Familiar with dwell time?
It’s a lesser-known metric that MIGHT (probably does – think RankBrain) have a big effect on your SEO.
In this article, I’ll cover what it is, why it’s important, and how you can improve yours.
What is Dwell Time?
Dwell time is a concept first introduced in a Bing article back in 2011, centered around how to build quality content for your site.
The gist of it is this: dwell time is the length of time a visitor spends on a page before returning to the SERPs.
So for example, if I’m researching “SEO best practices,” I’ll type it into the search engine and click on the result that most interest me.
Suppose reading that page took me 7 minutes and 10 seconds, and after I decide to return to the SERPs to gather more information from other sources, so I click back.
The time between those two clicks – that 7 minutes and 10 seconds – is my dwell time.
As you can imagine, longer dwell times are better for business. The more time a visitor spends on a page, the more likely they are to have read and understood your content. It’s a signal that your content strategy is working and appealing to your intended audience.
Dwell Time Vs. Bounce Rate and Time on Page
Dwell time is commonly confused with bounce rate and time on site, so let’s do a quick refresher course.
Perhaps the easiest way to think of the relationship is that dwell time is really a combination of these metrics. Moz describes it as:
“Dwell time, in a sense, is an amalgam of bounce rate and time-on-site metrics – it measures how long it takes for someone to return to a SERP after clicking on a result (and it can be measured directly from the search engine’s own data).”
Bounce rate is the number or percentage of visitors that come to your site without visiting any other pages.
Time on page, on the other hand, refers to the amount of time a visitor spends on a page before navigating anywhere else.
I know, sounds a lot like dwell time, right?
The big difference is in the second click. With dwell time refers, specifically to the time spent on a page before returning to the search results.
And all these metrics are interconnected. For example, if someone’s second click does send them back to the SERPs, or if there is no second click (the user manually enters a URL or closes the window), a page’s bounce rate will increase.
This can clearly present a problem: someone who visits a page for 20 minutes before clicking back to the SERPs still spent quite a bit of time engaging with your content, but Google will still register it as a bounce.
Which is exactly why dwell time can be a more accurate indicator of a page’s relevance to a user, rather than rely solely on bounce rate.
It’s also important to note that both bounce rate and time on page can be found in Google Analytics, while dwell time has no actual metric available.
To get an accurate read of dwell time, you need to take the other two metrics into consideration. A high time on page and low bounce rate will indicate a high dwell time.
On the flip side, a low time on page and high bounce rate mean your dwell time will suffer as well.
Is Dwell Time a Ranking Factor?
According to Google, not officially – but do we really believe them anymore 🙂
The platform is tight-lipped regarding anything that directly plays into their algorithm, and there’s evidence to suggest that dwell time does have some effect on search rankings.
Here’s what we do know: factors like dwell time and bounce rate feed into machine learning help power Google’s algorithm.
Not exactly a ranking factor, but not exactly unimportant, either.
Another sign that dwell time is more important than Google lets on came when Google began offering the option to block all results from a specific URL in the search results.
Many believe this was introduced based on users dwell time. If Google notices that you’ve had a very short dwell time on a specific domain, they would then offer you the option to block all results from that domain completely.
By removing those results, Google can then deliver on its ultimate goal – a better user experience.
Another indication that Google tracks dwell time came with the inclusion of a “People Also Search” for feature in the SERPs.
It looks like this: when you click on a listing in the Search results and then click back, you’ll see a “People also search for” scrolling feed or list with related content under the original listing you clicked on.
Based on dwell time, this makes sense. If a user is returning the search results, they must not have found the answer they were looking for. So, to create a better user experience, Google offers a few related searches to help you point you in the right direction.
To be clear, neither of these features indicate that dwell time is, in fact, a ranking factor. But they do suggest that Google monitors it in order to improve the user’s experience.
Factors That May Affect Dwell Time
Most often, a low dwell time means one thing: visitors aren’t finding what they’re looking for on your site.
That said, there are a few other factors that can contribute to a low dwell time. You’ll find these are similar to those that affect bounce rate and time on page.
- Mobile Friendliness – mobile is now the go-to when it comes to search (it represents 80% of global internet usage). So it makes sense that if a user visits a page from a mobile device and find it’s not mobile-friendly, they’ll quickly click back, resulting in a low dwell time.
- Inaccurate Tags & Descriptions – your title tags and descriptions are intended to accurately represent the content on a given page, but if they’re not doing that, your users will find themselves on pages unrelated to what they searched for.
