There’s no denying the significance of search engine optimization (SEO) to business success. According to our State of Content Marketing 2019 Global Report, organic search results remain the No. 1 source of website traffic across all industries surveyed.
While spending money on SEO is undoubtedly a smart move, you will only reap the rewards of that investment if you’re practicing smart SEO. How can you be sure you’re doing it right? Metrics are the answer. Measuring your SEO initiatives' success tells you where you’re going right or wrong, allowing you to tweak optimization efforts as needed.
That said, Google has over 200 ranking factors to consider. Figuring out which ranking factors matter can be tough. Dwell time is one measure you should analyze when examining SEO metrics. This guide gives you a quick breakdown of what dwell time is and provides tried-and-true tips on improving dwell time for your webpages. Here's what we'll be discussing:
What Is Dwell Time?
Dwell time is the amount of time that goes by from the moment a user clicks on a search result to the moment they return to the search engine results pages (SERPs). It’s a measurement of a user’s dwelling time — how much time they linger on a page, beginning and ending with the SERPs. This last point makes dwell time unique from “time on page” and “bounce rate” (more on that below).
Say you search for Indian restaurants in Louisville, Kentucky. You click on the first organic (not an ad) search result you get. You take a look at the restaurant webpage that comes up, peruse the menu, and decide you want to keep looking. You then return to the SERPs three minutes and 10 seconds later. That is the dwell time for the page you just visited.
Dwell Time vs. Bounce Rate vs. Time on Page: What’s the Difference?
It’s crucial to differentiate from “time on page” and “bounce rate” when discussing the dwell time definition. Here’s a simple breakdown.
Dwell time: Again, the key differentiator is that dwell time always starts and stops with the SERPs.
Time on page: This refers to how much time a user spends on a page before navigating elsewhere. That means anywhere else. They could go to another page on your website, to an external link in your content, or even to the SERPs. Time on page is calculated based on two clicks — the click that brings the user to the webpage in question and the click that brings the user away from that page.
Bounce rate: If a visitor only visits one page on your website and leaves, this is referred to as a single-page session. The bounce rate consists of a website’s percentage of single-page sessions. The bounce rate can result from a person going back to the SERPs or closing the page. Whether they spend one second or one hour on the page, it will still qualify as a bounce.
Now, if time on page is low, it could mean that the user got the answer they needed quickly and, therefore, left the website quickly. The same holds true of the bounce rate: After a quick scan, the user might have gotten the details they needed and closed the window.
Dwell time is more telling, however. If the user looked at a webpage briefly and went back to the SERPs, this suggests that the webpage they viewed didn’t give them the information they needed. In short, the user wasn’t satisfied with what they got.
So, what’s a good dwell time? You should be aiming for two to four minutes. Less than two minutes is usually considered a poor dwell time (although the precise numbers are always shifting, as is the case with many SEO metrics).
Does Dwell Time Impact How a Page Is Ranked?
While dwell time is widely believed to play a role in Google rankings, the search engine giant isn’t forthcoming on the topic. When you view a Google Analytics dashboard, you’ll see that time on page and bounce rate are factors. Dwell time doesn’t appear as a metric, however.
Google has never released any official statement on how and if dwell time factors into rankings. That said, there have been hints that it’s a consideration. At a 2017 conference, Nick Frost, head of Google Brain, was quoted as saying:
“Google is now integrating machine learning into [the process of figuring out what the relationship between a search and the best page for that search is]. So then training models on when someone clicks on a page and stays on that page, when they go back, or when they are trying to figure out exactly that relationship.”
Google Brain is an artificial intelligence (AI) initiative. Although they don’t create the actual algorithms that determine search engine rankings, their work is likely to feed into the SEO machine. Most marketing professionals took this statement as a heavy hint of dwell time’s significance.
How to Calculate Dwell Time
Given that dwell time doesn’t appear in Google Analytics, you’re probably wondering how to measure this factor. There is no dwell time calculation formula. Don’t despair, however. Dwell time calculation is possible using the “Average Session Duration” metric in Google Analytics. This refers to the average time spent on your site after a user lands on one of your pages.
Here’s how you can use it to get an idea of your average dwell time, step by step:
Log into your Google Analytics account
Click “Site Content”
Click “Landing Pages”
Create a “New Segment” and specify that you want only to view “Organic Traffic”
You will then see the metric “Avg. Session Duration”
What good does this information do? As with any metric, it lets you see what is and isn’t working. Say you look at your duration across different pages, and one, in particular, stands out for having a four-minute dwell time, while the others have less than two minutes. Take a look at that page. How is it different? Maybe it has more text, uses custom visuals, or incorporates a video. These are a few of the ways you can increase dwell time. Read on to find out more.
