Depending on who you ask, the dwell time of your web page or online content is either one of the most important factors of SEO or it is a factor that has no value at all. In reality, it is a signal of user behavior that can indicate how useful your content is to your site visitors. Dwell time is just one factor used to evaluate the overall user experience, however, and is evaluated in conjunction with several other aspects of user behavior to give search engines an idea of the value of your website, web page, or other online content. Because the primary goal of a search engine is to respond to a user’s query with a list of results that are high quality and highly relevant, the user experience is an important component in determining where your content will rank in search results.
What is dwell time?
Before you can really understand why dwell time is an important indicator of how well your content has been optimized for a user’s experience, you need to know what dwell time is and how it is measured. It is a user behavior that is analyzed from the perspective of a search engine. When Google, for example, delivers a list of search results to a user, it monitors the links they select and the amount of time they spend visiting their chosen destination before returning to search results. That amount of time is the user’s “dwell time” for the selected content.
Search engines interpret a longer dwell time to mean that the user found your content to be useful, engaging, relevant, or valuable to them in some significant way. It is obviously not an exact science because there are a variety of factors that can influence the amount of time a user spends looking at any given content. While dwell time cannot accurately measure user interest or lack thereof, every time a link is selected from a SERP, it does do so more often than not. This “majority rules” metric is enough, in the eyes of a search engine’s algorithms, to function as a strong indication of how well received your content was by search-directed visitors.
What is the difference, if any, between dwell time and bounce rate?
The bounce rate is another SEO term that is often kicked around without a clear understanding of what it means and how it impacts your ranking in search results, if at all. There is a significant difference between dwell time and bounce rate, even though both items provide an indicator, to search engines, of how useful, engaging, or actionable your online content appears to be to visitors who reach it from SERPs.
Bounce rate is a percentage value that signifies the number of times a visitor clicks away from a page within your website, after clicking to it from a search engine’s results list, without visiting any additional content on the site. For example, if 100 people visit your website after selecting it from a SERP and 70 of those people select one or more internal links to other pages of your site before they leave, a search engine will calculate that your website’s initial point-of-contact page (the one displayed in search results) has a 30% bounce rate because 30 out of 100 people chose not to visit any other linked content within your site.
As with dwell time, bounce rate is not an entirely accurate measurement of user engagement. A visitor to a page within your website could find the content extremely valuable and spend quite a bit of time reading it, but they may obtain all the information they were looking for on that one page and choose not to visit any other pages within your website. When they do that, search engines register the lack of internally-directed movement as a lack of further interest or engagement and consider it to be a bounce.
Is dwell time a search engine ranking factor?
Search engine juggernaut Google has so far been silent on the issue, providing neither a yea or nay as to whether dwell time plays a role in deciding where content appears within search results. This lack of clarity, however, does not mean dwell time is a meaningless metric that can be ignored or neglected.
Dwell time itself may not be a specific ranking factor on its own, but it is a critical factor in user experience. Search engines pay close attention to overall user experience and glean several signals from it that are then translated into positioning of online content on SERPs. As stated before, the overall user experience is important in terms of how a search engine ranks online content. While it may not be a specific ranking factor in and of itself, user experience influences a variety of other factors that can result in your web-based content being up-ranked or down-ranked based on a user’s behavior when interacting with your website or page.
Are there effective ways to increase dwell time?
There are, of course, a variety of things you can do to increase a visitor’s dwell time on your website or other online content. By doing so, you can also decrease the associated bounce rate, heighten a visitor’s engagement level, and positively impact several other aspects of your content that, in turn, will positively impact your ranking on search results. Here are four primary things you can do with your online content to improve user experience and, as a consequence, increase dwell time.
1. Make visitors want to stay on your page by giving them a clearly stated reason to do so. Too many marketers, content creators, and business professionals make the mistake of smothering the benefit of staying on a web page beneath vague headings, generic titles, or lackluster page design. Most users today will quickly scan a page’s content before delving further, and they often make a decision to stay or move on within a few seconds. That’s all the time you have to capture their interest, so make it count. The first thing someone should see when your page content loads is a clear, concise, and very visible statement telling them what they will find if they prolong their visit.
2. Make the reason for staying on your page as actionable as possible. Just telling someone in bold, large, or flashing typeface what they will find if they explore the rest of the page (or the rest of your website) is not enough to entice them to stay. The statement should address the reason why the visitor sought out your site in the first place. Whether you are answering a question, solving a problem, meeting a need, or fulfilling a want, be specific about the fact that you will accomplish that goal if the visitor spends a bit more time exploring your content. To do this, you should become extremely knowledgeable about who your target audience is and what they want or expect from you; this will enable you to deliver the most relevant and valuable information possible.
3. Make it easy for visitors to navigate to other locations within your website. Easy to find and easy to use navigation options not only help decrease your site’s bounce rate, as interpreted by search engines, but also motivate site visitors to explore other areas. This is even more true when you offer internally linked content that is relevant, explicitly or implicitly, to the reason why they sought out your site in the first place. Use clear language and anchor text to describe internal links and emphasize those that are similar to the page your visitor arrived at via their original search query.
4. Make your website, page, or other online content as mobile friendly as possible. It is easy to forget about mobile optimization when there are so many other development and optimization activities that demand your attention. Developing mobile-friendly sites and pages, however, should stay at the forefront of your design and creation functions. Search engines have shifted their focus toward mobile-first results, giving preference in SERPs to content designed to be accurately accessed and displayed across a broad selection of mobile devices.
There are several other things you can do to increase the dwell time of your web-based content. Doing so will naturally provide you with benefits in other areas that impact your site traffic, page rank, lead generation and conversion rates, and even your ROI and profitability. Even small improvements to limited parts of your online presence can make a positive difference that ripples outward into other areas of your SEO and marketing efforts.