Why – Time Spent – Is One of Marketing – s Beloved Metrics

Why - Time Spent - Is One of Marketing - s Favorite Metrics

Paid Content

Time is money. Time is the enemy. Time is on your side.

We talk a lot about time, but the one thing we definitively know about time is there’s never enough. For a marketer, that means you’re going to have to work hard to get a minute or two from a consumer. You need to earn it, so if your site can garner a high time spent, pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

“Time spend is not a very actionable metric, it’s more a sign that you’ve done the right thing,” says David Marks, VP of product at StumbleUpon, whose average session length is an epic 30 minutes for women, 22 minutes for fellows. Marks attributes the site’s high time spent to the practice on StumbleUpon. “There are many reasons why people come to StumbleUpon, but a lot of it is focused around inspiring them, surprising them, entertaining them with unexpected content,” he says. When users are browsing a category, they see hundreds of things they’ve never seen before that are very high quality about a specific topic of interest. “It’s all about the practice, and a lot of it just holds people’s attention,” he says.

How Time Spent Is Earned

Marks says the StumbleUpon team pays a lot of attention to the very very first user session, which correlates to how often users come back and how well the site retains them. “The longer that very first session is, the more likely the user is to be glad and refer us to friends — it’s a superb predictor of how things are going,” he explains.

But for StumbleUpon, that means the site needs to hit a home run on the very first sway. Three things help determine how much time a consumer will spend on-site, the very first time and any time thereafter — specifically for StumbleUpon, but also applicable to any content site — are:

Do I care about this?

Should I care about this?

What’s the quality of content?

StumbleUpon results for a search of “Mars”

One element that can’t be overlooked when analyzing time spent is a site’s organization and design. “The better the content and site organization, the longer users will want to spend on a site,” says Jason Squardo, EVP of optimization at ZOG Digital. More time on-site means more engagement, which indicates a greater likelihood to purchase, sign up and share the content.

Time spent should be monitored along with bounce rate and pages per visit — knowing where users are spending more time and where they’re bouncing means you can make real-time tweaks to optimize engagement. “While bounce rate is a fine implement for identifying pages that are severely underperforming, time spent offers another angle by displaying you how long users are spending on your site before moving on,” says Jordan Bell, marketing manager at Advertise.com.

What Time Spent Can Train You

Time spent also indicates user satisfaction. Unless you’re masochist, you’re not going to spend time engaging with a site if you’re not liking it. The digital team at Discovery Communications has made the most of this idea. After several one-off live animal camera events with astounding time-spent results, like Shark Week’s Shark Cam, the team launched Animal Planet L!VE in April 2013. The site is a digital destination for “ambient entertainment” with more than 20 rivulets of animals, from kittens to reindeer, and flows are viewable via AppleTV and on Roku, Samsung Clever TVs and Xbox. “The addictive, unfiltered content has spawned fresh cams and set a high bar for future products, with visitors averaging more than 12 minutes in the elementary but engaging practice,” says Stephanie Fried, VP of digital insights and marketing at Discovery.

Of course, Animal Planet L!VE is primarily a desktop activation, and most consumers won’t stream long movies like these on their mobile devices. And that’s key to think about when analyzing time spent — the statistic can be different across different platforms, and even across devices on the same operating system, says Marks. People using an iPhone are going to have a different time on site than people using an iPad, and Android users actually spend 15% more time per page on StumbleUpon than iOS users. More broadly, mobile stumbling sessions are 13 minutes, much shorter than the site-wide average of 30 minutes (meaning desktop stumbling is closer to 40 minutes), since mobile is usually on-the-go, such as when people are commuting or waiting at a doctor’s office. That said, if you want to increase time spent for all of these variables, you have to research into the habits of users on various devices and platforms and optimize for that.

You can’t “disentangle” product design from engagement and user practice — they hinge on one another, says Marks.

How Much Is Too Much?

Time spent is clearly a handy metric for interactive products (i.e. a game or choose-your-own-adventure chunk) or content sites, but some businesses actually concentrate on cutting downtime spent. Take, for example, an ecommerce site. If a user has items in the shopping cart, the company will want to concentrate on making the shopping practice swifter and more efficient, says Christopher Penn, VP of marketing technology at SHIFT Communications. He cites a statistics from Amazon, which said back in 2007 that every 100 milliseconds of latency — time when a customer is waiting for something to explosion — represents a revenue loss of 1%. (Similarly, then-Googler Marissa Mayer had said “Users truly react to speed.”) So while content wants to suck the audience in, microsites and landing pages often want to concentrate on reducing time spent on a page. Because once the user detects the desired activity, you don’t need them to stay.

Whether your business will want to increase or decrease time spent, knowing what your site’s actual time spent metrics are is half the battle, says Marks. You need to know the time spent and be able to compare it to other campaigns, comparable sites and industry standards if you’re going to make use of the statistic and set feasible goals. You also, of course, need to know when time spent isn’t indeed a top priority — perhaps you’re looking for conversion, sign-up or a referral. But if you’re in the business of content, there’s one hard and quick rule.

“Attempt to add some value to the user, contribute something that will inspire, surprise or educate that person — at least on StumbleUpon, that kind of content does superb,” says Marks. “Time spend truly is kind of a result [of good work], as opposed to a leading indicator.”

Picture: Mashable composite. iStock, akindo

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