Dwell Time: How to Use Time Spent on Page to Improve SEO Rankings

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dwell time

I recently wrote about bounce rate.

If you read the article, you know how important user experience factors are.

In fact, news is they are becoming more important by the day although Google still hasn’t officially confirmed this.

Dwell time or time spent on page, bounce rate, click through rate are all showing a strong correlation with higher rankings.

In other words, if these stats are underwhelming, your website will not grow which we will analyze later on.

That being said, we need to address dwell time as perhaps the most important user engagement metric.

What is dwell time (a.k.a. Time spent on page)?

This SEO metric represents the period of time spent on a web page from the moment a user enters it to the moment they exit.

Pretty straightforward stuff.

But wait… is this all?

Not really.

Let me explain in more detail.

Every user that comes to your website leaves it sooner or later. No argument here.

But it the way they leave it which matters here.

It’s more accurate to say it this way:

Dwell time is the the amount of time elapsed from the second a visitor lands on your page to the second they return to the search results.

Wait, what?

Does this mean that dwell time is a bit different than time on page?

Yes, it does!

You see, with time spent on page we don’t take into consideration where the users have left to.

All we care about is that they are no longer on our site.

With dwell time we take into consideration whether the user has closed their browser window or has moved to another site or… has returned to Google’s search results.

Got it? Great!

Time spent on page and user satisfaction

As you probably know, longer time on page can be used as an indicator that your article has answered the user’s search query properly.

Unfortunately, there are so many different factors that go into the equation.

For example, having a short dwell time doesn’t mean your article is not providing a valid answer.

It may simply mean that the user was looking for something else or wasn’t sure how to define their question.

Sometimes, a search query can be explained in with just a couple of sentences so there is no real need for a longer dwell time.

Users got what they were searching for and left your web page satisfied.

In such cases, short dwell time is not a bad indicator.

Like most other things in SEO, the best way to analyze your results is by comparing them to your competitors.

If your time on page is slightly higher than the industry average, this is a clear indication that you’re a more authoritative and reliable source of information.

In order to understand the situation better, we will also need to compare dwell time with another very important user engagement metric – bounce rate.

Dwell time vs. Bounce rate

Bounce rate shows how often visitors leave a website after seeing just one page.

It is measured on a scale from 0 % to 100 %.

Bounce rate of 100 % means that people never stay on your website after viewing the initial page they landed on.

However, like dwell time, this is also a relative SEO metric.

Why do I say this? Why wouldn’t bounce rate of 80-90% be a bad sign.

Imagine this situation.

People search for an answer to a question.

They land on your page, read your article, gets the answer they needed and leave it happy and satisfied.

Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so.

These percentages will vary based on the website type.

Let me give you an example.

Online shops will have a low bounce rate as people have to visit several pages to reach the product.

On the other hand, blogs often have high bounce rate as visitors are usually intrigued by a single post.

Between these two user experience factors (dwell time and bounce rate), bounce rate is less indicative.

Let’s analyze 4 different scenarios:

  • High BR – Short DT = users don’t like the initial page and don’t trust or like your website enough to stay on it further
  • Low BR – Short DT = users trust or like your website enough to stick around for a while but they don’t like any of the pages they visited
  • High BR – Long DT = users like the page they landed on but they either don’t need anything else or don’t trust your website enough to look for other content
  • Low BR – Long DT = users like both the page they initially landed on and and your entire site (best case scenario!)

Only when we combine the two metrics can we truly understand how users feel about our site.

Current state of dwell time

Previously I mentioned that Google is a bit conservative when it comes to giving more SEO weight to user engagement metrics.

Likely, this is due to the fact they don’t wish to incentivize black-hat practices.

Basically, there are ways to artificially increase the average dwell time (spam bots, tools, etc.).

So, Google is probably trying to take it slowly and put less emphasis on it as a ranking factor for now.

Additionally, unlike links which are almost always a positive signal, it is really hard to analyze dwell time and what it actually means.

If a person is accessing your website just to get your email (thus decreasing their time spent on page), that doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.

In fact, this might even confirm that you’re running a good business if more visitors are interested in getting in touch with you.

There is even a good chance that Google is using a sophisticated system meant to measure values and relationships between these audience stats.

Together, they may form a composite ranking factor.

No matter how you observe this, higher dwell time is definitely better for your site.

If a person is spending more than 5 minutes on it, you are definitely doing something right!

On the contrary, if your readers stick around for just a few seconds, you should seriously consider fixing things up.

How to increase average time on page?

Finally, we come to the most important question.

Ideally, your blog should have really long, useful and interesting articles with images and videos on them.

Thus, by the time a user reads them, several minutes will have already passed.

But, this can be an issue.

Over the last couple of years, long content like ultimate guides and expert roundups became heavily overused.

Although people still visit and read such pages, they are becoming fed up with them.

Here are 8 great techniques to increase dwell time:

  • Truthful titles and meta descriptions

One of the main reasons why people leave a website shortly after reaching it is because the title promised them something else. Don’t ever mislead your visitors!

  • Say goodbye to aggressive ads

Upon reaching a website, visitors may be littered with popups and ads before even seeing a line of text. This is something that will agitate your readers in no time and they will likely never return.

  • Ideal content format

As mentioned, excessively long format no longer converts that well. Short format will also have a negative impact on your dwell time. Ideally, your articles should be up to 1500-2000 words long while videos should be around 3-5 minutes. Having a video on your page can significantly increase your average time spent on page as many users will view it and wait till it ends.

  • Comment section

It’s shocking that some websites do not have a comment section. Comments allow your visitors to interact, help each other and share their opinions. Ideally, a comment section should be easy to use without intricate registration procedure. A really good w yet simple way to increase average time spent on page.

  • Share buttons

Similar to having a comment section, adding share buttons are something that can increase interaction and force reader to spend a little more time on your pages.

  • Promote browsing

Your content shouldn’t be too long yet, you require long dwell time. Best way to do it is by promoting and linking to your other articles and videos (a.k.a. interlinking). Call to action is another good method that will promote longer browsing.

  • Easy navigation

If you already wish to promote other web pages, make sure your visitors can easily find them. Create big menus, categories and filters positioned in a visible place.  Your audience will appreciate this.

  • Responsive website

Lastly, your site needs to be responsive, fast and mobile friendly allowing pleasant UX.

To sum it up, your website has to be good.

Bloggers also have to find a perfect balance between promotion and positive user experience.

Visitors have to do things which they like while feeling good as they do them.

When able, use small tricks (such as videos, share buttons and comment section) to increase user’s time on site.

To wrap it all up

There is still a lot of debate regarding dwell time and time spent on page.

Given that SEO revolves around predicting future trends, dwell time is something that should seriously be considered.

Regardless of SEO, this SEO metric is something that actually tells you if your visitors are into your website.

Even if increasing average time on page doesn’t bring any additional positions in SERPs, it will definitely affect your conversion rate and overall profit.

Have you tried improving your site’s dwell time? What’s your average time on page? Tell me in the comments.

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M Wasif Ali
3 years ago

Pretty! This was a really wonderful post. Thank you for providing these details.