How to Increase Dwell Time
Understanding dwell time’s meaning and how to calculate dwell time is only half the battle. Now, you have to figure out how to increase dwell time SEO rankings. Here are some ideas.
Produce Longer (and Better) Content
It seems logical enough: If you put more content on the page, people will have to spend more time consuming it. As a result, dwell time in SEO increases. While it might seem obvious, the utility of long-form content has only become widely recognized in the last couple of years. Usually, a piece of content needs to be at least 2,000 words to be considered long-form.
Of course, it’s not just the quantity that matters. Quality is also critical. If your user reads one or two paragraphs of subpar content, they will quickly click away. This can then ultimately hurt your search engine rankings.
Healthline offers a great example of long-form content success in action. If you google “what is the keto diet,” their 3,000-plus word beginner’s guide to the ketogenic diet is a top result. Their content isn’t fluff, though. It’s well-researched and backed up by cited and linked scientific sources to trusted authority sources (e.g., medical journals). They also provide a user-friendly experience by breaking up chunks of text with headings.
Need help creating content that converts? Our SEO Content Template can help ensure you’re creating content that will rank and keep your readers interested. By plugging in the primary keyword you’re looking to rank for, you’ll receive the top 10 search results to see what kind of content competitors are producing, as well as a recommended readability score and text length.
Prioritize User Experience
Aside from breaking up your content with headings and subheadings, here are a few other steps you can take to make a page accessible:
Scannable content: Format content with headings and subheadings and bullets, lists, and short paragraphs to make it scannable.
Load time: Keep load time below five seconds. The best-ranking Google sites usually have a load time of three seconds or less.
Browser compatibility: Test your site across browsers like Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and Opera.
Navigation: Make it easy for users to find what they’re looking for with clear navigation bars. A drop-down menu may be preferable if you have a large website with many pages.
Clean code: A great user experience starts with the back-end. Coding needs to be clean and mark-up valid.
Create mobile-friendly pages: Every webpage should also have a mobile-friendly version. Google’s mobile-friendly test lets you see if a page fits the bill.
Apartment Therapy, a decor and design blog, offers a compelling case study. Their homepage is streamlined and organized. Click on an article — like this one about easy-to-maintain house plants — and you get a welcoming mix of text and images, clear headings and sections, and a link to a relevant trending video. The sharing links for social media are placed at the top of the article, plus you get related articles at the bottom if you want to keep exploring.
Use Strategic Internal Linking
Internal links allow you to keep users on your website for longer. Of course, these links can’t be random. Choosing relevant links that would logically be of interest to the user, based on the current piece of content they are viewing, is critical.
This health and wellness blog for moms, Wellness Mama, shows how valuable internal linking can be. The target audience here is very niche, meaning that theoretically, it should be possible to develop a strong following. Wellness Mama has done just that, in part thanks to effective internal links within every content piece they create.
This one blog on natural kitchen cleaning features 20-plus internal links. However, the reason they work is that they’re all relevant. The reader drawn in by this content won’t find these links a nuisance but view them as helpful. They have a purpose. That’s the key to success.
Engage With the Comments Section on Your Post
Open up your content to comments. This puts users in an active role, allowing them to engage with your platform and keeping them online. Comments sections aren’t just for trolls anymore. In fact, The Atlantic hired one of its editors from its online comments section.
Don’t just open up the comments and walk away, however. Check in regularly and respond to users, spurring further engagement. The Guardian is an example of an outlet that thrives on reader interaction. BuzzFeed is another platform known for an active comments section. The platform has even built entire content pieces around submitted comments.
Supplementing written content with videos is a great way to keep a diversity of users engaged. While some people are more drawn toward text, others may be more inclined to view a video. Additionally, a video will usually last at least a minute or two, automatically keeping visitors on the page if they watch the entire video.
Allrecipes offers the perfect example of balancing video with text. In this example, all of the instructions are written down, but you can also follow along via an on-page video. The page also meets many of the other criteria discussed above. It’s streamlined and user-friendly, has a lively comments section, and uses strategic internal linking.
Make Your Audience Want to Stick Around
Improving dwell time requires you to pay attention to many different factors. If you’re just getting started in content marketing, this might all seem daunting. Don’t fret: There are many tools and tips readily available to help.