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If you have spent any significant amount of time in Google Analytics, you may have stumbled into some confusion over the relationship between the bounce rate and the average visit duration for a given webpage. For example, you may notice a bounce rate at or near 100% but have an average visit duration of several minutes. How is this possible? This phenomenon can be easily understood after grasping how Google Analytics measures time-based metrics.
Understanding Time-Based Metrics
User activity steers the calculation of time-based metrics within Google Analytics. The metric “visit duration” is calculated by subtracting the time of the user’s first site interaction from the time of their last site interaction.
Likewise, the metric “time on page” is calculated by subtracting the time that a user landed on a particular page from the time of the next page view on the site.
Understanding Bounce Rate
Bounce rate can be understood as the percentage of user visits with only one interaction.
Many people today believe that a “bounce” means a user entered a page and immediately leave. While this was traditionally the case in web analytics, this is no longer the case and is a surprisingly widespread misconception.
When you can understand how Analytics measures time-based metrics, you will easily understand what defines a bounce rate today. As explained above, Google Analytics measures visit durations by comparing the entrance and exit times. If there is no second interaction on the site, it is impossible for Analytics to calculate the time spent on the page. The visit will therefore be assigned a visit duration and time on page of zero and will be listed as a bounce.
For example, a user may land on a certain page of your site and spend an indefinite amount of time on that page browsing the content. At some point, the user might exit their browser or go directly to a different site without interacting any further on your site. Even if this user was on this page for hours, they would still be counted as a bounce since there was no second interaction to compare with the time of the original entry.
What Does This Mean For Me?
This can all be frustrating for Internet marketers because time-based metrics and bounce rates often can not accurately measure the actual amount of user interest and interaction on your page.
For example, blog pages can often have very high bounce rates since most users are going to read a particular post that is relevant or interests them and then leave the blog without further browsing. A high bounce rate in this case does not necessarily mean that people were disinterested since they could have read the entire post but still be counted as a bounce if they did not click on a different post afterwards.
So what’s the moral of the story? Don’t assume something is wrong just because your bounce rate is high or your bounce rates compared with your visit durations don’t match. They do not tell the whole story! Internet marketers should assess their individual page interaction goals and page types before looking further into bounce rates and time metrics on Google Analytics.