The first article of this series discussed page views per session as a kind of early warning system key performance indicator (KPI) for your website. This article will discuss another KPI, the time your visitors spend on your website, and why this is an important metric.

Why time spent on your site is important

All websites, regardless of type, should measure time spent on site, simply because all websites can use it as a gauge to see how compelling their offers are, as well as to check website performance. It doesn’t matter whether you are running a content portal or an e-commerce sales operation; you should measure time visitors spend on your pages. If you have, for instance, a commerce site, you need to know how long your offers hold your audience.

The time spent on site KPI also warns you when things aren’t going well. If visitors leave your site quickly, if probably means you are losing sales.

Why you need warning signals

Life is full of warnings. Your body warns you with pain when you are doing something you shouldn’t. If you don’t exercise enough and sit in front of a computer screen for too long, you get muscle aches and pains, or a repetitive strain injury. That’s your body telling you to do more physical stuff, or else!

You begin to learn naturally that doing something you shouldn’t equates to pain, therefore you do your best to steer clear of the discomfort. Notice how the body gives you a taster? If you have been sitting too long in one position you get tired and achy? It’s your body’s natural “kick up the backside” to suggest that you get up and move around for a bit or you’ll suffer later on.

Look at website KPIs as a potential taster of some real pain, the signals that you use to guide your thinking about getting out of your chair and doing something.

What is the real pain?

The real pain is when you spend thousands of dollars on advertising to drive traffic to your website, but then, convert very few of them to your goal. Or you spend countless hours modifying website pages, yet don’t have a clue whether any of the changes you’re making have any effect on your customers. This is what you will likely experience if you look only at bottom line results, and not the causes of those results.

In all business websites, you should identify the advertising, the products, and those areas of your site that generate the highest number of visitors and/or greatest interest over the long term. If the time spent by visitors on your website is too short, your copy, graphics, or usability are wasted, and likely need to be re-written or re-designed to be more compelling.

When is the time spent on the site too short?

You need to figure this answer out before setting a base KPI. One method is to time how long it takes a viewer to complete an action. If you want someone to subscribe to your site, find out how long it does take to do that. This then becomes your base KPI. If the majority of people stay on your site longer than that period, then you’re happy and your KPI is telling you that you’re doing a good job. If the majority of people aren’t sticking around long enough to actually subscribe, then this KPI is a warning signal that something is wrong and you could be headed for pain. Your KPI will depend on the main action(s) you want viewers to take.

Examples of guidelines you could use for different kinds of website include:

  • Lead Generation/Subscription: How long it takes, in seconds, to complete the sign-up form.
  • E-commerce/Sales: How long it takes, in seconds, to purchase the product.
  • Content/B2B advertising: How long it takes, in seconds or minutes, to find and read an article.
  • Customer Service: How long it takes, in minutes, to satisfy the customer query.

We typically advise recruiting a group of users, who are not connected to the website, to do a short usability test. Then use the average time taken as an initial KPI.

What if the average time taken is too long?

When you have determined the minimum time spent on the site to fulfill your website goal, you should also pay attention to whether people are taking too long reading your pages. It could be that your users are becoming frustrated and can’t find what they need on your site. Time spent on site in combination with page views per session gives you a more complete picture of whether people are finding what they need.

Summary – The complete picture

Putting the KPIs together and understanding why you’re getting these results is the key to defining metrics which can help you make decisions. Start to think about what a good visit is and what a bad visit is. Determine which metrics define a good and bad visitor experience, and you’re halfway to getting the KPIs you need. By defining the KPIs before you start, you can begin to get a more complete understanding of what works. Then, armed with this information about what your visitors are doing, you can improve your website.