Marketing Analytics: Frequently asked questions about misunderstood and misinterpreted metrics


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.



Related Resources:

Marketing Analytics: Should you use a daily or aggregate method to validate A/B test results?

Marketing Metrics: Can you have one number to rule them all?

Marketing Optimization: Are you tracking website optimization ROI?

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  1. casey says

    Great post, Lauren. Way to clear up some misconceptions. Google Analytics also has a custom snippet of code that you can add to your site, which will base bounce rate on time in addition to pages. Also, a completed event on a page in Google Analytics will also thwart a bounce from occurring.

  2. Lauren says

    Thanks, Casey! Great points, thanks for the helpful addition.

  3. Salvo G. says

    Very interesting article Lauren.
    I use SiteCatalist and as you clarified unless you change the calculation, by default the Bounce rate does not take in consideration the amount of time spent on the page.

    You mentioned that in SC the interaction with the page is considered a factor that exclude the Bounce. For sure a download is an action, but a page scroll should be considered an interaction?
    The typical question I received from my clients is <>?

    Adobe does not clarifies the interaction in the Bounce rate definition:

    Hope you can clarify it.

  4. Salvo G. says

    The question was not showed using <> I try without:
    If a user lands on a page and read it for some minutes, just scrolling up and down and then exits, is it a bounce?

    1. Kayla Cobb says

      Hey Salvo,

      From what I can tell what you just described (a user landing on a page, reading it for a few minutes only scrolling up and down) would still be considered a bounce because the visitor never left the first page they landed on. If a visitor goes to second page on your site, than that is no longer considered a bounce. If you have any other questions, you can read this helpful Google Analytics guide about bounce rates and how to prevent having a high bounce rate.

      Please let me know if you have any other questions.


  5. Lauren Pitchford says

    Kayla is correct. Scrolling is not counted as an interaction in SiteCat, and a user who scrolled but did not move on to another page or perform an “interaction” on the page would be counted as a bounce.

  6. Hannah says

    What other things count as an “interaction” with the page. Scrolling does not. Clicking on a link or watching a video does. Are there other things that count as interactions?

    1. Kayla Cobb says

      Hey Hannah,

      That’s a great question, though one that’s a little difficult to answer. Really, interaction depends upon the intention of the page. Even something as simple as time spent on the page can be counted as an interaction depending on the page’s purpose. For examples, for an image-focused page like a shopping site, clicking to expand a product image may count as interaction. Here are the main actions that would count as interactions: clicking on a link, watching a video, filling out a form, sharing on social media (sharing via a Like or Tweet button) or commenting on the content.

      I hope this answers your question. Thanks for reading!


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