Where bounce rate measures a lack of engagement, a bounce is not necessarily a bad thing; if someone loads a single page and then exits your site, it may simply mean you gave them exactly what they were looking for in a single pageview.
But to effectively measure the engagement of users who stick around to load more than one page, we look at several key metrics. One of these is time-on-site, a measurement that answers the question of how much time people spend browsing your site. The more time a visitor spends browsing your pages, the more engagement they demonstrate.
As with many kinds of engagement measures, however, the accuracy of this metric can vary depending on how you’ve configured your analytics.
Re-Capturing Your Users’ Last Visited Page
Suppose a user spends 10 seconds on one page, 15 seconds on the next page, then 20 seconds on a third page before closing the browser window. Google Analytics and other analytics platforms can only track recordable events that take place on a page: clicking a link, playing a video, and the like. These platforms do not have access to the knowledge that a user has closed their tab.
Therefore, despite spending a total of 45 seconds on your site, this hypothetical visitor’s total time-on-site will only be recorded as 25 seconds; there’s no event that fires when a user closes a page. Their visit will register 10 seconds on the first page, 15 seconds on the second, and some unknown amount of time on the third.
This gap in knowledge can be counteracted by marking your site up with events that are recorded for newsletter signups, conversion funnel initiation, or whatever else is appropriate for the page. You might also use the “setTimeOut” function in Google Analytics to identify when a user lingers on a page past a specified amount of time.
For example, if you want “setTimeOut” to capture visits of three minutes or longer, and a user spends five minutes on a page before closing the tab, you will know they spent at least three minutes on the page. But you’ll want to pick this number carefully; if the user spent two minutes and 50 seconds reading before closing the tab, you’d know nothing!
Simply put, the time-on-site metric expresses the amount of time from a visitor’s first recordable interaction to their last. Implementing these markups means you’re more likely to capture a recordable event before the user exits, painting a clearer picture of how much time people spend interacting with your site.
How Time-On-Site Affects Your SEO
Importantly, Google doesn’t have access to your time-on-site data, even if your site uses Google Analytics. But the search giant certainly does have access to timing data from how people interact with search results.
If someone searches “koalas” and spends 10 seconds looking at the first result, 8 seconds looking at the next, and 90 seconds looking at the third, then Google is more likely to upgrade the position of that third result in future searches for “koalas.”
In this sense, time-on-site can be important for improving your search traffic, but no search engine will ever have specific knowledge of how long people spend navigating several pages deep into a site.
Ideally, people are spending lots of time on your site because they’re engaged with your great content. When this metric trends upward, it’s a strong suggestion that overall engagement is growing. This is why it’s important to mark your pages up with the necessary code to capture visitors’ actions before they close the tab. Who wants to see your time-on-site decrease?
Next week, we’ll be looking at another great engagement indicator: pages-per-session!