An Average session duration might reveal and hide more than what you think!

Thanks to Google analytics we know more about the customers and their interactions with the website. There are plenty of matrices that google analytics provide and each of them will have a different story to tell you about the customer. A good understanding of these metrics can help you answer a lot of questions. But one of those metrics that raises more questions than answers is the average session duration.


For anyone who worked with analytics may know, a single parameter doesn’t show the whole picture, rather it is when you couple them with others you get a clear sense of understanding. Google Analytics provides an option to add secondary dimensions to matrices and combining the right ones can help you with a detailed analysis.


Average session duration as the name indicates is the average amount of time that a user spends on your website. A high number indicates that the users are spending more time on your website, which is good. Because who would spend another second on your website if it’s not engaging them.


Let us look at a data chart



The table shows traffic from different channels and the matrices associated with it. So which is the optimal channel according to the data points?


From the table, it is clear that users are more engaged when it is through ‘referral’ if you consider average session duration. When you combine it with other parameters such as the number of users, then ‘direct’ appears to be the one. But if you look at the bounce rate for direct, 62.43% is a huge number. Now considering all three parameters, ‘organic search’ seems to be optimal. It is only through these kinds of analysis one can understand the strengths and shortcomings, so that it can be adjusted to gain maximum output.

All these conclusions are made from the assumption that none of the data are skewed. This is where things get tricky.


Know your Metric

Average Session duration = Total session duration / Total number of sessions

If there were 100 sessions in a month of which 50 sessions are of 10 minutes and 50 sessions of 5 minutes. Then the average session duration will be 7.5 minutes.


Google determines session duration by recording the time you interacted with the next page, which means the last page you interacted won’t be recorded as there is no next page. So if you spend more than half an hour on the last page, it won’t be added to session duration. This can drastically skew the result. Consider the example of an e-commerce website. A user spends so much time searching for the right product to buy and finally only after rigorous comparison and elimination reaches the final checkout page. Now your website shows huge traffic but the session duration is low. Now is the low session duration due to the rigorous comparison on a page or are they bouncing off the page due to other factors?  Which of the two, we may not know.


Does that mean we should stop considering average session duration? Well, there are many ways in which it can be resolved. Like, we can always add more secondary dimensions to get additional insights. Or we can ask for a call to action which can force the audience to another page. There are also tools to record sessions that can give a detailed analysis of how the user behaves on your website. All aside, one needs to be extremely careful while analyzing these data sets, as a wrong interpretation and implementation can change the entire course of your business.