As with most businesses, you are probably using Google Analytics to track the traffic to your dealership website - specifically to see how much traffic you are receiving, where it is coming from, what traffic sources are converting, and how long people are staying on your site. However, tracking a visitor's time on site is hard for any analytics tool to do accurately - including even Google Analytics.

Interested in learning why Google Analytics comes up short on this front, as well as how Remora correctly accounts for these issues when reviewing your page's time metrics? Then take a moment to follow along as we break down the particulars of how to accurately measure and quantify the time spent by visitors to your dealership site.

How Does Google Analytics Track Time on Site/on Page?

Google Analytics can only track time when something happens on the page; such events are known as "hits." It is important to note that this type of interaction is not the same as hits to your website, as these hits are going to your Analytics account.

Another thing to consider when determining the accuracy of your analytics reporting is that you are probably using the free version of Google Analytics for your dealership website. These free accounts are limited to 10 million hits a month per property or website in the account. If you exceed the 10 million hit limit, your data collection will stop and you will need to upgrade to the Analytics 360 version to log additional hits - and a more accurate overall perspective of your website's traffic.

In order for Google Analytics to track a user's time spent on your site, it looks at the time difference between hits and pages. If there are no hits being sent from the last page visited, Google Analytics is unable to determine the correct time spent on the page, and thus it counts it as zero seconds.

Google Analytics not tracking hits on last page visited.

Time on page one = 30 seconds

Time on page two = 60 seconds

Time on page three = ????

Analytics is able to determine that the user spent 30 seconds on the first page based off of the time difference of the initial page visit and when they clicked to go to the second page. The 60 seconds spent on page two is determined by when they first landed on the second page and when they clicked to go to the third page. The time stamps between those clicks is how Google Analytics determines how long the user spent on your website.

What About Page Three?

Google Analytics is unable to measure the time spent on the third page, so it is registered as zero seconds. Even if the user spent two minutes on the page, there are no hits being sent and the person on the other side of the screen did not click to visit a fourth page (which will now become the last page of the visit), so the true duration of this visit unfortunately goes unaccounted for in your Analytics breakdown.

30 + 60 + 0 = 90 seconds (page one + page two + page three)

Within your Analytics reporting, it will only count this user as spending a total of 90 seconds on your dealership site. Clearly, it does not take long for dealerships that desire accurate measurements regarding user interaction to see that this ineffectual approach is a problem when trying to determine your web traffic's true time spent on site.

If the user in question did in fact spend two minutes on the third page, a more accurate representation of their visit would instead look like this:

30 + 60 + 120 = 210 seconds (page one + page two + page three)

As you can see, the difference in accurately measuring the activity of a digital visitor between these two examples is astounding - and clearly indicative of why rectifying this issue is essential if your dealership plans to get the most out of its Google Analytics account.

How to Correct This Issue?

If a hit was sent to Google Analytics while the user was on the third page, it would be able to determine a more accurate time on site. This is why we use events to send hits back to Google Analytics and are able to track the user's time on site much more accurately than other website vendors. These hits come in the form of a user scrolling his or her mouse, moving the side bar, spending a predetermined amount of time on the page, clicking an outbound link, etc. All of these are ways the user is engaging with the content on the page.

But We Were Told You Are Manipulating the Data

Yes, there are some agencies and auto dealer website providers that claim that we use JavaScript to send data back to Google as a way to manipulate numbers - and ensure that our bounce rates are lower and time on site is higher than what dealerships are used to seeing from the competition. However, as we have shown here, we are simply sending events back based on interactions on the page, and thereby garnering much more accurate data related to a user's time on site.

In reality, these assertions of "manipulation" and other purportedly underhanded tactics merely serve as further proof of our competitors' inexperience and lack of understanding of how Google Analytics actually tracks time spent on site. Their inability to grasp this concept, and adjust their approach accordingly to promote accuracy on behalf of their customers, keeps dealerships in the dark regarding real metrics - and once again proves that the only way to pair your dealership up with industry-leading automotive marketing services is by connecting with the team of experts found here at Remora.

Difference in accurately and inaccurately tracking time metrics in Google Analytics. (Click To Expand)

Here you can see the difference in the average time spent on a page by a customer that came from an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) website vendor. Since their website platform utilizes Google Analytics right out of the box, they are unable to accurately track the time spent on each page.

