Given Google’s overwhelming success and extensive global adoption, it can be hard to imagine that there’s something Google really gets wrong. But it’s time to call a spade a spade: The “Time on Page” metric of Google Analytics is wildly inaccurate.
Because marketers need an accurate way to measure how content is performing, this single, problematic metric is actually — perhaps surprisingly —a cause for true alarm. That’s primarily because marketing is in the process of shifting from banner ads to content marketing.
For banner ads, we measure clicks. But for content marketing, we’re in need of accurate, attention-based metrics. The primary metrics that define the success of a website now relate to how long people remain on a page to read its content.
This puts “Time on Page” front and center in terms of assessing marketing efforts.
To magnify the issue, let’s look out just how common it is. How many people are using Google Analytics? According to , Google Analytics is the tool of choice for 70% of .com sites in the U.S. That’s an impressive statistic.
The majority of marketers are using Google Analytics for its metrics, and Google Analytics gets this key metric wrong.
What’s causing the problem with Google Analytics?
Anyone who uses Google Analytics extensively and is involved in assessing how well sponsored stories are performing across difference sites or platforms will notice disturbing and illogical inconsistencies in the Google Analytics data.
Part of the issue is Google’s time stamping method, which works as follows: When you land on an article, Google Analytics marks down the time. When you finish reading the article and move to another article, Google marks down that time as well. It determines how long you were on this page by subtracting the second time from the first time. (This is defined on Google Analytics’ .)
So far so good. But here’s where it gets tricky:
If you are halfway through the article when decide to get yourself a cup of coffee, and end up having a 15 minute heart-to-heart with a work colleague — or if you get distracted midway and jump over to a new tab in your browser — Google doesn’t know.
The clock keeps on ticking.
The stats are, therefore, wrong.
Another sticky issue relates to bounce rates: If you read an article but decide to leave the site without clicking on any additional articles, you’re defined by Google Analytics as “bouncing.” Why’s that a problem?
Google Analytics does not measure “Time on Page” for bounces. At all.
To illustrate the wide scope of this problem: 70% of readers on media sites are bouncing — which means that Google Analytics is completely unable to track the activity of the majority of the visitors on these sites.
Moving away from Google Analytics is not an easy decision, but given the increasing prominence of content marketing and the need for attention-based metrics, it’s time to look at the other options that are available.
In assessing analytics tools, here’s where the main issue: We want to be able to continuously monitor the reader’s attention signals, including:
As content marketing continues to grow, analytics tools that measure these kinds of user activities are increasingly relevant and increasingly accurate. It’s time to make the switch.