How the Average Time Spent on Website Makes or Breaks SERP

We all want visitors to read our posts top to bottom.

We want them to spend a lot of time on our site.

But how can we get those results?

How can we increase the average time spent on a website?

And increase we must because it is a key factor for online success.

When people spend more time on your site, your chances of engaging them grow—manifold.

But the thing is, internet users have no tolerance for slowly loading web pages.

They’re not prepared to spend a second extra on sites that don’t make it worth their while.

If you’re struggling to keep visitors around long enough for a meaningful experience, you must up your game.

How? Glad you asked.

There are 3 powerful hacks to make visitors stay longer on their every website visit.

However, first let’s find out how to calculate time on site, how it affects your online business, and how it is different from bounce rate.

How Time on Site is Calculated

Time on site shows the level of involvement visitors have with your site. As such, it is an important metric for measuring website performance.

“How do I calculate it?” you may ask.

Let’s find out…

When website visitors enter your site, the web server automatically creates a log file to record the action.

The log file contains a time stamp that shows the exact time of their entry.

For every new webpage that the visitor clicks, the log file adds a new timestamp indicating the precise time the visitor entered that page.

Time on site is calculated as the difference between the last timestamp and the first one of a particular browsing session.

And the average time on site is calculated using the formula:

Total time-on-site for multiple visitors / Total number of visitors

Naturally, you would want the average time on site for users to be as high as possible. That would mean visitors find your site relevant.

But exactly how long you should make customers stay? What is a good average time spent on a website?

Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. It all depends on the type, quality and subject matter of your site.

That said, over 2 minutes is pretty impressive and anything between 1-2 minutes is on par for niche sites.

Important as time spent on site is, it doesn’t tell the whole story—in fact no web performance metric can do that alone.

That’s why you should consider other key performance metrics as well. Like bounce rate, for instance.

What Is Bounce Rate and Why Average Bounce Rate Matters?

Bounce rate is the percentage of total visitors who abandon your site after visiting just one page.

Time is not a factor here at all.

Whether users spend 2 hours or 2 seconds on your site is irrelevant; what matters is whether they view more than one page. If a user spends 2 hours reading a webpage but leaves the site without opening another site page, Google will still mark it as a bounce.

A high website bounce rate can spell bad news for your online business because it means users don’t like what they see. Either your site doesn’t resolve the problem they have (which instigated their initial Google search in the first place) or the experience is just too poor: bad navigation, poor design choices, mediocre content, slowly loading site, etc.

Which begs the question: How high is too high?

There’s no definitive answer, as it depends on business type, industry, and several other factors.

For some sites a bounce rate of 50% can be unreasonable, while for others this figure can be perfectly acceptable.

That’s why it is better if you use the average website bounce rate of your industry as a benchmark.

You can use Google Analytics or any other web performance monitoring tool to find out the benchmark figure for your industry.

If your bounce rate is higher than that of your peers, make efforts to bring it down.

How Time on Site and Bounce Rate Affect Your Ranking?

First things first. No one knows if Google’s algorithm takes time on site and bounce rate when ranking pages.  Google has neither confirmed nor denied using them.

Nevertheless, there’s a strong reason to believe a low on-site time and a high average bounce rate can hurt your ranking.

Even if Google’s algorithm doesn’t use on-page time and bounce rate per se, we do know it takes into account what they signify.

Ever heard of RankBrain?

RankBrain is one of the most important ranking factors of Google’s algorithm. It focuses on understanding the search intent of users to help Google organize the search results better.

When visitors leave your site quickly or after opening only one page, RankBrain may infer your site isn’t what they’re looking for. Consequently, it may say, “Maybe this site shouldn’t be ranked so high for that particular query.”

So you see, even without being ranking factors in their own right, on-page time and website bounce rate can influence your ranking by telegraphing user satisfaction to the search engine.

Therefore, it pays off to increase on-page time and reduce bounce rate. This boosts customer engagement and can also improve your rankings.

However, to be able to do that, you must first find out your current stats.

How can you do that?

That’s up next…

How to Measure On-Site Time

You can measure on-page time and bounce rate using free web analytics tools, like Google Analytics or Yandex Metrica.