Their previous website was tracking an average time of just over one minute. Now that the customer is with Remora and we are accurately tracking the time spent on page with events, their reported average time on page tallies up to a little over two and a half minutes. This is not tricking Analytics in anyway; it is simply enhancing the accuracy of this data by properly applying features that Google itself has developed for this analytics platform.

How Are Single Page Visits Tracked?

Normally, a single page visit will show a time on site of zero seconds and have a 100 percent bounce rate because hits are not being sent back to Google Analytics. Additionally, the user is not navigating to any other page on your site, so no events are being tracked.

To prove how inefficient (and inaccurate) this method of tracking is, let's say that you have a landing page with a three minute video on it. The user in our example watches the entire video, then leaves the site. Should that be a bounce? Absolutely not; the user was on your page for three minutes watching the video.

The proper way to track this video landing page would be to do the following:

  • Send an Event Action of Play - This tells you how many times the play button has been pressed for the specific video. User engagement has started because they are watching the video.
  • Send a Timed Event During Specified Intervals - You could set this to be every 20 or 30 seconds and it is a great way to see just how much of the video is being watched. Doing so allows you to determine which advertising medium (paid search, email, social, etc.) not only has driven traffic to this page, but also produced the most views and longest play times for your video. Was the play time low for paid search? Great, with this more accurate information in hand you can stop advertising this page via that medium and push that portion of your marketing budget toward a channel that yields better play times.
  • Send a Completed Play Event - This will tell Google Analytics how many people watched the video in its entirety.

As you can see, this simple example is just one of the many ways that utilizing the stock setup of Google Analytics (or working with a vendor that does not know how to optimize your reporting processes) is an easy way to let a massive amount of valuable information regarding visitor activity and their time spent on site slip through the cracks.

Other Ways to Track User Engagement on Your Landing Page

If you are looking for even more examples of ways to track user engagement on your landing page beyond waiting for the user to navigate to a new page, consider the following:

  • Time-Based - You can send off an event after the user has been on a given page for a certain period of time - say 30 to 60 seconds. This person could be reading your site content or watching a video as noted in the above example.
  • Outbound Clicks - If they click an outbound link, you should have an event track the click so that you can tell Analytics that there was interaction with your content. This is also a great way to track your outbound clicks and see where your users are going after visiting your site.
  • Track Scroll Depth - If the user has scrolled to certain sections of the landing page, you can trigger various events. This is a powerful method that lets you segment your traffic into potential "skimmers" and people who read the entire page. To enact this strategy, you will need to break the content on your page down into assigned classes. If these classes are triggered in under a certain amount of time as the user scrolls down the page quickly, you can classify this traffic as skimmers. If the individual in question takes his or her time and reads the content, these classes are triggered at a much slower pace and signify that the person falls into the reader designation. If the final class or bottom div is loaded after a preset amount of time, say 60 seconds, then you can count this event as the viewer completely reading all of the content on your landing page.
  • On Page Focus - Keep in mind that you do not want to be firing off events if the page itself is not in focus (the browser tab for your page is open). If the site is open but also covered up by another tab the user has open, then no events should be sent off either as this person is clearly not engaging with your website.

Naturally, this is merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of how you can customize your event tracking capabilities to improve accuracy in Google Analytics. If you are interested in learning even more on this front, go ahead and connect with the team here at Remora - we are always ready and willing to discuss the finer points of configuring your Analytics account for accurate reporting.

Wrapping It All Up

At this point, we hope that our thorough review of the inefficiency of Google Analytics' stock time metrics has helped you understand how hits and events work within this system - and also proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Remora is giving you more accurate web traffic stats by optimizing and enhancing these reporting practices.

To sum it all up: Every agency has a different way of defining (and measuring) visitor bounces. However, only Remora's approach leverages an intimate knowledge of the machinations of Google Analytics to more accurately track users on your dealership's website - and provide you with a better understanding of your traffic's performance.

Considering how important optimizing each and every dollar in your marketing budget is to the success of your dealership, can you really afford to work with vendors that don't understand how to properly configure Google Analytics and ensure that your time metrics are accurate and representative of visiting digital customers?