- Slow Load Time – here’s a hard pill to swallow: 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. Even slow loading images that throw off a reader’s location can be enough to immediately earn a click, so make sure you’re using Google’s PageSpeed Tools to ensure your site loads fast.
How to Improve Dwell Time
Create Killer Content for Your Target Audience
Simple as it sounds, the key to improving dwell time is really improving your content.
Truly successful content marketing requires a sound strategy, and this can only be created and implemented by someone with a good understanding of content marketing.
That’s because good content relies on a researched, proven understanding of what your audience really wants.
You need to know everything you can about your target audience in order to deliver the most relevant content at the optimal times.
To do so, you need to be providing your audience 10x content. The term, coined by Moz’s Rand Fishkin, means that you need to produce content that’s 10 times better than the competition.
That kind of content hits a few major points:
- It’s different in scope than what’s already being offered
- It has to create an emotional response
- It solves a problem or answers a question in a comprehensive and accurate way
- It delivers content in a unique way
It’s a tall order, and it’s a practice that takes time to develop. But once you do, it will pay off in everything from higher rankings in Google to higher dwell times.
For more on how to produce 10x content, check out our full guide.
Increase Dwell Time: Restructure Your Content
Your content could be great, but if it’s buried in a bad website format, your visitors won’t find it.
Sometimes, improving dwell time is a matter of restructuring your page so that it’s visually appealing and easy to navigate.
For example, if you’re running too many ads on a page, it could signal a spammy site to many users, and they’ll quickly click back to find a site they deem more reputable.
Or, it could have to do with the content itself. We’ve talked before about the importance of including long-form content, but in order for it to be effective, it needs to be structured properly.
Because long-form content is, well, long, it can easily become overwhelming for readers if it’s presented in chunky paragraphs with little to break them up.
Instead, you want to include clear subtitles (with keywords included) to help your readers navigate your page, and let them know that your post contains what they’re looking for.
You may even want to consider including a table of contents at the top of very long articles so your readers can click through to the sections most relevant to them.
While ideally, you want visitors to read everything on the page and maximize dwell time, if your content is good enough, they’ll stay to read more anymore.
Bonus tip: If you have a great piece of content, always look for ways to improve it. Add in more details based on reader feedback, include a video, or update with any new information on the topic.
Make Sure Your Content Delivers By Targeting the Right Keywords
This goes back to using the correct title tags and descriptions.
Users won’t stick around if they find they never really wanted to be there to begin with, which is why it’s extremely important to accurately describe your content by choosing the right keywords.
For example, someone looking for a beginner’s guide to linking strategy could be easily overwhelmed by an ultimate guide to earning backlinks, so you have to be very careful of the keywords you choose for your titles and descriptions.
Remember, Google’s goal is to return the very best answers to a user’s search query, and you can only do that by delivering the right content for your audience.
Increase Dwell Time: Use Multimedia
The way people consume content is changing.
These days, they don’t want to see long, text-heavy pages. They want to relevant images and videos that help them visualize the information they’re receiving.
Take a look at these stats:
- When people hear information, they’re likely to remember only 10% of that information three days later. However, if a relevant image is paired with that same information, people retained 65% of the information three days later.
- Eye-tracking studies show internet readers pay close attention to information-carrying images (infographics). When the images are relevant, readers spend more time looking at the images than they do reading text on the page.
- 4X as many consumers would prefer to watch a video about a product than to read about it.
These all go to show that consumers are relying more on more on multimedia like photos, infographics, and videos to deliver need information.
This doesn’t mean you should be using them in place of text content, but rather as a complementary feature.
As a general rule, try to include images in your content every 300 words or so. And if the subject lends itself, create an infographic or short video to include for added visual appeal and reader retention.
Include Relevant Links Throughout Your Content
Links are undeniably essential part of successful SEO.
But they’re not just for Google. They’re for your readers.
Relevant links are meant to point readers to additional information that will be helpful to them and answer any secondary questions they may have about the subject at hand.
That means all your links need to pass the common sense test. Does it make sense to include a link to recipe ideas in an article about hosting a great get-together? Yes, it does, so include the link.
Including these links throughout your content will encourage readers to explore more of your website before returning to the SERPs, which will increase dwell time and decrease bounce rate.
Wrapping Up Dwell Time
Dwell time matters.
While it may not be an official ranking signal for Google, it’s something they take into consideration, and you should too.
A high dwell time will give you valuable insight into what content is working for your audience, so do yourself a favor and don’t ignore it.