Love Me Long Time

Those who say web users don’t spend time reading web pages haven’t met readers like you folks. According to Google Analytics, zeldman.com fans spent five minutes, fifty-five seconds reading the relatively short post, “My Love/Hate Affair With Typekit.” If Jakob Nielsen is right, and readers take in no more than 20% of the words on a page, y’all took a hella long time to read 190 words.

But generalized findings like Jakob’s are merely one data point in a universe of possibilities. Every site is a special snowflake, with stats and usage patterns all its own. Faced with an unfamiliar shopping site, we may indeed give it little more than a cursory scan before closing the window and returning to Google to fine-tune the search that led us there. But when we visit a familiar site to read, then read we do—as anyone with a good blog and a decent set of analytics tools can tell you.

Here are a few recent average times readers spent poring over various zeldman.com posts:

Post Title Average Time Spent
My Love/Hate Affair With Typekit 5:55
Crowdsourcing Dickens 3:36
20 Signs You Don’t Want That Web Design Project 7:52
Ed Bott’s Lament 4:22
Gowalla My Dreams 4:41
IE9 Preview 4:37

Morals of the story:

  1. Don’t use Peter’s stats to paint Paul.
  2. If you want people to spend time reading your site, give them better content.

23 thoughts on “Love Me Long Time

  1. Interesting stats, and ones that led to quickly check the stats on my own blog — honestly wasn’t expecting to see that its top 5 articles have an average time on page of 5 to 4 minutes, which I think is good.

    Nothing beats good content that you just didn’t spit out but actually wanted and enjoyed writing.

    Thanks!

  2. This just goes to show there is not cookie cutter, one size fits all, design. It all comes down to who your audience is and what your site is about. Really powerful results.

  3. Nice info – how users read the web is definitely not black and white, and you point this out nicely here. I always like looking at time spent stats, if anything it at least lets me get a glimpse as to if an article on my site was useful or interesting to readers.

  4. {offtopic}
    Speaking of Nielsen…
    …isn’t it time for him to move to Web Standards as well, and drop all of the old tables out of the window? Or is he too busy making researches, he can’t fix his own site? ;)
    {/offtopic}

    @Jeffrey:

    Good points!

    I have to agree with you — I do read on the Web, and a lot! When an article or a blog post catches my attention seriously, I read rather 80% of it, not 20. I guess, quality content requires quality reading, and to be frank, when I pass by your blog, I usually read posts in full! :)

  5. There is also the issue of trust. That new shopping site that gets a cursory glance has not built up the same level of trust that you have with your posts (not to mention a myriad of other writing and speaking you have done, both on and off line).

    I am more willing to spend time at a site that I have a history with, than one I have just stumbled upon. As a corollary, I will spend more time reading a new site that has been referred by someone I trust (e.g., a link from this site) over a link from a Google search. So if you, or someone else I trust, sends me to that new shopping site, I am more inclined to stick around and check it out for more than a few seconds, even if it doesn’t immediately grab my attention.

  6. So if you, or someone else I trust, sends me to that new shopping site, I am more inclined to stick around and check it out for more than a few seconds, even if it doesn’t immediately grab my attention.

    Thanks, Mark!

    And of course that whole person-to-person trust is the foundation of social networking sites and platforms. It’s also the source of the juice that “business 2.0″ marketers seek; the best “new” marketers want to establish trust-based paradigms with their market.

  7. More posts like this please! Even a sliver of a peak behind the zeldman curtain does wonders for the joints. Simple lines, intertwining and whatnot.

  8. I’d agree that I am more likely to drop everything and read a post here simply because you have years of web clout.

    I’m also loving that you can provide such a counter to the usual statistics and back it up with the simple fact that you’ve built your “brand” on real content, not “me too” SEO tricks or the like.

    Jack says your site is a beautiful and unique snowflake.

  9. One other consideration, though, is that the viewer may not be reading your article but instead be skimming the posts instead (or they read the 20% of your post and then headed straight to the comments section to read the comments). Then, of course, there’s the problem of averages to consider as well ;)

  10. One other consideration, though, is that the viewer may not be reading your article but instead be skimming the posts instead

    Not in this case, as the individual post template does not show any other post titles. These times were taken from individual posts, as the URLs attest. They were not taken from the home page.

