REAL Time On Page in Google Analytics

A better way to measure content engagement with Google Analytics

This post is inspired by a conversation that I had with my friend and colleague Simo Ahava at Superweek as well as a recent work request from a well-established Italian publisher. In short, the publisher was quite challenged by the fact that they had an 85% bounce rate, and that their time on site was so low. Their articles tend to the get many hundreds, if not thousands, of Facebook likes, so “how could it be that users were spending so little time on site?!” Their average time on page was around the three minute mark, so how could be that average session duration was significantly lower?

bounce rate, time on page

  • Challenge 1:  Google Analytics tracks time on page / on site by measuring difference between time stamps of hits.  If the page is a bounce, no time will be recorded.
  • Challenge 2:  Even if the page viewed is not the bounce/exit page (and thereby has a time greater than zero), GA doesn’t distinguish between time on page/site if the browser window is in a hidden or visible tab

After a lengthy explanation to the client informing them of the way the Google Analytics tracks time on page (and by extension, time on site), they were still stuck without a way to accurately measure content engagement.  First of all, there are a number of different ways to measure engagement besides time on page / site.  Many posts have been written about this and I urge readers to seek those out since time metrics gain too much undue focus as it is.  As things stand, since this publisher’s site was not configured with any event tracking (a scroll tracking module would be great), they were seeing many users come to their site, view one page, and then leave. Unfortunately for them, “out of the box GA” does not provide very good insights into the nature of how users are interacting with their content. “Are they even reading the content?”
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Google Analytics Goals & Bounce Rate

Proper configuration of Goals in Google Analytics is a critical to the ability to make good business decisions.  Especially for those of you out there spending money on PPC, in order to make the best return on investment possible (and stop wasting your money), properly set up goals are a must.

In my humble opinion, Conversion Rate and Bounce Rate are two of the most important key performance indicators (KPIs).  As you can see below, when I configured Goal Conversions for a client, I was able to make the types of decisions necessary in their PPC account to drive conversions up and bounce rate down.

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