If your site runs on WordPress, you can use plugins to view web performance metrics inside your dashboard.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is the most popular web analytics tool. As many as 50 million sites use it!

Google Analytics show average time spent on a website (although now it’s called average session duration), as well as other user-behavior data to help you analyze and monitor your site’s performance.

It collects information about visitors and their interaction with your site by placing snippets of JavaScript tracking code inside the web pages.

Just a heads up – you may find Google Analytics a bit overwhelming in the beginning. It has a plethora of different dashboards that show all kinds of details.

If that’s the case, feel free to use the online tutorials that Google offers. They’re there to help users use its web analytics tool more effectively.

Yandex Metrica

This is another tool that you can use to find out the average website bounce rate, on-page time, and all kinds of other details related to your site’s performance.

Just like Google Analytics, Yandex Metrica is free and works by adding small piece of code to your pages.

It offers pretty much everything Google Analytics provides and then some.

Two immensely useful features exclusive to Yandex Metrica are Session Replay and Heat maps.

You can use Session Replay to watch how visitors interact with your site. Heat maps, on the other hand, show you which parts of a page drive more attention than others.

Compared to Google Analytics, Yandex Metrica is more intuitive and easier to use.

WordPress Plugins

With help of a suitable WordPress plugin, you can access user-behavior data like average time on page without leaving your WordPress dashboard.

There are many free plugins that can integrate Google Analytics with WordPress with just a few clicks.

The most popular one is Google Analytics by MonsterInsights. More than 2 million sites can vouch for how useful it is!

Other popular plugins include Google Analytics Dashboard for WP, Analytify, and WP Statistics.

You can use any of these to view your traffic details inside WordPress dashboard.

How to Increase Visitors’ Average Time Spent on a Website

Many factors influence user experience, none more important than navigation, website speed, and content.

Navigation

When done right, website navigation improves both the user experience and SEO.

A well-defined navigation structure allows visitors to seamlessly browse through your site.

It also makes the job of search engine crawlers easier. They’re able to index your site faster, which in turn can help improve your rankings.

There are 7 best practices for creating effective website navigation.

  • Each web page should have at least three internal links pointing to it

Interconnecting the web pages effectively helps visitors read more than one page, improving time on site. It also allows search engines to index your pages faster.

On top of all this, it makes it easier for Google to understand what your pages are all about. After all,  each one will have at least three anchor texts describing it.

  • Your site hierarchy should be easy to follow

At the top of the hierarchy should be your homepage, followed by categories, and then sub-categories.

Try to keep your categories down to 3-7, not 37. Too many categories may confuse users.

As a result they may leave your site in seconds, and you may end up well below the benchmark for average time on page.

Also, Google likes it when categories are well-balanced.

So if you run a blog site and there are 10 blog posts in one category and 100 in another, you should seriously think about redesigning the structure.

Maybe you can divide the big category with 100 posts into sub-categories or make the smaller category a subcategory of another.

  • Consider Hamburger menu if your site is content-heavy

One way to improve visitors’ average time spent on a website is to eliminate decision fatigue.

It’s a well-known fact when users have too many options in front of them, they are most likely to choose nothing.

In fact, in one study, users showed ten times less inclination to act when presented with too many choices.

If your site is content-heavy, you may want to use the 3-lined menu or the hamburger menu, as it is popularly known.

It helps you tuck away the navigation, take decision fatigue out of the equation, and nudges users toward a predefined path.

If you’re going in for the hamburger menu, make its icon obviously clickable.

Avoid styling the hamburger menu like a decorative piece. This only confuses visitors and makes them quickly click off the site.

To ensure best results, style the menu icon like a button or fit it in within a border so that it looks exactly like what it’s supposed to be—a navigational element.

Also, sometimes it makes much more sense to make the most important navigational links visible. This way you can put the main links in front of the users and narrow their choice.

You may also consider pairing the hamburger menu with a label to make things easier for the elderly. They may not be familiar with the hamburger menu icon.

  • Use anchor text to describe your linked pages

If you want your web pages to meet or exceed the benchmark for average time on page, make sure you anchor texts are readable by humans. Make them descriptive and informational.

