Why Is My Time Spent on Site Statistic So Low?

By | March 19, 2023

Along with bounce rate, visitor count and keywords, time on site is a prominent enough metric that it shows up in all sorts of fields by default in Google Analytics. It stands to reason that it’s a valuable metric, and many marketers seem to love it. What is it, how is it measured and is it as valuable as it seems?

What is Time Spent?

Time spent is a fairly self-explanatory metric. How long did the user stick around on your site, from the time the clicked a link to your page to the time they exited? It seems like a simple calculation.

There are, however, a few stumbling blocks.

  • How do you track when the user exited, particularly if they didn’t click an outgoing link to do so?
  • When a user opens a link to your page in a new tab, how much of the time with the page loaded is actual time spent looking at the site?
  • How can you tell the difference between a user who loads one page, reads it, and leaves, and a user who bounces immediately?
  • How do you calculate time spent on site when a user opens multiple tabs on your domain?

These are issues that come up to obscure the validity of time spent on site. There’s no single solution to these problems; different analytics software calculates time spent differently. In fact, Upworthy has debuted a system that calculates “attention minutes” for future use with advertising.

The Argument Against Time Spent


Some will argue that time spent is not a valuable metric. Consider this scenario:

  • 1:04 the user clicks a Google link and visits your site.
  • 1:05 the user clicks a headline from your blog to a post they want to read.
  • 1:10 the user closes the browser, satisfied with their experience.

At 1:04, analytics records a visit beginning. At 1:05, it records the visit clicking to a new page. That’s it. There’s no poll to keep the session active to see how long it lasts. The visit lasts one minute and reads like a short blip.

Consider another scenario:

  • 1:04 the user clicks a Google link and visits your site.
  • 1:05 the user clicks a headline from your blog to a post they want to read.
  • 1:10 the user comes back to their computer to read the story, after getting up for a bathroom break and a snack.
  • 1:12 the user clicks back to your homepage to see if there’s anything else to read.
  • 1:13 the user closes the browser, having found nothing more to read.

One minute to find a headline, two minutes to read it and a blank click to the homepage to leave. Actual time spent: three minutes. However, that five minute snack break is calculated as well, making the time spent metric record eight full minutes of engaged time on site. Inaccurate to say the least.

There are, of course, ways around this problem. One common way is to actively ping the user every minute, to keep the session alive and see where the user is. This helps track the “exit” event, at least.

The Benefits of Time Spent


Time spent is not an actionable metric. You can’t necessarily see with any accuracy how long a user is spending on a page. To do so would require a third party toolbar measuring it, which, incidentally, is what Alexa and a few other groups do. You can’t identify the pages with the best time on site not completely, so taking specific action without supporting information will be a risky venture.

Still, you can learn a lot from time spent, in a general way.

  • Pages with a generally low time spent on site and a high bounce rate may not be satisfactory to your users.
  • Pages with a high time spent on site indicate successful pages with lengthy content. When coupled with a low bounce rate and a high engagement rate, it shows you what content is doing well.
  • Extreme amounts of referral traffic from a small handful of sources, all with low time spent on site, is an indicator of bot traffic.

Why Time Spent is Low

So, back to the question in the headline. Why is your time spent on site metric so low? There are a wide range of options.

  • Your content is unsatisfactory and your users bounce immediately.
  • Your users visit the page they want to see directly and don’t click around your site, so no second event is logged to calculate time spent.
  • Your content is satisfactory and presented properly, but your site doesn’t facilitate additional exploration, so users leave rather than click around.
  • Your time spent on site is perfectly fine.

That last one might raise some eyebrows. The fact is, with the difficulty of calculating time spend and the average user’s attention span, a low time spent on site metric is normal. Only the most robust sites encourage more than a few minutes at a time, after all. Sometimes even the best sites only receive under a minute of use.

So, if you’re going to worry about time spent on site, ask yourself a few questions. How accurate is your time spent metric tracking? How representative is the sample you’re looking at? Is time spent low because your content is valuable, or because users bounce?

Increasing Time Spent


Here are some quick tips for boosting your time spent on site.

  • Interlink blog posts so users always have something else to click and read.
  • Make your site as easy as possible to navigate.
  • Use software, scripts or another workaround to make reporting more accurate.
  • Add more content and more value to your site.
  • Write longer content to keep users around longer.
  • Embed videos for a lengthy engagement metric.
  • Don’t be afraid to use complex images that deserve more visibility.

All in all, most of your common SEO and content marketing actions will help boost time on site as well, so in general, don’t worry too much about it.


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