Nov18 2021

AVERAGE TIME-ON-PAGE VS. AVERAGE SESSION-DURATION IN GOOGLE ANALYTICS

Posted by GMI Blogger Posted in Web Analytics

As more & more successful companies press into the data-driven digital growth phase, metrics which measure how visitors interact with a website and how many visitors interact with a website are gaining importance as a KPI or measurement of a brand website’s success. 

Tools like Google Analytics can help measure these attributes. In this blog, we focus on two prominent metrics associated with web analytics – average time-on-page and average session-duration. We will talk about what they mean, how they are measured and the kind of information they can provide about a website’s performance. To begin with, let’s start by defining the terms “time-on-page” and “session-duration”.

TIME ON PAGE

The time-on-page for a web page is calculated by the time difference between the point when a person lands on the page and when they move on to the next one. Clicking a link to go to another page in the website is the trigger that causes the time spent on the earlier page to be calculated. If the person exits the website without going to any other page, then the time-on-page is zero.

SESSION DURATION

A session-duration is defined as the time frame during which there are regular active interactions occurring from a user on a website. The session is timed out when there is no activity from the user for a predefined time duration (30 minutes by default). Session-duration takes into account the entire time that a person spends on a website. It is effectively the sum of the time-on-page for the different pages that a person visits on a website during a single session. Again, the time-on-page for the last page, from where the visitor exits, will be zero.

Where to find Average Session Duration in Google Analytics?

You can find your website’s average session duration in some of the reports in GA that are related to how users view your website and pages, such as:

  • Landing page report

Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages report, which shows  Avg. Session Duration of each landing page  

  • Channels Report

Acquisition –> All Traffic –> Channels Report, shows Avg. Session Duration of each channel.

The above-mentioned are some examples. Other than these reports, you can see the metrics Avg. Session Duration in  Audience Overview report, Mobile report, Demographics report, Geo reports, etc.

Where can you find the Average Time on a Page in Google Analytics?

You can find your website’s average time on page in some of the reports, such as:

  • Behavior Overview Report

Behavior > Overview report, which shows overall Avg. Time on Page of the website

  • All Pages Report 

Behavior > Site Content > All Pages report, which shows Avg. Time on Page of each page

THE AVERAGES

Now that we are clear on the terms “time-on-page” and “session-duration”, we can move on to describe “average time-on-page” and “average session-duration”:

Average time on page calculation formula = Total Time on Page/(Total Pageviews – Total Exits)

Average Session Duration = Total Session Duration/Total Number of Sessions

Let’s have a look at the following examples to understand these metrics. The average session-duration and average time-on-page is taken for the same page during the same time period:

Wondering Why the Average Session Duration is much less than the Average Time-on-Page?

While the time-on-page can never be greater than the session-duration for a single session, we can often observe the opposite when considering the averages for multiple sessions. This is because we exclude the number of exits when calculating the average time-on-page, whereas all visits are taken into account for calculating the average session-duration. Average session duration is the total duration of all sessions divided by the total number of sessions.

This means that all of our 0-second sessions that were the result of bounced sessions will weigh down the average session duration across all of our sessions. As a result, the higher your bounce rate is, the lower your average session duration will be. 

The Session Duration metric does not have the same capability to ignore the effect of exit pages. Every session has an exit page, and if there aren’t many pages in the visit, the loss of that last page timing can have a massive impact on the total. In the extreme case of a “bounce” visit that has only one page viewed, the Sessions count is 1 but the Session Duration is 0! 

For this reason, using Average Session Duration as a key performance indicator is not recommended as fluctuations in the number of pages viewed per session, the number of bounces, and the number of sessions can all influence the metric.

What’s the Difference between ‘Average Session Duration’ and ‘Time on Page’ in Google Analytics?

Google Analytics calculates average session duration by dividing the total duration of all sessions (in seconds) during a specified time frame by the total number of sessions during that same time frame. While the ‘time on page’ metrics measures the amount of time a user spends on a single page during a session.

In this example, the avg. session duration will be 30 sec, but the time spent on each page varies from 5 to 15 minutes.

How Is Session Duration & Time On Page Computed On A Single Page Visit?

The Total Session Duration is calculated as the time difference between the last interaction hit and first interaction hit in a single session. In the below demonstrated scenario, the person exits without any hit, so the last interaction is zero.

The time-on-page is simply the time difference between the pageview hit of the next page to the current page. In this scenario, the time-on-page will be “0” seconds since the person did not go to any other page.

In short, session duration and time on page will be zero seconds for single-page visits.

USE CASES

To better understand these terms, we take three different cases on how a visitor can interact with a website.

  • Case 1
    1. A person lands on Page A
    2. Spends 30 secs there.
    3. Exits the page

The time-on-page and session duration will both be “0” secs since they did not go to any other page.