Otherwise users may fail to understand where the link is taking them and exit the site quickly—even when you have all the information they’re looking for.

Some sites let the preceding text explain what the link is about and use an unrelated phrase like “find out more” as the anchor text.

This, however, is not a great strategy because most users tend to skim-read content and may miss that valuable information.

  • Make sure the URLs text is readable by humans

As much as possible, you should form the URLs in such a way that it gives website users a fair bit of idea about its content.

The best practice is to include the page title in the URL. This makes it human readable.

This approach is also good for SEO, as Google looks at the URL to figure out the topic of the page.

  • Place the search bar at the top of each page

When it comes to the placement of the site search box, it’s best to follow convention.

Most sites place the search bar at the top of a page, either in the right corner or at the center.

You should do the same as this is where most people expect the search box to be.

If they don’t find it there, they may automatically assume your site doesn’t have a search bar and end their website visit.

  • Include ALT text in images

ALT texts (also called “alt descriptions” or “alt tags”) are used for describing images.

An ALT text appears on the screen in place of the image if the latter doesn’t load.

They are also useful for visually impaired users. If the ALT description is present, a screen reader can describe the image to visitors who can’t see it.

ALT tags are also good for SEO.

Search engines can’t interpret images. They need an ALT text to tell them what the image is about. This in turn helps search engines get better idea when to feature your website in the search results.

Website Speed

Did you know most users stay less than 15 seconds on a site?

This is popularly known as “the 15 second rule”—and it affects all types of sites equally.

Viewers cut their visit short for several reasons and page loading times play a crucial role.

In fact, a delay of just a few seconds can cause bounce rate to climb up sharply.

Research shows a site with a page load time of 6 seconds has a 106% higher bounce rate probability than a site that loads in just 1 second.

For sites with load times of 10 seconds, this figure is as high as 123%.

If visitors are leaving your site in a hurry, it’s time you take decisive steps to boost speed.

Enabling caching is a good place to start. It can substantially reduce page load times and improve customer satisfaction.

Other DIY fixes that help you beat the 15 second rule include using a free CDN, compressing text files with GZIP, and compressing image files.

Content

Good content is the king in digital marketing.

Therefore, make sure you can produce loads of it. Or hire someone who can.

Awesome content will help you get more viewers, incite readers to spend more time per visit, and turn more visitors into paid customers.

Quality content has four core elements. Make sure you tick all these boxes.

  • Create powerful headlines

If they aren’t catchy, you will always struggle to improve bounce rate.

Because 80% of viewers read headlines, but only 20% of them read the rest.

If your headlines don’t pique viewers’ interest, they’ll click off the site in a jiffy.

  • Provide accurate information

The last thing you want is to give inaccurate information. This can damage your reputation.

If you want to build trust with viewers, make sure your content is reliable.

Research things well, double- and triple-check the data you quote, and explain in understandable manner.

  • Provide value to visitors

Why do people read blog posts?

If you thought “to get information or answers”, you’re right on the money.

Use your posts to address the pain areas of your audience. If you can do that, website users will be all ears (and eyes).

Also remember that many users skim through articles. Make sure your content is easy to scan by structuring it properly, with headlines, sections, bolded sentences, and so forth. This will help readers to find the important bits quickly.

  • Use images and videos to communicate better

Some learn better by hearing, some by seeing. But no one learns any less if the content has visual aids.

They also make the page more attractive than if it only had big chunks of text, arranged one after the other.

Images, infographics, and videos can all help you convey thoughts and ideas better. Use them, liberally.

Wrapping Up

Ignorance is not bliss in business.

What you don’t know is an impediment to your progress.

That’s why you should track important web performance metrics like average time spent on a website, bounce rate, and others on a regular basis.

They tell you how visitors interact with your site.

If visitors are spending less time than expected, make amends immediately.

Fine-tuning site navigation can get you off to a good start. Improving website speed and content quality are also great ideas.

All these factors can make or break user experience. Get creative, do quality A/B testing, measure, adjust, improve.

If you can get things right, the rewards are huge.

Customers will line up to visit your site, spend more minutes per stay, and engage more.

And good times will roll.