Session Duration: How and Why to Measure This Website Metric

January 3, 2022·7 min read

Average session duration is an important, but often misunderstood traffic metric. When interpreted correctly, it can tell you how much time someone spends on your site, what pages they visit and in which order, where visitors enter your site from, and more.

Whether you're a business owner running an online store or a blogger creating content for readers, there are tons of reasons why you should be tracking this metric.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about measuring and analyzing this critical traffic metric on Google Analytics and Panelbear.

Table of Contents

What is Average Session Duration?

In the simplest terms possible, average session duration describes the average length of a session on your website. What does that mean?

Let's break it down:

Session duration timeline Example session duration timeline.

Session

A session is a set of user interactions with your website during a defined period of time. It begins when the user connects with your website and ends when they leave or time out due to inactivity.

By default, Google Analytics ends sessions after 30 minutes with no on-site interactions.

Session Duration

Session duration refers to the amount of time between the beginning and end of a single session (as MM:SS, minutes and seconds).

It doesn't report the contents of a session (i.e., page views, transactions, events, etc.), only the length of time the session lasted.

Time on Page (vs. Session Duration)

One final thing we need to cover before circling back to average session duration is the difference between time on page and session duration. Time on page does not tell you how long people are spending on your website, just how long they're spending on each page.

Average session duration, on the other hand, will tell you how long people are spending on your website as a whole. So, as you can see, these metrics are similar in effect but different in scope.

Average Session Duration

Average session duration is an average of all the session durations that have been collected by the analysis tool you use.

Instead of representing the duration a single session took, this metric gives you a sense of what an average session on your website looks like.

What can Average Session Duration tell you?

Average session duration is an important (but controversial) website metric. Let’s break down what you can learn from analyzing it:

Understanding your customers

The main reason average session duration is such a critical website metric to track is that it offers you a direct look into how long customers spend inside your sales funnel. In isolation, there’s only so much information you can gain from average session duration.

However, when combined with a metric like average time on page, you can start to get a sense for how people are interacting with your website.

Gauging engagement

One secondary benefit of tracking average session duration data is that it can help you get a sense of how engaging your website content is.

If your website is reporting an average session duration that’s far below the average for your industry, you might need to change some things up to keep your visitors invested enough to stick around.

How is Average Session Duration calculated?

Average session duration is calculated by dividing the total duration of all sessions by the total number of sessions. The equation looks like this:

Average Session Duration = Total Session Duration / Total Sessions

Now, let's see this equation in action with a set of example session durations:

  • User #1 stays on your website for 260 seconds
  • User #2 stays on your website for 140 seconds
  • User #3 stays on your website for 80 seconds

We start by adding up the session durations: 480 seconds. We then divide that result by the number of sessions logged: 3. The result is the average session duration: 160 seconds.

What about Exit Pages?

The equation above is how most analysis programs calculate average session duration. However, there are notable differences in the methodologies these programs use to collect session duration data.

For example, Google Analytics (GA) uses next-page interactions (i.e., hits) as a signal to add the most recent period onto a user's session duration. This means that GA can't include time spent on exit pages as part of a session duration.

Here's an example: Let's say a user is browsing one of your product pages. Eventually, they click on an internal link to a related product. After browsing the second page for a few minutes, they close the website entirely.

GA knows to count the time spent on the first page because the user requests the second page. However, no next page request is registered when the user closes the website.

That means the time on the second page won't be included in GA's session duration calculations. This is one area where GA alternatives like Panelbear definitely have a leg up.

What is a good Average Session Duration benchmark?

If you search for an average session duration benchmark online, you'll likely see the range 2-3 minutes mentioned quite often. However, establishing benchmarks for average session duration isn't a straightforward process.

There's just too much variation between different industries to offer up a single benchmark that will apply to every website.

The issue isn't difficult to understand. Users come to websites in different industries with different goals and expectations. This in of itself can lead to average session durations that differ wildly.

Session duration timeline Source: Content Square.

To give you a sense of the range we're dealing with here, consider these two extremes. Average session durations in the grocery industry tend to be around 5 minutes. In contrast, the telecommunications industry saw an average session duration of a little under 3 minutes.

For a more complete list of industry benchmarks, check out the source of this data at Content Square.

How to track Average Session Duration on Google Analytics

There are several ways to track and analyze average session duration within GA. The report you choose will depend on what you're hoping to learn. We'll go over the four main average session duration reports below:

Average Session Duration

For a basic average session duration report, you'll want to click on Audience > Overview on the left-most panel of GA's UI. From there, select Avg. Session Duration from the dropdown menu.

You should see a report that looks something like this:

Session duration in Google Analytics Session duration in Google Analytics.

This report is great for getting a quick overview of your website's average session duration, and the chart makes it easy to spot changes over time.

Average Session Duration By Device

If you want to analyze the average session durations of different devices, click on Audience > Mobile > Overview on the left-most panel.

You should see a table containing desktop, mobile, and tablet average session durations:

Session duration by device in Google Analytics Session duration by device in Google Analytics.

Average Session Duration by landing page

Finally, if you want to analyze average session duration based on what pages users landed on first, click on Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages on the left-most panel.

Session duration by landing page in Google Analytics Session duration by landing page in Google Analytics.

This is a helpful report for analyzing differences between session durations resulting from different landing pages. For example, you might find that certain blog posts lead to longer sessions than others. If that's the case, it might be worth diving deeper into the data to find out why this is.

How to track Average Session Duration (and 8 other metrics) with Panelbear

GA is by no means the only program you can use to track and analyze average session duration. Sure, GA is the most popular option, but it isn’t the best option for every business.

Panelbear makes it incredibly simple to track the website metrics that actually matter to most business owners.

Want to analyze your website’s average session duration data?

All you need to do is select Session Duration from the dropdown menu. You can filter by time period or compare session duration with an additional metric, all within the same report.

Session duration in Panelbear Session duration in Panelbear.

Want to segment average session duration data by device?

Just scroll down to the Devices panel, choose the device you’d like to segment by, and click on it!

Device stats in Panelbear Device stats in Panelbear.

The chart at the top of the page will automatically update.

Session duration by device in Panelbear Session duration by device in Panelbear.

As you can see, Panelbear’s minimalist UI makes it easy to measure and track average session duration in a number of different contexts.

In total, Panelbear allows users to track the most important website metrics, all from the same page. No need to flip between countless pages and reports. In addition, it gives you useful insights on your page load time so you can understand if visitors are frustrated with your website.

Panelbear analytics Website traffic data in Panelbear.

Average session durations can provide valuable insights into how well your website is performing and how you can improve it to keep users engaged.

By tracking this metric using Google Analytics, you'll have a better understanding of what's working and what needs to be changed on your site.

Hope this guide was helpful!


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