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Sometimes you’ve got to take the information in Google with a grain of salt. It’s not gospel. Sometimes it’s just downright wrong. There are a number of issues that can distort data. For instance, one’s browser settings can influence what information is reported back to Google, if any. One analytics data point that is often confused is the average time that user’s spend on a particular page.

This seems like a great thing to know, and it is. But the problem is with how Google has to calculate that value. If you visit a web page and leave that page open in a tab on your browser, in theory your time on page can be hours or even days. But that is just not correct. You are not really looking at the page for that long. You looked at it…and then went and did something else even though the page was still open in your browser.

So what does average time on page really mean?

Average time on page is the length of time between when a user first opens a page in his browser and then travels to another page in the same website. So if you visit the page of a website, look at it for 45 seconds, and then click on a button to look at another page in the same site, then your time on the page was 45 seconds. Google will do this same calculation for all visitors who did the same thing (went to one page and then another page in the same site) within a specified date range and report the average. Visits that did not lead to another page visit in the same site are not included in the calculation.

If you, for example, use a single page (such as for use in a paid search campaign) then you will never have an average time on page because there is no other page to go to make the calculation.

If a page is typically the last page one looks at on your site, then there will be little data going into the calculation for average time on page. The way to know that is to look at your visitor flow chart. That will give you a good idea of what pages are typically viewed last as your visitors navigate through your site.

Average time on page might best be used as a comparative tool, rather than a standalone metric taken at face value. If there are pages of your site that demonstrate long average times, then those might be the pages your visitors are finding most engaging. Likewise, if there are pages that always have very short average times, then those are likely pages that your visitors do not find very interesting or useful. Analyze the average time on page for the pages of your site and make adjustments accordingly.

If you need help understanding and using your Google analytics data, get in touch with Work Media today. We hold multiple Google certifications and have been doing this for a long time, so we would be glad to help out.