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Your Website’s Average Session Duration And Why It Matters

September 7th, 2016 by Mardy Sitzer

The purpose of looking at your website’s analytics is to examine how your website is performing and review where you can improve. With that in mind, I would like to introduce you to a key metric, which is your website’s Average Session Duration, and put it into perspective so that the numbers can have actionable meaning.

You should know that this is a metric that search engines factor in to their results. They’ll match a search sequence to Average Session Duration and determine if they want to serve you up to the next searcher or bury you further down the page. So this is a metric that you want to pay attention to and set goals toward continuous improvement. Not just for the sake of SEO, but also for the sake of your bottom line.

I find that analogies can be helpful to simulate an experience that helps explain a concept or idea. So, I humbly offer the following analogy to start the dialogue on a Website’s Average Session Duration.

Watch people walk down a street lined with shops, crowded with people passing by at varying speeds. This scene can provide a sense of some of the behaviors I will touch on in this post. What you are watching are people with a range of behaviors. And by the way, this is not just B2C, these behaviors are the same for B2B.

Some people move through the space as though they have a singular purpose of getting to a destination, while others are at a more leisurely pace. You will also notice that some take a moment to peer into a storefront window. Maybe something caught their eye, maybe they are familiar with that brand and are curious as to what’s new. Maybe they lost focus and are just pausing to regroup.

You might see people open doors and step in. Some take a few steps in and then turn to leave, while others might make a loop around the store to get a general idea and then head out. On occasion, you might see someone standing for a while in front of something while they are engaging their cell phone –either answering and sending text messages, or possibly looking things up or doing a price comparison. Once in a while you’ll see someone grabbing things, giving them a quick once over and throwing them into their cart – probably to be sorted out later during check out.

What is happening with your web traffic isn’t that much different than the scenarios described above, except that you won’t see it and it happens much faster and hopefully in greater numbers.

While brand awareness is a worthy marketing goal, the primary goal of most any website is to facilitate conversions. However, the first hurdle is for an internet traveler to accept your invitation to come in (click through) from a search or from another site offering a link, and then to be compelled to stay (session duration) long enough to be convinced and converted – the metric that will help you to understand how you are performing in that first step is referred to as ‘average session duration’.

Caveat – a single or even a series of blog posts cannot begin to scratch the surface of the meaning of this particular metric or the full scope of analytics. There have been a multitude of books, and oceans of blogs dedicated to this specialty area. However, that should not hold you back from digging in and discovering what is readily available to help you improve your website’s conversion metrics and consequently improve the bottom line of your business.

Where can you find your Average Session Duration?

When you log into your Google Analytics account, the following image is representative of the first image you’ll see. If not, you can find this under Audience Overview.


So what exactly is Average Session Duration?

Average Session Duration: the total duration of all sessions (in seconds) divided by the number of sessions. So that is where the ‘average’ comes into the equation. You’ll find session lengths across the spectrum, but typically the largest percentage is the under 10 second group.

So let’s dig in a bit so that you can make better assessments, adjustments and plans about your website and your marketing efforts.

If your Average Session Duration is low – you have a lot of work ahead of you. After all, if a page’s average time is too low that indicates that hardly anyone is spending time on your site and therefore, you’ve got a problem, possibly several problems. How can you expect to convert a visitor into a prospect or into a lead, let alone a customer if you can’t hold their attention for more than a few seconds?

The following are 6 of the most common issue categories that could be the cause for visitors to cut their visit short. It could be a singular issue or a combination of issues.

  • Page takes too long to load
  • Not relevant to the search terms used (you’re attracting the wrong visitors)
  • Unattractive or uninviting page design and navigation
  • Lack of clarity of purpose
  • Lack of substance, poor grammar or spelling errors (and yes, Google looks at this too)
  • Lack of security or validation of credibility (Google takes this seriously)

Now that you have a handle on where the Average Session Duration data lives and what the possible indications of low numbers are, it’s time to call a meeting with your team (designer, copywriter, marketing person, programmer, SEO person, sales manager) and begin to examine the possible causes. Make changes, test, rinse, repeat. It is a process but you’ll find it well worth the efforts.

If you have any suggestions or insights, please leave a comment and join the discussion.

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