Why measuring only Time on Page doesn’t work

For most media companies, user engagement is the main objective. After all, if you’re producing content, you want to see whether visitors are enjoying it or not. To measure this engagement, most site owners rely on the Time on Page metric. It makes sense at first glance; surely, the more time someone’s spent on a page, the more engaged they are, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. This post will show you why you need to stop relying on Time on Page, and how you should measure engagement instead.

The problem with Time on Page

First introduced by Google Analytics, measuring the Time on Page metric is common practice. But does it give you an accurate idea about how your visitors are engaging with your content? According to Analytics Edge, time on page tells us very little by itself. It just means users have opened the page and then gone somewhere else. Often times it doesn’t mean they finished reading or actually interacted with the article. Making a decision based solely on this metric would be a mistake.

Let’s look at an example:

google analytics time on page metric

According to this screenshot, article #1 has a higher average time on page. Many would assume this means the readers were more engaged, and would immediately start writing more articles like it.

However, we get a very different picture if we include another metric. By looking at Time on Page alongside the time needed to read the article we get more accurate data.

For this we’ll need an alternative to Google Analytics which shows more information, such as IO Technologies.

estimated time to read metric

Now we can see the time needed to read article #1 is twice as high as the average time on page. Readers never finish reading this article and even depth of scroll rate is low—Not so engaging after all.

Let’s check the analytics for article #2

combining article engagement metrics

Combining the two metrics tells us a different story. We can see that readers spend the same amount of time on the page as it takes to read the article. Furthermore, 90% of readers have scrolled until the end of the article.

Still think article #1 is the best?

Combining metrics to better measure engagement

This demonstrates how a complex approach to analysis beats relying on one single metric. Combining multiple metrics gives a much clearer view on page performance. However which specific metrics should you be considering?

Scroll depth

Scroll depth is a metric that tells you how far down the page a visitor has gone. For example, depth markers will let you see whether a visitor scrolled down 0%, 25%, 50%, 75% or 100% of the page. If the visitor has scrolled through the article until the end, the scroll depth metric will show 100%.

Most users won’t read more than the opening of an article. According to research by Neil Patel, the co-founder of Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics, 65% of an article is never read. Site owners should look for user engagement to the end of an article, not just the headline.

It’s important to mention that scrolling doesn’t necessarily mean reading. This metric used by itself won’t give you enough data. However, if the amount of users who have finished scrolling to the bottom of the page is low, then something is wrong.

Engaged time on page

Engaged time on page is mostly used as an alternative metric to the typical time on page. According to Cleveroad, engaged time on page captures the amount of time when a consumer has an active browser tab and does something, such as clicking on links or moving the mouse.

Again, just as scrolling doesn’t mean reading, viewing doesn’t mean reading either. Engaged time on page defines the time of an actual user’s interaction with a site. It works this way: the analytics service keeps pinging a user’s browser to see if they are active. If not, the service stops tracking active time on page.

Time to read an article

Apart from just scroll depth, we can calculate the approximate amount of time needed to read a set amount of text. Sites like Medium already calculate and display how much time readers need to finish reading an article.

As we’ve already shown, using this metric alongside time on page or other relevant metrics will help give you much deeper insights into how users are engaging with your content.

Getting a complete picture

You can’t be certain that readers have actually read an article if you only rely on the time on page metric. Even using other metrics, when viewed by themselves, cannot give you enough information on user engagement. Instead, you need to analyze multiple metrics at the same time and have a single tool for that. Only by combining this data will you get a clear picture of user engagement and create more content that actually resonates with your audience.

IO Technologies’ solution can do all of that. Want to see it in action?