Interpreting Average Visit Duration

How long a visitor spends on your site (Average Visit Duration) has generally been considered an indication of how successful your display banner advertising campaign is in attracting relevant visitors. The longer someone spends on your site, the more interested they are in what you’re offering. But is it really that simple?

“What if the browser is left open, the visitor goes to lunch, or even goes home for the day?”, these or similar questions commonly arise when visit duration is brought up. I don’t mind the questions because it allows me the opportunity to explain the common misconception about this particular metric.

Let’s first take a look at how this metric is calculated. The visit duration of each visitor is calculated using the difference between the last page or file request of their visit and the first. This means that when they first arrive to the site, the clock starts ticking. However, if they never click to another page of your site before closing their browser or clicking to an external link, there is no second page or file request from the site’s server to calculate the difference. This behavior will result in a “bounce” in your analytics software.

As visit duration does not account for the time spent reading (or ignoring) the last page in the session, it cannot be said to be an accurate reflection of how visitors actually use the site. Therefore, leaving your browser open on a page during lunch or overnight would not inflate visit duration unless the visitor were to click on another page. However; in such cases, most analytics softwares will terminate a session (typically after 30 minutes) and start a new one. So if you returned to work with the same page still open, any new activity would be recorded as a new session or visit to the site.

Now, apply this knowledge to your next digital media campaign. How would you build your landing page differently to better understand the behavior of your visitors?

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