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SEO Basics – Part 1: TIME as Ranking Factor

Ever since the web has become a central means of communication I have heard everyone and their gardener tell me how many “hits” they get per hour. Sure – traffic in high numbers is a means to generate revenue with things like Adsense and goes a long way in making someone seem like they have a serious website. But ask them “HOW LONG DO PEOPLE STAY?” and the “230 hits per hour” tune changes to a bashful (often surprised and bashful) look. “Time?” they will say. “Yes … How long does your site retain people?” I will ask. Well – there is actually no reason to torment people with such questions.  The answer is knownMedium and Upworthy are eschewing “pageviews” in favor of developing their own attention-focused metrics. And right they are.

Viewing conditions change the stats – time spent on a site from home or time spent on a new site from the office. Type of operating system used, etc … But the general “patience limit” is said to be a matter of seconds (up to 15 for some experts and 45 to 70 for others). TRUST and VALUE are the key factors that keep people on your pages.

Visitor Time In SEO Terms

The length of time that a visitor spends on your pages is vital. Everything that you do to improve your SEO should push towards LONGER average user visits. Aim for at least four minutes for a new user and do so by using good navigation, nice design and content created with LOVE. Of all the proposed steps the one that, in my view, really matters the most is increasing the amount of TIME SPENT by users on your site so that the search engines will view your site as an AUTHORITY on the given topic for which people have searched.

Jakob Nielsen writes:

 “Users often leave Web pages in 10-20 seconds, but pages with a clear value proposition can hold people’s attention for much longer because visit-durations follow a negative Weibull distribution. (…) The first 10 seconds of the page visit are critical for users’ decision to stay or leave. The probability of leaving is very high during these first few seconds because users are extremely skeptical, having suffered countless poorly designed Web pages in the past. People know that most Web pages are useless, and they behave accordingly to avoid wasting more time than absolutely necessary on bad pages.

If the Web page survives this first — extremely harsh — 10-second judgment, users will look around a bit. However, they’re still highly likely to leave during the subsequent 20 seconds of their visit. Only after people have stayed on a page for about 30 seconds does the curve become relatively flat. People continue to leave every second, but at a much slower rate than during the first 30 seconds.

So, if you can convince users to stay on your page for half a minute, there’s a fair chance that they’ll stay much longer — often 2 minutes or more, which is an eternity on the Web.

So, roughly speaking, there are two cases here:

  • bad pages, which get the chop in a few seconds; and
  • good pages, which might be allocated a few minutes.

Note: “good” vs. “bad” is a decision that each individual user makes within those first few seconds of arriving. The design implications are clear: To gain several minutes of user attention, you must clearly communicate your value proposition within 10 seconds.”  

– Via: How Long Do Users Stay on Web Pages?


Terms Defined:

Sessions: Total number of Sessions within the date range. A session is the period time a user is actively engaged with your website, app, etc. All usage data (Screen Views, Events, Ecommerce, etc.) is associated with a session.

Users that have had at least one session within the selected date range. Includes both new and returning users.

Pageviews is the total number of pages viewed. Repeated views of a single page are counted.

Pages / Session  (Average Page Depth) is the average number of pages viewed during a session. Repeated views of a single page are counted.

Bounce Rate is the percentage of single-page visits (i.e. visits in which the person left your site from the entrance page without interacting with the page).

New Sessions: An estimate of the percentage of first time visits.

Note: Avg. Page Load Time is the average amount of time (in seconds) it takes for pages from the sample set to load, from initiation of the pageview (e.g. click on a page link) to load completion in the browser. If you see zero (0) as a value or a small increase in November 2011, read the About Site Speed article.


A bit of Technical Information:

Google says: “Average session duration is: total duration of all sessions (in seconds) / number of sessions. Individual session duration is calculated differently depending on whether there are engagement hits on the last page of a session.” – More: support.google.com/analytics/


Related Further Reading:

7 website analytics that matter most

11 Hacks to Increase Visitors’ Average Time Spent on Site

Statistics and Market Data on Online Demographics & Use

Mobile Marketing Statistics compilation


Other SEO ranking tips


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