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From The Forum: Why Is My Time On Site Spiking?

Posted at June 14, 2013 | By : | Categories : Blog,Google Analytics | Comments

Our team often cruises the Google Analytics Support Forums to answer the burning questions of GA users far and wide. Our From the Forum posts highlight some of those questions and answers in an effort to continually spread BEST Practices. Have a burning question? Add it to the comments below and we will get you an answer.

Question

Our company recently launched a website redesign with integrated ecommerce. Post launch, the Average Time on Site increased by around 1.5 minutes, while the Pages per Visit dropped by half. What is happening?

Answer

This is certainly an interesting change in your data, and there are two possible causes:

  1. Something broke (or was corrected) in your analytics implementation with the launch of the new site.
  2. User behavior has changed due to the redesign.

Metrics like Time on Site and Pages/Visit are session-based ratios, meaning these numbers will change when the input for the calculation changes. Both Time on Site and Pages/Visit depend on the detection of a session (Visit) in your data. If you see session-based ratios change, it means either the numerator (Pages Viewed in the session, Total Time of the session) has changed or the denominator (sessions, aka Visits) has changed relative to the numerator.

If something was broken in your GA implementation before the redesign and is fixed and accurately measuring now, the most likely culprit would be sessions (Visits). Another problem is that your old site may have over-counted Pageviews, which would skew your old data.

If something has broken with your current analytics implementation, you will likely see swings in other session-based ratios and sessions themselves:

  1. Bounce Rate: if this has spiked, that is a problem.
  2. Total Visits: if it has jumped, that is also a sign of session corruption due to something about your new GA install being broken.

Possible Causes

1: Your old site over-counted Pageviews and your new site’s GA implementation corrects this. If this is the case, you could expect to see:

  1. Visits remain the same,
  2. Time on Site remain relatively the same, and
  3. Pageviews decrease and thus Pages/Visit decrease.

Why would your old site have over-counted Pageviews? Perhaps it used Virtual Pageviews for things like outbound links, downloads, or other events rather than Event Tracking. Perhaps some pages were double-tagged, resulting in two pageviews being reported on those pages when only one should have been reported.

 

2: User behavior has actually changed. The Pages/Visit ratio could reduce following a website redesign, while Users’ Total Time spent on the site and Visits remains relatively static. This could be a sign of positive things, demonstrating that your new webpage design is more engaging to your audience. Therefore, they are spending more time on your site as a result.

However, higher Pages/Visit does not necessarily mean good things. If people have to view five or more pages in order to do something on your site that should perhaps take only two or three pages, your new website may not be optimized. Most websites average three to four Pages/Visit. This metric value is more akin to a bell curve. If Pages/Visit are too low, it is a sign people are not thrilled with your site and leave. If Pages/Visit are too high, it could be a sign that people are trying really hard to find/do what they wanted.

So, what is the answer?

Check your data.
If it is Option 1, there is something that may need to be fixed.
If it is Option 2, your website redesign is probably a huge success!

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