, you can learn a lot from time spent, in a general way.
So, back to the question in the headline. Why is your time spent on site metric so low? There are a wide range of options.
That last one might raise some eyebrows. The fact is, with the difficulty of calculating time spend and the average user’s attention span, a low time spent on site metric is normal. Only the most robust sites encourage more than a few minutes at a time, after all. Sometimes even the best sites only receive under a minute of use.
So, if you’re going to worry about time spent on site, ask yourself a few questions. How accurate is your time spent metric tracking? How representative is the sample you’re looking at? Is time spent low because your content is valuable, or because users bounce?
Here are some quick tips for boosting your time spent on site.
All in all, most of your common SEO and content marketing actions will help boost time on site as well, so in general, don’t worry too much about it.
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