    On the home page, I’ll agree, folks might spend a large part of their time skimming from post to post. The average time spent on the home page is also about five minutes. Whether that’s people reading the top post and not scrolling, or reading several posts, or scanning even more posts, I cannot tell.

    or they read the 20% of your post and then headed straight to the comments section to read the comments

    That could well be, but in talking about content I don’t distinguish between my writing and yours. Whether it’s the “post” or the “comments,” it’s all content, here. Indeed, one sign of a good post is that it attracts comments that are more concise, more insightful, and more fun to read than the post itself. When people come here for content, it’s not just me they look forward to reading. :)

  11. I agree with your conclusions, but I’d note that Google Analytics only knows that a page was loaded- it can’t tell if someone is actually looking at your page, or if it’s behind a tab, in another browser window etc.

    The study Nielsen references used ‘instrumented’ browsers – which I assume means they were collecting data far more granular than a typical Analytics tool could provide. So their data for time-on-site/page is likely more accurate, whereas GA is all over the place.

  12. I certainly am responsible for huge page view times. I tend to open a bunch of tabs from my news feeds and leave them open until I read them. Sometimes, I’ll have a Zeldman.com post open for days. :)

  13. I read a lot on the Web and it is always a pleasure to read your posts. Remember your “Hate and Love” post/picture ? well i think there are three kind of visitors on your site, those who loves it, those who “hate” it and third those who drop by for the first time and will turn to love it or not. If someone i trust recommends me a site, i will drop by but i still decide if i will return or not. Trustworthiness is crucial and if you read let`s say three posts on a site you now, or should now if it`s there or not.

    Just speaking up.

  14. Sort of the same as a few comments above, I tend to open tabs (mouse-wheel-click!) for later from my RSS reader. I’ll wind up with a dozen or so unread tabs, say, and then pick them off one at a time. Probably looks a lot like I’m spending a lot of time reading the content of these sites, but … you know, not usually. :) Sort of surprised people still use traditional analytics tools anymore, especially with sites getting more AJAX-y and the definition of a page becoming … less clear. Though not here! yet! :)

  15. Sort of surprised people still use traditional analytics tools anymore, especially with sites getting more AJAX-y and the definition of a page becoming … less clear.

    Interesting observation. Traditional analytics tools work exceedingly well for content sites like zeldman.com, A List Apart, Happy Cog, and An Event Apart.

    For that matter, they also work very well for content sites like AIGA.com, NYTimes.com, The Amanda Project, and so on.

  16. Very interesting stats.

    One thing that makes me stay longer one is the quality of writing, too; not just the “business value” of the content (“business” as in “tech watch”).

    Plain, boring short sentences because people don’t read online so you should have easy-to-sift-through content, small paragraphs , one idea per paragraph, and please cram your idea in the first three words, etc. are sad guidelines.

    I for one positively love to read stylish writing, so I spend longer on well-written, elaborated contents; of course elaborated style forces one to read slower, but one would be ill-advised to think it’s what makes reading lengthier. Savouring content is like sipping a fresh white Martini with a slice of lemon or a nice bit of chocolate that you let melt slowly in your mouth: enjoying it and making it last a bit longer.

  17. Does it also take into account pages being left in tabs for hours?

    For example, this very post: I was hoping to comment a few hours ago, then the phone rang, then I had to write and email, then I had to walk the dog. I’m now back on the tab and writing this comment.

    If stats are being gathered from ‘time on page’, then I’ve been reading this post for hours! I’m stats aren’t being gathered that way in this case :P

  18. How do readers like me count in these stats? I often open pages in a tab long before I get around to reading them.

    (Also, hi, I’m new here – heard your name bounced around for a while, but only remembered to check the site out from some podcast though I can’t remember which one… but um, ::hi::)

  19. I think the moral of the story is that zeldman.com readers are r-e-a-l-l-y slow readers. Obviously a Hooked on Phonics course is in order.

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