What is Dwell Time and Why Should You Care?

There are many different ways to measure the success of your website, with various metrics being referenced. Debate exists over which of these metrics is the most valuable, since Google doesn’t disclose this information, and it’s unclear if dwell time is even a ranking signal at all.

Of all the different metrics that are available, you may be overlooking dwell time, or you may be conflating it with bounce rate. After all, both seem to be providing insight into how long a visitor is staying on your site, but the two are not the same.


What is Dwell Time?

Let’s begin by saying again what dwell time is not.

Dwell time should not be confused with bounce rate, which is essentially the percentage of single-page sessions divided by all sessions, or in other words, the percentage of sessions on your site which involved visitors viewing only a single page. Bounce rate doesn’t necessarily mean that a visitor came from a Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

Dwell time is likewise not to be confused with the average time on a page. As with bounce rate, the visitor may not have come from a SERP. They may have followed a link from another webpage, from social media, or perhaps an email. If they did find your page through a SERP, they may not have returned to the results page when they left your site.

While dwelling on a page does seem to suggest session duration, it is once again not the same thing; session duration refers to the visitor’s total time on your site, as opposed to a single page.

Dwell time refers specifically to a user arriving on your site from a SERP, then returning to it. It is the elapsed time between clicking on a link in the search results and then returning to that same results page.

While dwell time, bounce rate, and time on page all seem rather similar, they are differentiated by the concept of pogo-sticking, which is the act of jumping back and forth between the SERP and a series of specific links as the user tries to find a page with the information they are looking for.

These different metrics are all useful indicators of how well your website is performing, and they each have their own uses. It is useful to know them and understand the differences between them. It can be specifically helpful to understand dwell time, as search engines do not provide information on it. Using the other metrics, however, you can arrive at an approximation.


Why Dwell Time Matters

There are many reasons why someone would choose to visit your page and probably just as many why they would quit it abruptly. Some of the more common reasons include:


  • They find your site too spammy
  • The content is misleading or not what they were looking for
  • Too many grammatical errors, or unprofessional appearance
  • Slow loading speed
  • The website is not mobile-friendly
  • Excessive pop-up windows


Generally speaking, the longer a visitor stays on your webpage, the more likely it is that they are finding value. Dwell time indicates that your page likely corresponds well to the search intent of the user. If they are staying on your site for an extended period, it suggests that they have found what they are looking for and this is something that search engines pay attention to.

Of course, there are other factors to consider, and at times, a long dwell time may not be entirely desirable. For example, when someone is checking a page for quick information, such as a weather forecast, then a short dwell time may be the result of them finding the information they want quickly and easily. If, however, they are spending a great deal of time on the site, it might indicate that the information they seek is not readily available or is difficult to find.

This is important for you to know because optimized content is one of the most important ranking signals in the eyes of search engines. This helps with the creation of backlinks, builds thought leadership brands, and, best of all, improves search rankings.


Is Dwell Time a Ranking Signal?

While many professionals believe that dwell time is a significant ranking factor, this view is far from unanimous. As of yet, Google has not confirmed that dwell time is a ranking signal, but that does not mean it should be ignored. Either way, it remains a useful metric to judge engagement and can be used by search engines to judge the page’s relevance.

Many believe dwell time is also used to help provide a better user experience, such as when a user clicks on a link, then returns to the SERP where they find a “People also search for” section with suggestions for other relevant content under the original link that was selected. This is a result of the search engine thinking you may not have found what you needed and thus offering alternatives.


How To Improve Dwell Time

There is no single, definitive way to significantly improve your dwell time, but there are some actions you should consider taking:


  • Understand Search Intent. With some audience analysis and keyword research, you can learn more about what your audience needs and how they search for it, allowing you to build a content optimization strategy that works for you.


  • Hook Your Visitor’s Attention With Your Intro. A catchy intro is vital to keeping visitors on your page. Without it, they are likely to skim through quickly and click away.


  • Engage Them With High-Quality Content. Content is what brings visitors to your page and is also what will keep them there and bring them back. The importance of engaging, relevant information that is clear and easily readable can’t be stressed enough.


  • Maximize Internal Linking. Internal links are useful for building authority and facilitating site navigation. Be cautious in your approach, however, as spamming links may result in penalties.


  • Improve Site Structure. As mentioned above, make sure that your site is easily navigable and highly readable.


  • Make Use of Visual Elements. Image optimization can more than double your traffic if you use the right images and videos to enhance your content. This also helps catch the visitor’s eye and keeps them on the page longer.


  • Improve Page Speed. Nobody likes to be kept waiting. The average user will click away from your site if it takes more than a few seconds to load.


  • Be Mobile-Friendly. More than half of your website traffic is likely to be from mobile devices. At this point, there is really no reason not to be mobile-friendly, but if you are not, that needs addressing.


  • Avoid Clickbait. As much as visitors to your site dislike waiting for pages to load, they are possibly even more put off to discover that they have fallen for clickbait. A headline that catches a visitor’s attention may attract them to your page, but if it is not representative of the content you offer, it won’t do anything to retain them.


Many of these strategies should already be familiar to you and the point isn’t to have a large shift in your SEO practices, but rather to make dwell time a consideration going forward so that you have another important metric you can use to make your site all it can be.

Christian Thomson

Christian is a British-born entrepreneur and founder of Marwick. For over 19 years, Christian has successfully helped businesses excel in digital marketing. Founded in 2012, Marwick has grown from a start-up to the 11th Fastest Growing Company in Canada in 2020 and expanded into the UK in 2019.

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