What is Average Session Duration and 6 Tips to Improve It in 2022

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Google Analytics offers you a lot of data points that measure the overall "performance" of your website.

One such data point is Average Session Duration.

In this article, I will attempt to break this metric down and offer tips on how to improve it.

This is about to get technical, but I will do my best to provide concrete examples and tie everything together in a meaningful and simple way.

Let's jump in!

What is average session duration?

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Average session duration is one of Google's 200 ranking factors and, as such, it deserves your attention.

How does Google calculate average session duration?

Google calculates average session duration by taking the total duration of all sessions in seconds and dividing it by the total number of sessions.

For example, if the total duration of all sessions on your website is 10,000 seconds and the total number of sessions is 100, your average session duration is calculated as follows:

                10,000 seconds / 100 sessions = 100 seconds <- average session duration

This would mean that the average session duration for your website is 100 seconds or 1 minute and 40 seconds.

Now, to improve your average session duration, we have to go a layer deeper and explain a few more concepts.

Knowing the average value in a set of data doesn't necessarily mean a lot if you don't understand what each particular data point is and how it's calculated.

Meaning, to understand what average session duration means for your website, you have to understand what individual session duration is.

You have to know how you got to those 10,000 seconds of total session duration from the example above.

What is individual session duration and how is it calculated?

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There are these things called "Events."

Google says: "Events are user interactions with content that can be measured independently from a web-page or screen load. Downloads, link clicks, form submissions, and video plays are all examples of actions you might want to analyze as Events."

Events are important because they are counted as Engagement Hits.

Engagement hits serve as timestamps used by Google Analytics to measure individual session duration, among other metrics.

By default, only events that send users to a different page on your website are counted.

It is not crucial to do this, but you can set up interactions like video plays and form submissions to count as engagement hits too.

Here's Google's guide for setting up event measurement.

Why are events important for individual session duration?

Individual session duration is calculated depending on whether there were Engagement Hits on the last page of a session or not.

Meaning, individual session duration is the time between the first and the last engagement hit from a single session.

Let's go through a couple of concrete examples.

Example #1: Session where there are no engagement hits on the last page visited by user.

  • User visits Page 1 at 06:00 PM
  • User jumps to Page 2 at 06:05 PM
  • User stays on Page 2 until 06:10 and then leaves your website

If there are no engagement hits on the last page the user visited, then the individual session duration is calculated as follows:

                (the time of the first hit on the last page) – (the first hit on the first page) = individual session duration

Our example: (06:05) – (06:00) = 5 minutes (or 300 seconds)

In this example, the individual session duration is 300 seconds.

It does not matter that the user stayed on your website until 06:10 because there were no further engagement hits that can serve as clear cut-off points.

Example #2: Session where there are engagement hits on the last page visited.

  • User visits Page 1 at 06:00 PM
  • User jumps to Page 2 at 06:05 PM
  • User plays a video on Page 2 at 06:08 PM
  • User stays on Page 2 until 06:10 and then leaves your website

If there are engagement hits on the last page the user visited, then the individual session duration is calculated as follows:

                (the time of the last engagement hit on the last page) – (the first hit on the first page) = individual session duration

Our example: (06:08) – (06:00) = 8 minutes (or 480 seconds)

In this example, the individual session duration is 480 seconds.

Notice that the user stayed for an additional 2 minutes on the website after hitting play on the video, but that time does not count towards the individual session duration.

What does average session duration mean for your website?

Meaning of Average Session Duration

As you can see from the two examples above, individual session duration doesn't take into account every second user spent on your pages.

It only takes into account blocks of time between the first and last event that happened in any particular session.

This means that in actuality, users spend on average more time on your website than is shown by the average session duration metric.

While not 100% accurate, average session duration is still an important metric and here's why.

Average session duration is important because it gives you insights into how engaging your content is.

One of your goals is to get your users to explore your website and consume more content than just the page they landed on from the SERPs.

Low average session duration means that users are bouncing instead of staying on your website.

This reflects poorly on your website because Google takes it as your content not being able to capture visitors and compel them to visit more pages on your website.

Is a low average session duration necessarily a bad thing?

Obviously, more equals better when it comes to average session duration in most cases.

But there are exceptions to this.

If your success isn't tied up with your users visiting many of your pages inside a single session than low average session duration is probably OK.

Meaning, if you're OK with users getting to your pages from the SERPs, getting what they need and leaving immediately after, you're probably fine with a lower averages session duration.

