How Google tracks Time on-page – Google tracks time on page by taking the time of the first-page hit and subtracting it from the time of a second-page hit or engagement hit. On a single page site, a second-page hit isn’t possible. An engagement hit is possible, but only if they click on a button. It is standard for scrolling not to count as an engagement hit. Google has a lengthier explanation here.
It is entirely possible for a user to load the page. Spend several minutes reading everything on the page by scrolling down. Then leave the page once they have the information they wanted. Normally this would be considered a productive website visit. Google would track this as a bounced session. The time-on-page would be zero, the average session would be zero, and the pages per session would be zero. Causing this productive session to be counted as an unproductive session.
The tracking methodology leads to several metric problems for one-page sites.
One-page website metrics tend to skew engagement metrics in particular. Below are some characteristics of the one-page site
- Inflated bounce rates
- Have low time on page
- Lower average session durations
- low pages/session
These metrics are useful for creating content, implementing site upgrades, and improving SEO. Because the metrics are skewed, this creates challenges.
Search engine optimization(SEO) concerns
Google uses time on page and bounce rate as factors in ranking websites. Because of how those metrics are measured, a one-page site is likely to have an artificially high bounce rate and low time on page.
With only one page, there is only one title-tag and one meta-description for the entire site. This limits the search impression opportunities. Whereas having a multi-page site can allow you to “cast a broader net” on different yet related topics. Unless the user is specifically searching for the one-page site it is unlikely they will stumble across the site when searching.
How to fix it
Add pages! A navigation menu is a beautiful thing. Not only will you get more accurate data, but you’ll also get new types of data. User flow data can really only been seen with multi-page websites. From these user flows you’ll be able to see what content draws people in, and what content turns people away. This is vital information for content SEO.
If adding pages isn’t a possibility, then add Google Tag Manager. A not recommended workaround for dealing with one-page websites is to install scroll tracking and a timer. If this is something you’re interested in, check out this video. I’m not going to get into it as I don’t think it’s the best way to go about fixing the problem.
I hope this helps you understand why a one-page site is not ideal for data collection or SEO. If you’re new to Google analytics and want to learn more, may I suggest my free guide, Google Analytics – Quick Start Guide.