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Visitor retention time

© February 2006 Anthony Lawrence

Darren Rowse has a post at How Long Do Your Readers Stay at Your Blog - Length of Stay Statistics where he suggests that 96 seconds is about average. That's actually quite a long time (try holding your breath for 96 seconds), but of course that does depend upon the length of the post and probably also on the subject matter.

Google Analytics lets me find out these statistics for this site. It also can tell me the "exit rate" for any page - for example, if you have 100 visitors at this page and 50 of them either left immediately or read this page last, the exit rate would be 50%.

For popular pages here, the exit rate is around 74% and the length of the visit averages out to about three minutes. I took that for a weeks worth of activity over 100 pages that had 42,604 page views between them. I like the visit length time, but would like to improve the exit rate a little.

Of course you can only improve things so much. Even index pages, where people obviously are looking for pages, will have exits: for 30 "index.html" pages, I had 1,518 visits, with the average length at just over 1 minute, and the exit rate averaging 32%. It would probably be completely unreasonable to even approach 32% for ordinary pages, so perhaps that 74% is not so bad.

It's also true that many of the 100 very popular pages have high exit rates because they were the result of search engine referrals for very specific inquiries. When the search engine is wrong (my page has nothing to do with what the person actually wanted), of course they will leave immediately. But sometimes even if the page is dead on, the visitor may leave because they got their answer: they have what they were looking for, their problem is solved, so good-bye and maybe we'll visit again sometime, thanks.

Those are some of the things you need to keep in mind when looking at stats like these. Visit time and exit rates are important (and exit rates are particularly important if you are trying to drive visitors to a page where they buy something). For a site like this, returning visitors is another important figure. I've only been using Google Analytics for a few months, so I don't know that the current average of about 15.5 % returning (which is about 5,700 per week) is accurate yet, but it's probably getting close. It would be interesting if Google could break down visit length by new vs. returning visiors: you can get the breakdown for any specific page, but I don't see any way to directly correlate that to visit length and exit rate.

Exploring Google Analytics can teach you a lot about your website and its visitors.

See also Understanding Analytics Bounce and Exit Rates.

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