Why Average Time On Page Matters For Your Website

Few SEO ranking factors have more impact than ‘average time on page.’ But why is that? With all the hundreds of technical factors that go into websites and SEO, why does average time on page matter the most?

Author: Frank Wazeter, Nov. 27, 2020

The bottom line is pretty simple, average time on page is the biggest indicator that your content (therefore your value and the relevance of your answer to the question) is valuable for the reader and it’s also one of the hardest to fake. 


Let’s take a step back and examine why this matters and why you should care about why it matters. 


Google’s primary business model, the thing that keeps the empire in business, is that well, you use Google search. Google search is only useful if people like yourself find the answer to the question you ask it (as pretty much all of search is question oriented in some way). Let’s imagine for example that you type in the word “restaurant” while looking for a place to eat and got back results about painting stores, rather than the expected results on local restaurants.


You’d be pretty frustrated with the result and if you continued to get results like this, you’d stop using Google. Simple and straightforward.


In fact, back in 1999, Google became the “Google” you know of now, not because it’s search algorithm was so superior at indexing information, but rather it could organize results and information from rivals like Alta Vista in a way that was more valuable than Alta Vista or Yahoo did. 


Early Search Results Were All About Who Could Show the Best Answer To the Question


I was one of the earliest possible adopters of Google. Back then, you’d have to go through pages and pages of results from places like Ask Jeeves, Alta Vista and Yahoo to get content of value that answered your question. Most of the time, you had to put in somewhat complex search algorithms into the search bars to get better answers because search was often literal in the results. 


For example, if you typed in “search engine optimization tips and tactics” the first results you’d often get were exact matches to those phrases first, rather than the algorithm being intelligent enough to kind of piece together what the most accurate result might be for your question.


When Google launched, and you’d type something into the bar to search (a query), the result would...just be good content. You’d find what you’re looking for almost right away. 


No sorting through hundreds of pages listed out, no fancy search query programming codes to optimize the way the search was. You just typed in words and got back results that were pretty much exactly what you were looking for.


This was a huge deal. Mega huge deal. In the world of the internet, it’s the equivalent ‘big deal’ as inventing the light bulb. Now-a-days you totally take for granted the fact that the light bulb just turns on and works the first time, every time (until it burns out anyway!). 


Just like today, you totally take for granted that when you put in a search query, you pretty much get what you were looking for right away. 


Everything that Google has built search engine algorithm wise has been built around making sure the answers that Google gives you to your questions are better and more accurate.


That’s why there’s personalized search, where search results will be altered based on your history.


That’s why there’s location based search, so you aren’t getting results for restaurants in Pakistan when you’re in Raleigh, NC. 


That’s why there’s a constant fight between SEO’s and clever people like me and Google. 


See, clever people and SEO’s spend a considerable amount of time figuring out how to “crack” Google’s algorithm, most importantly so we can rank pages for ‘free’ without having to pay continual advertisement costs for the exposure to traffic. 


Where-ever there is technology and algorithms involved, clever people can manipulate the results and the data in order to get an outcome that they want.


In this case, clever people and SEO’s can manipulate Google search to get their page to rank in the top, rather than an alternative.


If Ranking is Easily Manipulateable, Then The Best Content Isn't Being Showin in the SERPS


Problem is twofold here:


  1. If you can reliably manipulate the outcome of Google search, why would you ever pay for advertising?

  2. The manipulated content that’s now ranking may not actually be better content than what would have ranked otherwise.


So let’s say that we go about and manipulate your webpage, SEO it up, get it ranking #1 over a competitor and you’ve got tons and tons of traffic coming and more business than you know what to do with.


Why on earth would you buy Google advertising? Why would you pay per click when you’re getting the clicks for free? You wouldn’t. If you wanted to expand, you’d simply buy more SEO, not more Google adwords. 


There’s zero mathematical argument on the planet that can make a defense of Google Adword spend versus organically ranking 24/7 for the same term. In fact, you can measure the net worth of your internet presence by comparing how many ‘clicks’ you got and comparing them to the keywords average advertising cost.


So, if Google Rankings are easy to manipulate, Google loses out on it’s Adword revenue significantly, which is by far, the revenue stream that brings in the most revenue for Alphabet (Google). 


Nothing else even comes close to Adwords. Adwords is so incredibly effective at creating a profit for Google that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, just about any major platform out there all created their revenue models based on the success of Google’s Adword program.


