Two of the best metrics for determining how effective your site is at providing the information your visitors want are time on page and bounce rate.
It stands to reason that longer user sessions and fewer bounces mean you’re doing something right with your content.
Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to diagnose the cause of short user sessions and high bounce rates.
Let’s dig into exactly what time on page and bounce rate represent, along with what you can do to improve both metrics for your website.
What are the time on page and bounce rate metrics?
Both are fairly self-explanatory measurements: Time on page describes how long a user spends on a given web page, and bounce rate refers to the percentage of users that “bounce” off of your website and return to the site they came from.
However, it’s very important to understand that both metrics have a few caveats.
Calculating time on page and bounce rate
Google calculates the time on page metric only within the context of a single website.
In other words, they use two clicks to calculate time on page: the “entry” click of a user navigating to a page on your website, and the “exit” click of a user navigating to another page on your website. They can then use the corresponding time stamps to calculate time on page for the first page.
Without that second click, Google can’t give you an accurate time on page measurement, and it’ll appear as 0 minutes in Google Analytics.
This means that the last page of a user’s session on your site will always have a time on page of 0 minutes because there won’t be an “exit” click to a different page.
This comes with some obvious problems, namely: What about users who only visit one page on your website?
This is important because one-page visits can occur quite often – typically due to informational search queries.
For example, let’s say you run a website about the Empire State Building. A common search might be “how many staircases are in the empire state building?”
If a user navigates to your website from the SERPs and lands on a page that has plenty of information about how many staircases the ESB has, how it stacks up against other tall buildings, and so on, it’s safe to say their search query has been answered by your high quality, relevant content.
But because they only wanted that one piece of information, they’ll probably hit the “back” button or otherwise navigate away from your site as soon as they have their answer.
Since they were only on a single page of your website, their time on page for your article will be reported as 0 minutes, and the bounce rate will increase.
You can see why this is problematic. Fantastic content ends up with a low time on page and high bounce rate, even though it’s exactly what Google wants to see in the SERPs.
Google itself does seem to track “dwell time,” which is the true amount of time visitors spend on your page. However, there’s no “dwell time” column that you can view in Google Analytics.
Thankfully, there are some workarounds that let you approximate these metrics for one-page visits. But unless you’re using one of them, always remember that there are some situations in which the reported “time on page” and “bounce rate” metrics will be wildly inaccurate or entirely useless.
How to increase time on page
Now that we’ve gone over the limitations of time on page and bounce rate, we can talk about improving both metrics.
Right off the bat, the most obvious way to increase time on page is by publishing high quality content.
Content creation is an entirely separate subject, so suffice to say “high quality” content in this context means content that provides what your visitors are looking for. It should be relevant to their searches, and it should solve a user issue or streamline a pain point for your business.
If your content is high quality but you’re still seeing shorter user sessions, there are a few things you can do to bump up that time on page number:
Even if your content answers a search query, users might be having a hard time finding the answer after landing on your page.
Putting in a table of contents on longer articles and making sure your content is formatted with user experience and readability in mind are two great ways of helping users and keeping them on your website instead of overwhelming them with poorly formatted, buried information.
Add to it
This one’s the simplest option, but it’s often overlooked.
If you have a great piece of content, look for ways to make it better! Maybe you gloss over a topic that your readers want more detail on, or maybe there’s a hole in your content that you overlooked.
Perform a content audit and identify any areas where you might be able to improve upon what you’ve already published.
This is another simple way to increase time on page.
People like interacting with things, so give them things to interact with! If you published an article about taking out loans, for example, you could build a simple interest rate calculator into the page.
If you don’t want to build something, you could also consider adding video instead. If you have an instructional article that explains how to do something, for example, you could embed a relevant YouTube video on the page.
There are an endless number of ways to enhance your existing content with interactive media that will increase the time users spend on that page.
How to decrease bounce rate
A “true” bounce happens when a user navigates to your page but exits your site within a short period of time (usually back to the SERPs) instead of visiting another one of your pages.
Most true bounces happen due to irrelevant or horribly-presented content, bad design, or something else that isn’t in line with the user’s expectations.
The first step to reducing bounce rate is putting yourself in the position of a user and thinking about what their expectations might be, then comparing them to the reality of your page.
For example, pretend your users are expecting informational content based on the title of a page. If your site instead blindsides them with an overt sales pitch, they’re going to hit that “back” button very quickly.
Maybe your headlines are badly written and create discord between your content and the user’s search intent, even if the content of your page is legitimately helpful.
In this case, the user will probably bounce even if it’s a well-written, informative page. Users make snap judgements within seconds, so it’s extremely important to show them that they’re in the right place from the moment they land on your website.
The key to achieving a lower bounce rate is the elimination, or reduction, of friction in the user’s experience.
An ideal user path looks something like this:
Anything else will result in a “true” bounce the majority of the time.
A quick note on the two metrics
I split up time on page and bounce rate into two different sections of this post just because it’s a bit easier to read about them that way.
However, it’s important to note that they’re frequently tied together. Improving your time on page will often reduce bounce rate, and reducing your bounce rate will often boost the length of user sessions.
While there are always unique circumstances, keep in mind that most of the time you can’t really “target” one of them without affecting the other.
How do you improve time on page and bounce rate?
Have any tricks or strategies to increase time on page or reduce bounce rate? Let me know in the comments below!