Are website forms dying? Are chatbots a better experience? Should you still be gating your premium content?
On today’s Ground Table episode, we discuss and debate the current state of website conversions.
Ground Up Podcast | Feb 21
Dann Albright on October 2, 2018 • 11 minute read
Bounce rate. Pageviews. New vs. returning users. Goal completions. The list goes on.
So where does something like average session duration fall in terms of importance?
According to our research, average session duration is the 4th-most-tracked metric marketers are tracking from Google Analytics. (Only Users, Bounce Rate, and Sessions ranked higher.)
Like bounce rate, average session duration is one of those signals based on merit, meaning it’s hard to game it. You can’t improve it by advertising, or by stuffing more keywords on your page, or by writing more click-baity headlines.
So, how can you improve it?
Before we dive into that, we first wanted to ask marketers what their current average session duration is in order to act as a benchmark for the rest of us.
According to our research, 41% of marketers say that their average session duration is between 2-3 minutes.
55% reported an average session duration greater than 3 minutes, and 27% reported greater than 4 minutes.
Now, determining whether a specific average session duration is “good” is dependent on many factors, most being unique to the business and its website.
So, to dive deeper, we asked dozens of marketers to share what works in terms of influencing and improving their website’s average session duration.
Here’s what we learned.
Editor’s note: Go deeper by tracking your average session duration by channel to see which campaigns and initiatives are driving more engaged website visitors. Grab the free template and visualize your data in minutes.
By far the most common answer to “What’s the single best tactic to increase average session duration?” was to include visuals on your page.
“Populate your posts with relevant videos, charts, and infographics to dramatically increase the time people spend on the page,” says Jose Angelo Gallegos, freelance content marketer.
All these types of visuals can be useful in grabbing people’s attention and increasing session duration.
But most of our respondents preferred a single type of visual content:
“Broadly speaking, people tend to skim or to multitask as they consume content,” says Colibri Digital Marketing‘s Andrew McLoughlin. “By leveraging video as part of your own media, you can present information more dynamically, and you can allow for more convenient multitasking.”
Many marketers agreed with McLoughlin. And a couple let us know that they’d seen impressive results by adding videos to their sites:
If you’re not sure that you have the resources to add video to your site, don’t worry. Lone Fir Creative founder Tyler Pigott says, “in most cases, the videos do not have to be the highly polished produced videos.”
Instead, “they can be talking heads of someone on your team describing a service offering or tactics more clearly, providing a more in-depth explanation.”
Two marketers also emphasized the importance of how you start and end your videos.
Karen Weider of Weider Web Solutions gives a preview of the video’s content. “I also make sure to focus on the benefits of hanging around,” said Weider. “[F]or example, ‘watch this video to the end to understand the 3 reasons why [you] should…'”
So you should start by reviewing the value of the video. How should you end?
“At the end of your video, you want to reinforce your message by creating a strong call to action,” says Kobe Digital founder Arya Bina. “Whether that’s sending someone to a website, checking out your product, or signing up for a list, tell your viewers what to do next.”
Video isn’t the only way to add visual interest to your page.
“One effective tactic to increase the average session time on your website is to have high-quality images between the content,” says Chetna Singla, SEO executive at Grazitti Interactive. These images make the content more engaging, she adds.
Alan Santillan, community outreach specialist at G2 Crowd, agrees. “Visual learning is necessary because it adds simplicity to content. A picture is definitely worth a million words.”
And, in his experience, it works. “[T]he content we produce with custom graphics that help visualize statistics performs better in terms of session duration.”
What are your customers looking for? What stage of the funnel are they in? What will help them move to the next stage?
The answers to these questions will help you boost your session duration.
“[W]hen we’re creating and publishing a new article, we think about where it fits in the typical user journey—is it top of the funnel content, or designed to convert returning visitors?” says Nelson Jordan, co-founder of Agency Match.
“That information dictates which path we try and steer our users to next. Taking this approach has increased our time on site by close to 20% so far,” Jordan adds.
“One of the best ways to increase average session duration is to truly understand your customers’ path to purchase,” says Jennifer Lux, growth strategist at LyntonWeb.
“When you map the typical customer journey with data and understand the typical touch points your prospects experience, you can build that natural progression on site pages and improve average session duration.”
Users need obvious next steps, she says. In-line calls to action, slide-ins, pop-ups, and exit-intent offers at the right stage of the buyer’s journey will improve your session duration.
So how do you know where your customers are in the buying cycle?
David Hoos, marketing manager at The Good, recommends a simple method. “[O]ne very effective strategy is to do frequent customer surveys asking about their challenges and use that data (and sometimes language) to flesh out high-quality practical content around those challenges.”
Cultivative owner Amy Bishop uses faster methods of data capture. “I use Google Analytics to understand common exit pages and which pages have the lowest average time-on-page to identify which pages need the most work.”
Bishop doesn’t stop there. “I like to track visitor behavior with heatmapping and click tracking and pop-up surveys. This provides a sense for how they engage with each page—what they like, what seems to be missing, and the paths that they take.”
