At MECLABS, we begin the test planning process by looking at the available metrics. I’ve seen our discussion about metrics sometimes become more of a discussion about the definition of certain metric, rather than trying to piece together a data story and understand what that metric is trying to tell us about the customer.
I’ve found if you asked three people, they each have a different definition of how bounce rate is calculated, for example. I then realized there were a lot of metrics people were confused about.
Not only are the definitions misunderstood, but the differences in how these metrics are calculated across different data platforms was being debated as well (Google Analytics and Adobe SiteCatalyst, specifically).
So, I set out to uncover these metric mysteries and simplified my findings in today’s MarketingExperiments blog post. There is also a handy chart at the end for you to print. This chart goes into more detail specifically about Google Analytics and Adobe SiteCatalyst. I chose those two platforms because, according to the most recent data I was able to find, they are the most widely adopted analytics platforms.
Before I begin, I want to iterate the definitions discussed here are the default for these platforms. Most platforms allow you to create custom metrics, but for simplicity’s sake, I have not gone into detail on this.
So without further adieu, let’s get started.
How is Time on Page calculated?
Time on Page, plainly spoken, is the amount of time between when the visitor enters the page to the time the visitor goes to another page (or interacts with the page if you’re using SiteCatalyst) on your site.
Important to note is that people who bounce are not included in Time on Page (or, when looking at metrics for an entire website, Time on Site). This is because time is calculated from the loading of Page 1 to the loading of Page 2, so if there is no Page 2, the time between cannot be calculated.
What’s the difference between Visit Duration and Time on Page?
Visit Duration (also referred to as Time on Site or Total Time Spent) is the time the visitor spent on your entire site during one session. Time on Page is the amount of time a visitor spent on a single, specific page.
How is Bounce Rate calculated? And, how does it differ between Google Analytics and SiteCatalyst?
In Google Analytics (GA), Bounce Rate is the percentage of people who see one page, and then leave the site.
In SiteCatalyst (SC), there are two metrics you can look at – Single Access and Bounces. Single Access has the same definition as GA: the number of people who see one page and then leave the site. Bounces, on the other hand, take into account any in-page link event or interaction with the page.
Consider this scenario – you have a landing page with a video on it and a visitor enters your site, watches the video and leaves. In Google Analytics, this visitor would be considered a bounce because they did not visit a second page. In SiteCatalyst, this visitor would be considered a Single Access for the same reason, but would not be considered a Bounce because they watched the video (a link event).
A widely-believed myth is that bounce rate is partially determined by how much time you spend on the page. I often hear something like, “If the visitor is there for less than 10 seconds, it’s a bounce, but if they are there for 11 seconds, it is not.” This is false for the default settings of Google Analytics and SiteCatalyst. It does not matter how much time the visitor spends on the site. If they do not go to another page or interact with the page (SC), they are considered a bounce.
However, I believe this myth comes from the fact that you can create custom metrics in SiteCatalyst that will thwart a bounce if someone spends a specified amount of time on the page.
What’s the difference between Bounce Rate and Exit Rate?
Bounce Rate will tell you when the specified page is the entry page, and what percentage of people leave without going to another page or interacting with the site (in SiteCatalyst). Exit Rate tells you, for all of the people who visited the specified page, what percentage of visits saw this page last – and then exited the site.
The difference is where the visitor starts. If a visitor started at Page B and left on Page A, it would be added to Page A as an exit, but there would be no bounce because the visitor saw two pages. If a visitor entered at Page A, didn’t do anything and left the site from Page A, it would be considered a bounce and an exit.
The people who bounced on a certain page will be included in the Exit Rate of that page.
What’s the difference between Visitors, Visits and Pageviews?
Visitors are the number of people (cookies, technically) who visit your site during the time of your report.
Visits are the number of sessions during the time period. A single visitor can have multiple visits. If I come to your site three different times, I am counted as one unique visitor and three visits. A visit usually ends, depending on the analytics platform, when there is a campaign change, cookie reset or 30 minutes of inactivity. This means they have either left the page open or done nothing for 30 minutes, or they have exited the site and not returned within at least 30 minutes.
Pageviews is the number of times a page, or group of pages, were viewed or loaded. A single visit can have multiple Pageviews. If I come to your site and look at your homepage, category page, two product pages and then returned to the homepage, I am counted as one visit with five Pageviews. Because I visited your homepage twice, that is counted as two Pageviews. In this same scenario, I would be counted as four unique Pageviews (the homepage would only be counted once).
Now that we’ve talked about the general meaning of these commonly used metrics terms, here is a handy chart (download at that link) that includes how Google Analytics and Adobe SiteCatalyst specifically calculate metrics on respective platforms, and, in layman’s terms, what these calculations mean to your attempts to get a better understanding of your customers.