  • Case 2
    1. A person lands on Page A
    2. Spends 30 secs there
    3. Clicks on a link to go to Page B
    4. Spends 20 secs there
    5. Exits the page

The time-on-page for Page A is 30 secs, and 0 secs for Page B. The total session duration is 30 + 0 = 30 secs.

  • Case 3
    1. A person lands on Page A
    2. Spends 30 seconds there
    3. Clicks on a link to go to Page B
    4. Spends 20 seconds there before going to Page C
    5. Spends 10 seconds on Page C
    6. He clicks on an external link on Page C to moves on to another website

The time-on-page for Page A is 30 secs, for Page B is 20 secs and for Page C is 10 secs. Since the user clicked on an external link on page C after spending 10 seconds there, it will be recognized as a hit rather than an exit. Clicks are viewed as interactive events. Since the last known interaction with the page is after 10 secs, the time-on-page for Page C will be 10 secs. The total session duration therefore is 1 minute (30 secs (Page A) + 20 secs (Page B) + 10 secs (Page C)).

 FALLING SHORT

You’ll notice that two of the three cases we explored above don’t offer us an accurate picture of the time that out visitor spent on the website. This is true for both the time-on-page and the session-duration. A person could spend a whole of 5 minutes on a page and it would count for nothing if they were to exit directly from there.

A COUPLE OF ALTERNATIVES TO MEASURE USER ENGAGEMENT

A key point we can derive from this is that marketers and businesses should stop focusing on just these time-based metrics to judge the performance of a page or a website. Thankfully, Google Analytics offers multiple alternatives that can provide a much better picture of a website’s performance. Let’s explore two of these below:

Hits

Google Analytics allows us to monitor the actions that a user takes on a page, like clicking a menu button, opening an accordion etc. These can also be used to understand how the visitor is interacting with the page and is a much more reliable measurement than time-on-page. This is shown in Case 3 above.

Virtual Pageview

Google Analytics offers us the provision to create custom events. Custom events can be used to set a trigger at a specific time point. If you have set your trigger for say, 1.30 mins, and the visitor was to stay on the page for 1.30 mins or more, it could be counted as a pageview. This is better known as a virtual pageview. Any time below 1.30 mins would be counted as zero, and any time above it would be counted only if you were to click a link on the page. This can be especially useful when you have specific conversion goals.

Bounce Rate

A “bounce” occurs when someone visits your website and leaves without interacting further with your site. Your bounce rate shows you the percentage of your visitors who bounce off of your site. By default, Google Analytics considers a visitor to have interacted with your site if they visited at least one additional page. High bounce rates (when calculated correctly) are often symptoms of deeper problems like user experience issues or poor targeting.

Pages Per Session

Pages per session is the average number of pages a person views in a given session. This metric is calculated by dividing the number of pageviews by the total number of sessions. This metric can be helpful for gauging how sticky and engaging your website is. For example, if your website has an average page per session of 3, this means the average user visits three pages before leaving your website. 

This metric is a standard option in Google Analytics that can be used to understand visitor behavior and optimize the site with the knowledge gained. Low page depth values are an indication of an information architecture that does not draw users far enough into the offer. But having a lot of page views does not necessarily mean that the information architecture is good. The decisive factor is what the website is supposed to achieve and whether readers can find what they are looking for.

We hope that we’ve helped you gain a better perspective of these terms and how they can be leveraged to better understand your website’s performance. 

It’s important to note that even with their limitations, average time-on-page and average session-duration are not completely unreliable metrics. In fact, they can be fairly accurate if the exit rate is low. Further, when used as part of the whole spectrum of metrics available on Google Analytics, they can provide valuable insights towards improving a website’s performance.

Avg. time-on-page and session duration data helps you accurately identify the user engagement story of your website. It’s a valuable metric, as you can be aware of the value of your website content. After all, time is money! GMI has been offering result-oriented Google analytics consulting services for all kinds of businesses in the Middle East since the early 2000s. Give us a call now, and let us accelerate your growth.

Frequently Asked Questions

 Q1. What is a good average session duration?

Average session duration did vary by industry, of course. According to contentsquare.com the average user spends 4 minutes and 24 seconds per visit across all industries and for databox.com, a reasonable benchmark for average session duration is between 2-3 minutes. A good average session duration, then, might be anything above three minutes.

Q2. What is a good average time on page in Google Analytics?

According to Contentsquare’s 2020 Digital Experience Benchmark report of 20+ billion user sessions in 25+ different countries for 11+ industries, the Average Time on Page across industries is 62 seconds.

Q3. Why is the average session duration less than time on page?

This happens because 0-second sessions that were the result of bounced sessions will weigh down the average session duration across all of our sessions. This means that exit and bounce pages are excluded from the average session duration metric.  As a result, the higher your bounce rate is, the lower your average session duration will be.

Q4. Why is the average session duration greater than time on page?

Average session duration could be greater than time on page if a non-bounce session starts on the landing page or if the session starts on a Page A and has more pageviews of page A.


 

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