We all know it by now that Google Analytics reports are full of “average” metrics: site average of pages/visits, site average of % new visits, site average of bounce rates, average visit duration, average time on page, average price, average quantity and the list goes on and on.
So we need to find effective ways to deal with these averages. One way of dealing with the “averages” is to understand their composition and statistical properties and analyze them along with the ‘spread of data values’ or replace them with more effective central values like ‘median’.
I have talked about this technique in great detail in the post: How to Analyze and Report above Average. Today I will take you one step further in fighting with ‘averages’ and will show you exactly how to deal with ‘average visit duration’ metric in Google Analytics.
We cannot trust this metric simply because it is an average of metrics which themselves are averages of other metrics which themselves are averages of other metrics which themselves are averages of other metrics….. For example:
Here the average visit duration of the site is 4 minutes and 6 seconds. The average visit duration for the traffic coming from Google Organic search is: 3 minutes 29 seconds. The average visit duration for direct traffic is: 4 minutes 6 seconds. The average visit duration for traffic coming from Linkedin is: 6 minutes 41 seconds and so on. And we all know that the “outliers” (or extreme values) can easily skew an ‘average’ metric.
So when we can’t rely on an average metrics then how can we rely on the ‘average’ of ‘average metrics’? So instead of relying on site average metric (here 4 minutes 6 seconds), we analyze and report the ‘average visit duration’ of each traffic source. This is the very first but important step to analyze average visit duration. This gives us a better insight of the ‘average visit duration’. But this is still not the most accurate way to fight with averages.
In order to better understand the ‘average visit duration’ of the traffic say the traffic coming from ‘Google organic search’, we need to segment this traffic source further:
You can get this report by going to the ‘organic search traffic’ report (under Traffic Sources > Search > Organic) and by selecting ‘source’ as secondary dimension. This will display all the traffic sources which are sending organic traffic to your website. From the chart above we can see that the majority of organic traffic is coming through Google (5,361 visits). So we should be interested in exploring the ‘average visit duration’ of this traffic source.
Now click on the ‘google’ link (under the ‘source’ column) and then select ‘country/territory’ as a secondary dimension:
We can now see the average visit duration of Google organic traffic for each country. This gives us a much better insight that the average visit duration of the site we talked about in the beginning of this post. Now since majority of traffic is coming from United States, let us explore this country further.
Now select ‘city’ as a secondary dimension and create and apply the custom advanced segment which shows only the traffic coming from US (click here to install this advanced segment into your Google Analytics account):
We can now see the average visit duration of Google organic traffic for each city in the US. Now let us suppose that you are running city specific campaigns and you want to understand the behavior of people from New York City before you target this location via PPC and other marketing campaigns. You want to know the average time they are spending on your website.
Create a custom advanced segment which reports only the Google organic traffic from New York City (click here to install this advanced segment into your Google Analytics account) and apply it to the ‘Visit Duration’ report (under Audience > Behavior > Engagement)
We can now see that 42% of the visits last for 0 to 10 seconds and approx. 55% of the visits last for 61 or more seconds. If it takes at least 3 minutes for a visitor to convert on your website then only approx. 15% of the Google Organic traffic from New York City had the potential to convert. This type of distribution analysis gives us a far more accurate insight than the average visit duration of 2 minutes 38 seconds for the traffic coming from New York City.
The other issue which can easily skew your average visit duration metrics is ‘data sampling’. Google Analytics uses data sampling to analyze large data sets in a cost efficient manner and in a reasonable amount of time. If your Google Analytics account has got data sampling issues than your metrics like ‘average visit duration’ can be anywhere from 20% to 80% off the mark. So you need to increase your sample size before you analyze and report ‘average visit duration’. I have talked about the data sampling issue and its fixes in great detail in the post: How to Improve the Accuracy of Google Analytics Reports
Your business decision and marketing budget can vary depending upon how you analyze, interpret and report user behavior on your website. So you need to be very careful before you interpret and report average metrics like ‘average visit duration’.
Now it is your turn. How do you analyze ‘average visit duration’ and other average metrics? Please share your knowledge and insight.