This article originally appeared in the March 2015 edition of the Marketing GPS Newsletter.
Recently I met with a client to discuss his website’s progress from the previous month. As we reviewed his monthly report (which included text, statistics and charts), he suddenly stopped and asked if, in future reports, I would modify one chart that displayed total monthly pageviews and average visit duration. He asked that I would divide the data into two charts, “for they really have no relation to each other.”
I was surprised by his request because, as a data analyst, I know that these two important metrics do have a special relationship. I explained to him that relationship and later realized that there are a number of key metric relationships in a typical Google Analytics report. In this article I’ll explain why three such relationships are important for every marketer to understand.
Relationship #1: Pageviews and Average Session Duration
This is the relationship our client did not understand, and what led him to request the separation of these two metrics into different charts. But before I go into how these metrics are related, let’s take a moment to explore what they actually represent.
Unlike a session (visit), which can last for many minutes and only count as one regardless of what pages a visitor engages with, pageviews are counted each and every time any page on your website is loaded. So, for example, if Jim Bob visits your website and views 10 pages, Google Analytics will record one session (visit), and 10 pageviews. This is why, if you have ever looked at Google Analytics for your site before, you will notice that pageviews are always much higher in number than sessions (visits).
The average session duration (formerly known as average visit duration) is a measurement of the average amount of time that visitors to your site spend looking around. This number is usually between 30 seconds at the low end, to six or seven minutes at the high end. Generally speaking, the higher this average is the better, because it indicates visitors are finding your content interesting.
Pageviews and average session duration relate to one another, because together they show how engaging your site is. It is typical when considering these two metrics together that the higher your pageview total, the lower the average visit duration will be, because more pageviews means more pages viewed – typically with lower time spent on each page – which consequently drags down the average visit duration.
On the other hand, when pageviews come down, typically average session duration goes up. If you see both increased pageviews and average session duration, however, it indicates that the content you are posting on your site is becoming more engaging for your visitors.
Relationship #2: Average Session Duration and Bounce Rate
Since we already know what average session duration means, let’s discuss bounce rate. Bounce rate is the percentage of users who land on your site, take no action, and immediately leave again without visiting additional pages/content (this is known as a “bounce”).
These metrics have a very important relationship, as they also show how engaging your website is. This relationship must be taken in context of what purpose your website serves. For example, blogs typically have higher numbers in both metrics, since usually people visit a blog to read a single article, spend quite a bit of time reading the article, and then bounce back off the site. This is acceptable for a blog. However, if your e-commerce site has low average session duration and high bounce rate, you are probably not making many sales, as people are landing on your site, not finding what they need, and immediately leaving.
Generally speaking, for most websites, a higher average session duration and lower bounce rate are ideal.
Relationship #3: Pages per Session and Average Session Duration
As with average session duration, pages per session (or pages per visit) is a fairly self-explanatory metric. It is simply the average number of pages that visitors loaded into their browser during their sessions on your site. The relationship between pages/session and average session duration is an important one to keep in mind, because it shows how effective your pages are. If you have a high number of pages per session, that is generally a good thing.
It could also mean, however, that visitors are having trouble finding the content they’re seeking, and are searching around for it. If you suspect this to be the case, check your on-site search statistics to see what visitors are searching for after reaching your site. High number of searches for the same or related phrases could indicate visitors are finding it difficult to reach information on that topic. You may need to improve your navigation links and/or simplify your site architecture to make the content easier to find.
In a related situation, if you have a low average session duration to go with higher pages per session average, that may not be so good. It could be an indicator that your pages are not engaging enough, or that your visitors are having to click through a lot of information to find the gold they are seeking (as noted above), and that they are abandoning your site after looking without success through a number of pages.
The goal with this metric relationship should be to have both numbers (pages per session and average session duration) as high as possible. That shows your individual pages are engaging, and that once a visitor is done engaging with one page, they move on to another page and engage well with that page.
As with Relationship #2, blogs are the exception to this rule. If a blog has low pages/session and high average session duration, that is not a concern because, as previously stated, many blogs are often “touch-and-go” for visitors, who visit to read a single article and then bounce-off again.
Though this list of metric relationships is not exhaustive, it does give you some starting points to observe your own site’s performance. Over time, understanding these stats will enable you to make informed decisions about tweaks to your site content, navigation and architecture, to improve your visitors’ experience.
Michael is responsible for client SEO work, reporting, FB ads, and web hosting. Prior to joining NSI Partners, Michael received his Bachelor of Science in Business Management Information Systems from Liberty University, and worked at the school’s Network Operations Center. Michael resides in Lynchburg, VA, with his wife, Megan. His hobbies include gaming, watching Atlanta Falcons football, and reading.
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