Even to this day they pitch against the effectiveness of Adwords when pitching for their advertising product


Therefore, Google doesn’t want it’s most important ranking factors to be things that are easy or convenient to manipulate. 


User Average Time On Page Isn't Easy To Manipulate


Moving on, if content ranking was easy to manipulate, there’d be no way to guarantee that the content ranking is better, more accurate or more valuable than the content that got pushed out. If I can simply manipulate the ranking results, then arguably, I don’t need to care what so ever about the quality of the content for the human being reading it.


And in fact, this is what happened when backlinks and Google Page Rank were the biggest ranking factors for individual web pages. Backlinks could be bought by the tens of thousands or created by enterprising individuals. Backlinks acted as a kind of “referral” that the webpage content was good (similar to how a real life referral saying someone’s service is good works), and the more you had the higher your probability of ranking.


To overly simplify what happened: if I could dump 20,000 backlinks on a page all at once, that page could out rank regardless of it’s quality. Therefore, as a business owner, I’d have zero incentive to create good content. My incentive would be to buy more backlinks.


While you’d still have to care about content quality to actually get a visitor to become a lead and ultimately a customer, the quality still takes a significant hit.


Normally this would only impact the website owner itself, the small business owner who had bad content wouldn’t be converting the traffic, therefore wasting the ranking.


But, remember, in order for Google to keep users, it has to make sure it’s providing the best possible answers to the questions that people like you ask it. If it isn’t providing the best answers, it’ll lose users, therefore losing advertising revenue and tanking the company.


Not having quality search results is exactly how Google beat out it’s competitors. It’s why we went from having dozens and dozens of search engines (that you’ve probably never heard of) to having only about 3 between Google, Bing and Duckduckgo. 


The bottom line is, Average Page On Time Tells Google Your Content is Valuable


Average page on time tells Google’s algorithm that people are sticking around and reading your website. That for every user that comes to the site through whichever means (whether that’s direct, through organic search, paid search or referral (e.g. backlink), how long they spend on the website from each source and then how long they spend on the page on average overall.


This is the hardest metric to fake at a large scale and the most valuable single metric Google can take a look at to judge whether or not a human being actually likes the content and whether or not the content actually answers the questions being asked in search.


Bottom line is more time someone spends on the website = the better the content is = happy user that used Google to get the right answer they asked.


How much time on page is good?


Precisely how much time on page is a good average time on page is going to depend on your mix. Adding advertising into the mix is generally speaking going to decrease your average time on page significantly if advertising traffic is a higher percentage of your total traffic. 


Advertising traffic tends to leave much faster than organic traffic.


Overall, if people on average are leaving before 30 seconds, then you’ve got a content issue. 


The average page visit to all websites on the internet is a little less than a minute. 


Generally speaking what you want to look at is, the higher the average time is above 1 minute, the better. You’ll also want to look at the bounce rate (rate where someone looked at one page and left, versus visiting multiple pages). User behavior is going to vary widely depending on purpose (such as in the advertising example above, where a lot of people might leave within 7 seconds or less). 


So on average, if you’re hitting 2-3 minutes average page view time, you’re doing pretty fantastic. If you’re doing around a minute you’re at the average of all website and if you’re 40 seconds or less you’re in trouble. 


The simplest possible way to increase this number is to offer unique, valuable insights for your visitors, and that usually starts with simply answering the most common questions they have about your product / service. Else, by creating longer written or video blog content that they can sink their teeth into while doing research.


One thing is definitely for sure: the way to not increase your average page on time is by copying your competitors bad content and rewriting it slightly.  You’re much better served looking at your sales process, writing down the most common questions you get, and recording or writing what your response is to those questions and publishing from there than looking at competitor sites that barely say anything because they’re also bad at creating content.


Conclusion - Average Time On Page Is Critical For Your Website's Success


The bottom line is your website's average time on page metric is a way of showing how valuable your content and how easy your site is to use for visitors and users. Without this metric, you'd have no way of knowing reliably if your content 'sticks' with your audience based on quality of the content, the medium they're coming from and more.


Anything over 1 minute is a good average time on page, but it's going to vary widely based on what kind of traffic is coming, so you have to be flexibile in your analysis of how you're doing. The closer to 2 minutes and above you can get, the better. If your content is less than 30 seconds average viewing, you're in trouble.


Work on creating more valuable content that directly addresses customer questions, rather than copied content from competitors that's simply re written. Don't be afraid to embrace your unique voice and your expertise.