This kind of scenario is not ideal, but it is also not equally as bad in every case.

However, if your success depends on users clicking on Calls-To-Action (CTA) after they get to your page from the SERPs than low average session duration is bad news.

In this case, it would mean that the CTA or the content itself isn't engaging enough and you need to change something.

What is a good average session duration?

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Remember, the importance of average session duration for your particular website entirely depends on what you ideally want your users to do once they land on your page.

If you're running a blog and your average session duration is 25 seconds, that's not ideal.

Blog articles are usually meant to engage users for longer than that.

If your average session duration for your blog is 2 minutes or more, you most likely have no reason to worry.

3-4 minutes would be considered great and anything higher than that would be considered excellent.

6 Tips to increase average session duration

Now that you know what average session duration is, it's time to consider how to improve it.

Because even though it's an imperfect system of measuring how long users stay on your website, it's the one Google is using and we all have to play by their rules.

All of the improvements I'm going to suggest will positively impact more than just your average session duration, by the way.

Smart site design

smart website design

Site design can impact average session duration because it plays a role in the decision of your visitors either clicking on another page on your website or leaving.

Bad site design leads to a higher bounce rate which leads to fewer events and user interactions.

Remember, if a person lands on one of your pages and doesn't perform any user interactions before leaving the website, that entire session will add 0 seconds to your total session duration.

Smart site design can do a bit of hand-holding and sort of nudge your visitors to explore more of your website.

It's a good idea to keep things simple because cluttering up your website by giving users too many things to click on can have the opposite effect and make them bounce.

Only add features that are useful to users and give them what they need at that point in their user journey.

Clear CTA strategy

Call-to-action, or CTA, can be anything that prompts a response from your visitors.

CTA doesn't necessarily have to be a sales pitch.

You can simply suggest another article of yours as a logical next step to your visitors.

Needless to say, a clear CTA strategy can do a lot for your average session duration.

Ask yourself what you want to accomplish with every piece of content you create and suggest your visitors the next most valuable piece of content from their perspective.

Trying to put yourself in the shoes of your visitors pays off because they're more likely to take your suggestions if they make sense for them.

Being selfish and trying to push your visitors towards pages that make sense for you, e.g. sales pitches, will cause them to bounce if buying doesn't yet make sense to them.

Improve content readability

If you make your content easy to read, your visitors will appreciate it.

This doesn't just mean proper grammar and spelling.

It also includes:

  • Proper spacing
  • Easy-to-read font
  • Appropriate font size
  • No unnecessary blocks of text
  • Clearly marked headlines
  • Adding images and videos to break the monotony

Include videos

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Including videos to your content can positively impact all the metrics having to do with how long visitors stay on your pages, including average session duration.

The time that your visitors spend watching the videos count towards the time they spend on your site.

A 3-minute video, for example, can do wonders for your average session duration if only a fraction of your visitors watch the entire thing.

Just make sure the video provides value and make sense to include.

Interlink your content

Interlinking your content carries amazing benefits on so many levels.

When it comes to SEO, every two links pointing to the content inside your domain carry a similar weight as one backlink.

Considering that interlinking is 100% in your control, you can see why it's such a no-brainer thing to do.

Not only can it help your SEO, but it can point your visitors towards more of your content and force more user interactions on your website.

And more user interactions equals better average session duration.

Add content categories and related posts sections

Helping visitors get to more content that's similar to what they're already consuming is always a good idea.

Categorizing your content can take some effort, but that's a small price to pay if you can keep your visitors on your website for longer.

The same applies to related posts sections.

Especially if this post is a part of a series of posts on an overarching topic.

Letting the visitors know you've published more content on a similar topic is bound to entice at least some of them to keep browsing your website.

Conclusion

Average session duration is quite a simple metric to calculate.

It's simply the result of dividing the total session duration with the total number of sessions.

But understanding what average session duration means for your website requires exploring what individual session duration, events, and user interactions are.

Once you grasp these concepts, it gets easier to take actions that lead to improving your average session duration.

In this article, I list 6 tips to improve average session duration that will improve your website even beyond this metric.

2 Responses

  1. Thanks. I found this very useful.
    You don’t mention page loading speed, but I’m pretty sure that this also helps increase session duration?
    Our site has managed to increase session duration to around 2 minutes now thanks to working on page load speeds. Rewriting content and making it better, more useful helped a lot of course.

    1. Improving anything that impacts user experience will increase average session duration so you’re absolutely right. Improving page load speed definitely helped. Great work!

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