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Friday, April 14, 2017

Visit Duration, Page Views, and Bounce Rates in Analytics

Many clients have never had a need to learn website statistics such as those provided by Google Analytics, and they can be confusing at first (or second, or third) glance. This post (sorry it's a bit lengthy) is intended to help you understand some of the most important metrics, with examples using real-world data as seen in the table below.

Source: www.similarweb.com, April 13, 2017


Visits - All of the data in the table above is averaged based upon visits. A visit is simply a session where a visitor is on your website and the two terms are often used interchangeably, whether the visitor only goes to one page or visits 100 pages. If someone goes to your website, visits five pages, leaves, then comes back an hour later, that is considered two visits, or sessions (even though it’s one visitor).

Average Visit Duration - The average visit duration is exactly what it sounds like; an average of how long each visitor stays on a particular website per visit, from the time they get to your site until the time they leave your site. Leaving your site can be through a number of ways including “leaving” by closing their browser, clicking the “back” button after first arriving on your site, or clicking on a link that takes them to a different site somewhere else on the internet.

Pages / Visit - Every page a website visitor visits is counted as a “Page View”. The “Pages / Visit” column is an average of how many Page Views the average visitor views, and since some people visit a site once while others are repeat visitors, the Pages per Visit metric is based on the pages per visit per session. If someone visits your website, visits five pages, leaves, then comes back the next day and visits five more pages (even if they’re the same pages), that would result in 10 Page Views but an average of 5 pages/visit.

Bounce Rate - The Bounce Rate is the percentage of visitors who leave a website after viewing only one page. Let’s say, for example, someone wants to buy a red sofa and they’re very particular that it must be red. Let’s say that person goes online and searches for “red furniture”. If from the search results they click on a link that takes them to a furniture company’s website that only sells blue furniture, they would likely click the “back” button on their browser because they knew immediately they weren’t going to find a red sofa on the blue furniture company’s website. That visitor is said to have “bounced” because they only visited the page they landed on and didn’t go to any other pages on that site. Higher Bounce Rates aren’t always a bad thing, as we’ll see below.

Making Sense of the Numbers

You’ll notice in the table above that several values are circled in red and numbered (1) through (8). This is how each will be referenced throughout this section for easier reference. It’s also important to keep in mind that the sites listed above are extremely popular websites and the metrics you see are not what you should expect from your own site. Google for example has over 2 trillion searches per year. Facebook has over 1 billion active monthly users. Don’t try to take the numbers from the table above out of context because your website is NOT Google, Facebook, or any of the other sites you see here. The purpose of this is simply to show where some differences in metrics come from.

The Myths, De-Mystified

Most people who don’t fully understand statistics, how website statistics are measured, or consider human behavior in a “big picture” context often make certain assumptions that aren’t always true. For example, a longer Visit Duration isn’t always a good thing. Consider some of the following when examining statistics for your own website:

Average Visit Duration is one metric that most people assume the longer the duration, the better. While this is often true, there are many scenarios where it’s not the case. Take a look at items (1), (3), and (5) and the websites each one corresponds with. Now think about how people typically use each of those sites. Facebook is known as a site which people tend to visit out of habit or when bored. They tend to scroll through their timeline, click on a few friend’s pages, make some comments, share an article or two, and leave. An average of around 16 minutes (1) probably seems within the normal range to most people. Youtube is where people go to watch videos and listen to music, so naturally the average visit duration is going to be substantial...over 24 minutes in this case (3). Compare that to Wikipedia at just over 4 minutes per visit (5) and Youtube has more than five times the duration of Wikipedia, so why is that? Again, this goes back to behavior.

People visiting Wikipedia are generally researching some topic they want to know something about. Let’s say you want to know the population of China. A quick search yields a Wikipedia page at the top of the results, and people know that’s a site they can go to in order to find out what they’re looking for, so they click on it. The information is easy to find on Wikipedia, the visitor gets everything they need quickly, and leave if that’s all they wanted to know.