How clean is your user interface (UI)? If it’s not clear and easy to use, your visitors might leave your site fast.
“All users should instantly see the useful part of a page when they land on the homepage,” says Andrew Ruditser, co-founder of MAXBURST. “If there are fewer things to look at, then users are more likely to focus and stay longer.”
There are all sorts of distractions you can remove, says UNINCORPORATED founder Ian Evenstar.
“A distraction-free experience focuses a reader’s attention on the article or web page instead of on closing pop-ups, ignoring ads, or exploring your sidebar.”
Ian Revling, copywriter at Evolve Digital Labs, puts it this way: “If your website’s UX is too complex, full of unnecessary graphics or CTA, is difficult to navigate, and not user-friendly, the chances of user abandonment are quite high.”
Revling also suggests testing a simple landing page against a longer-form landing page with the same messaging. If the simpler page performs better, you’ll have a sign that your site may be too complicated.
Your UI and visuals should make it easy for visitors to read your content. But so should the content itself.
Andy Crestodina, co-founder of Orbit Media Studios, sums it up this way: “Many subheads. Short paragraphs. Long pages.”
“As soon as they land, they start scanning,” Crestodina adds. “They often have something in mind and they’re trying to find it. If it looks like it’s easy to scan through (descriptive subheads) they’ll spend a few seconds scrolling down. If something grabs their attention and the content looks easy to read (short paragraphs) then they’ll slow down and start reading. If the page as a lot of information (long copy) they may stay for several long minutes.”
It’s a simple recipe, but effective.
You can also write an overview of what the reader will learn on the page, says Blair McKee, marketing manager at Constellix. He also recommends a linked table of contents at the top of the page.
Lasting Trend co-founder Tim Absalikov also emphasizes the beginning of the page. “We utilize the inverted pyramid strategy, also known as Lead->Details->Context strategy.”
Here’s how that works:
Focusing on generating interest first, then provide the details—and your session duration will benefit.
You might not think about links as an important part of increasing session duration. But several marketers told us that they are.
Even just making sure to provide internal links can make a difference. Since Fisher Unitech started using more internal links, their average session duration has increased by 10%, says digital marketing specialist Jackie Tihanyi.
Why is this so effective? James Pollard of The Advisor Coach has an idea:
“If people are interested in a topic, they will keep reading. Don’t let them stop.”
It’s that straightforward.
“Take a look at some popular websites and notice their interlinking strategy, how they link enticing words that make you want to click on them,” says Laura Cabrera, Outcry.io co-founder. Use this information to inform your own linking strategy.
Box Marketing‘s Ashleigh Peregoy recommends using links only lower on the page. “If you are trying to build SEO and ensure that all information on a page is read, make the information on the page direct and place outbound links lower on the page.”
The idea runs counter to some of the other advice we heard, but it’s a tactic worth trying out.
Lauren Gilmore of PR&Prose had another piece of strategic advice: make sure every link opens in a new window.
“Just think about it, when you’re reading a piece and click on a link, if it opens in the same window, have you ever gone back to the original piece to finish it? Didn’t think so.”
You can use all the session-duration-increasing tactics you want, but if your content isn’t worth reading, they’re not going to help.
In the end, interesting and engaging content is what keeps people on the page.
“If you want to keep people on your website longer, you need to make sure you are satisfying your readers,” says Donna Duncan, owner of B-SeenOnTop.
How do you do that? Make sure your content does the following, says Duncan:
This strategy not only increases your average session duration but also earns you repeat visits, she says.
“Create in-depth blog posts that actually answer someone’s question instead of a brief blog post that relies on SEO tactics to get traffic,” says Gwen Montoya, freelance marketer. “Dig in, create something worth reading, and utilize SEO for the magic combo of getting and retaining traffic.”
Codeless founder Brad Smith gave us a great example of how his team increased the average session duration on a single blog post by 280%. Smith and his team
With those four steps, the took the average session duration on that post from 28 seconds to over 1:47. That’s a big jump.
DWR increased its average session duration across its entire website by 55% with similar ideas. Instead of adding media and content upgrades, though, DWR focused on their text content.
“In improving text content we use following rules: original content, accurate, engaging, informative, providing answers to the users short as possible and concise,” says managing partner Dario Sipos. He also noted that keeping content up-to-date is very important as well.
Derek Gleason, content lead at Conversion XL, gave some great advice. “The content marketing agency Animalz has a great analogy: create libraries, not publications,” he says.
“[B]logs are publications—one-off, scattershot posts that span a wide range of topics. That means, for many visitors, I may come to your blog from a search engine because you have one—and only one—article that’s relevant for me.”
So what’s a library?
“[A] hub-and-spoke model that identifies a relevant, high-level topic then builds out articles on all related topics.” These libraries, says Gleason, prove to your readers that you have expertise and supply related information to keep them reading.
Whether you decide to use this model or not, you’ll need to provide readers with something valuable and worth their time. That’s what gets people to stick around.
Have you tried to increase your average session duration? Which tactics did you try? Did they work? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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