Every Wednesday, I sit down and interview different metrics or report sections from Google Analytics. I ask the tough questions – and I expect straight answers! (This, obviously, is a fictional interview. However, if metrics or reports could talk and be interviewed, this is how I imagine their personalities being and how they would answer my questions. Hopefully this will be a fresh, interesting way to learn about the wonderful world of Google Analytics in a unique way).
Joe Teixeira: “Mr. Average Time on Site…how are things?”
Average Time on Site: “…Average…”
JT: “What’s with the sunglasses?”
ATOS: “…It’s bright in here…”
JT: “Well those are just the studio lights…I can have them turned down if you…”
ATOS: “No…it’s cool.”
JT: “Ummm…OK. Well let me ask you my first question. Can you explain to everyone exactly how you are calculated?”
ATOS: [Turns Away in Disgust and Rolls Eyes] “Man…come on, man. Why you gotta play me like that? Everybody knows it’s up to __utmb and __utmc to calculate the difference between the time stamps of each page. I ain’t got nuthin’ to do with any of that.”
JT: “So, two cookies – __utmb and __utmc – they calculate you…”
ATOS: “Yeah, man…”
JT: “…and the difference between each time stamp on each page is the time a user spent on that page…”
JT: “…and then the Average Time on Site is the sum of all of the time a user – or groups of users – spent on the pages of a site, divided by the number of pages viewed.”
ATOS: “…something like that. If you know all this, how come you’re asking me, man?”
JT: “Because I wanted to hear what you’d have to say about it…”
ATOS: [Becoming more frustrated] “Look, man, this is how it goes down, a’ight? If somebody bounces from a landing page, guess what happens? I become an average of 0:00:00, because there ain’t no second timestamp to go by, so [pointing to the ceiling] the big man upstairs [GA] can’t give me credit for my time. It ain’t my fault, I’m just doing my job around here.”
JT: “So you really have a problem with this. What about people that leave their computers on and go to lunch, or go to a meeting?”
ATOS: “It’s the same thing, except backwards. Let’s say somebody goes to lunch for an hour and they leave they browser on…after 29 minutes of what they like to call “inactivity”, I stop counting. This happens ALL THE TIME, man. It just ain’t right! If they time me out, no second timestamp happens, which again means the average time for that page becomes 0:00:00.”
JT: “What I’m gathering from you is the message you’re trying to convey here is for people who look at you, and use you in their reports and presentations, to take you with a grain of salt…to use your number precariously.”
ATOS: “Well I don’t know what “precariously” means…but yeah, don’t do that.”
JT: “Last week, I talked briefly to Bounce Rate about setVar, and how his change in classification has impacted him. How has the update to setVar affected you?”
ATOS: “Man, it’s about time they did somethin’ about that. setVar ain’t nothing but a greedy metric, man. I’ve been tryin’ to tell people about setVar, and how it was being counted as an interaction hit, but they weren’t listening to me…but finally they took care of some business and straightened things out.”
JT: “Well, thanks a lot for your time…”
ATOS: “Oh, shoot – we done already?”
JT: “Yeah, I’m sorry…”
ATOS: “C’mon, man…I get paid by the second…”
JT: “Sorry, ATOS…maybe some other time.”
ATOS: “…whatever, man. That’s what everyone always says: “Time”. More time, less time, average time…everyone always wants to know about time. People need to just chill for a second and look at everything else, not just me…”
JT: “Well…thanks again [I start getting up].”
Wednesday Interview Series:
February 11, 2009: Bounce Rate
Starting today, chances are that your Bounce Rate is going to go up, and your Time on Site metrics will start to become more realistic.
Should you panic and freak out? Should you hide under the bed and lock the door to your room? Should you pause all of your campaigns? Obviously, you shouldn’t do any of those things, but I should explain what’s going on before you reach a state of dementia.
Google Analytics has changed the classification of the setVar function – Custom Segments that appear in the Visitors >> User-Defined report. Previously, whenever a user reached a page that was making use of this setVar function within the Google Analytics Tracking Code, Google Analytics would consider that what they refer to as an “interaction hit”. Interaction hits, like Pageviews, Events, Transactions, and Experiments with Google Website Optimizer are what Google Analytics uses to calculate Bounce Rate and Average Time on Site.
So, for example, let’s say a visitor landed on a page of your website, but left without visiting any other pages. That is, as we all know and love, considered a Bounce. But, let’s say that that same page was using the setVar function. Before today, that visitor would NOT have been counted as a bounce, because Google Analytics would have fired off two “interaction hits” – one for the pageview on that landing page, and one for the custom segment caused by the usage of setVar. However, from here on out, a user that only views 1 page of your site and leaves will be counted as a Bounce, setVar function or no setVar function.
This also has an affect on your Average Time on Site metric. This is calculated by Google Analytics by taking the time stamp of when the first pageview on a website occurs, and subtracting that from the time stamp of your second pageview on a website. Now, if you don’t visit a second page and you bounce, Google Analytics cannot do the math, because it has nothing to subtract from, so it reports a 0:00:00 average time on site.
Previously, because of our setVar friend, Google Analytics would be able to do math, because it would have the time stamp of that first pageview, AND, the time stamp of the setVar function firing off. Since these happened so close together, you could easily see extremely low average time on site numbers, like a second or two. Clearly this was confusing and didn’t make sense, which is another reason why the good folks at Google Analytics have decided to make this change.
When should I use Custom Segments / setVar?
There are a few good places to use this function. One place is on the receipt / “Thank You” page that a user sees after they buy something from your store. This way you can identify anyone who reaches this page as a “shopper” or “customer” or as “awesome”, or anything that you want to call people who reach this page. Then, in your Visitors >> User-Defined report, you’ll be able to do some analysis on this segment of people.
You can also use Custom Segments / setVar based upon an option they select on a “Contact Us” or inquiry form. Let’s say your form has a question that asks users to select between: “Executive, Director, or Marketer”. You can use setVar here to identify people based upon their selection, and analyze the behavior of each custom group of people.
So don’t call your pay-per-click manager or SEO engineer and proclaim that the sky is falling – chances are very good that you will not notice too much of a difference, if at all. If you don’t use Custom Segments / setVar, then you have nothing to worry about. If you use setVar on multiple landing pages and in different places on your site, brace for impact because your Bounce Rate is going up. But hey, think of it like this: it’s for the better – this is now a much more accurate calculation – a truer representation of your real Bounce Rate and Time on Site metrics.