The thing to note here is that Average Visit Duration can be low because most people simply don’t like your website, or it can be low because your site is structured so well that visitors are able to find the information they need very quickly (e.g. if they’re just looking for your phone number or address). In the latter case, a lower Average Visit Duration is better. Conversely, a high Average Visit Duration may indicate that people really like your site content and spend time reading it, or that they can’t find what they’re looking for. A visitor to one car dealer website may have to click on every vehicle to see the mileage, whereas another car dealer website may have a filter to display only vehicles with less than 50k miles. The second site in this example would yield a shorter Average Visit Duration, but it’s actually a good thing for the visitor in this case.

Pages per Visit can be looked at in a similar fashion. Wikipedia has an average of only around 3 pages per visit in our table above (6) while Facebook has an average of over five times that amount at 15 pages per visit (2). Most people assume that more pages per visit is better, and often it is, but it’s not always the case. Let’s go back to how the average person uses Facebook versus Wikipedia. Facebook is a site which people tend to browse through, clicking on multiple pages per visit. Wikipedia, as mentioned in the example earlier, is typically the end point for someone who is searching for very specific information. Once they get the info they were looking for, they don’t typically browse through additional topics unless they’re related to the original topic. This would explain the gap in pages per visit between those two sites. Again, these numbers need to be taken within the context of user behavior on a macro level, like the difference you would expect in how many pages someone viewed while browsing through an old family photo album versus how many they viewed while browsing through the dictionary. They’re both technically books, but used very differently.

Bounce Rate, like the other two metrics being discussed, is also a number that can be better if it’s higher or better if it’s lower, therefore site usage is important to keep in mind. In the example of Live.com the bounce rate is extremely low at 13% (8). When you consider that people going to Live.com are going there for the very specific purpose of logging in to their Microsoft account, it makes sense that almost everyone going there does go to at least one more page before leaving.

Similarly, many sites linking to Youtube do so in such a way that the visitor knows ahead of time they’re going to end up visiting Youtube by clicking on the link, and as you’ve probably seen, Youtube has an entire column to the right of their videos which shows related videos, encouraging and making it very easy for visitors to go to at least one more page/video before leaving the site. This sort of site structure helps to lower the bounce rate to just 19% for Youtube (4).

The bounce rate for Wikipedia is incredibly high with almost half of the visitors leaving after viewing just one page (7) and as with everything else, this is a direct result of usage patterns. Let’s go back to how most people use Wikipedia (searching for a specific topic and clicking on the Wikipedia result in the search engine). Since they’re often searching for something so specific, they land on the Wikipedia page for that topic, get the info they need, then leave the site. If you’re looking for the population of China and find it on Wikipedia as in our example, you’re pretty unlikely to get sidetracked and visit other pages on the Wikipedia site. You’re almost 50% likely, as the bounce rate suggests, to leave after finding the info you sought.

With the car dealer website example, consider that many visitors will arrive on your site after seeing one of your vehicles on a 3rd party classified site. Think of how many visitors are likely to click on a vehicle, let’s say on Craigslist, get taken to your site, either looking for or seeing something about that car they didn’t see before (e.g. if you don’t have a price on Craigslist they may click to see if you have one on your website). It’s typical behavior for that person to hit the “back” button on their browser and get back to looking at the other vehicles on that classified site, especially if they’re looking for something very specific that your vehicle doesn’t have. Of course you want every single visitor to buy a car but that’s not reality. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing when bounce rates are “high” (whatever you want to consider high). It could simply mean that visitors are finding the info they want quickly, without having to jump through a bunch of digital hoops (links) to find it.


In summary, analyzing website statistics isn’t really a black and white issue. There are several factors that go into making sense of the numbers, everything from the website design itself and who your target market is, to how and where you’re marketing your website. While many think every website should have a high visit duration and number of pages per visit with a low bounce rate, it’s not always the case. Sometimes, but not always. Every website is unique and will have its own statistics, so knowing what to make of those statistics is the key to understanding your own metrics.