Dwell time has got to be an important ranking factor, right?

Dwell time, or the amount of time a user spends on your page, is already a key UX metric. By looking at this metric, we can understand how well our content meets our audiences’ needs.

Consider this:

Google wants to give its users the best possible experience.

That means serving the most engaging, most useful search results for any given query.

If Google’s users are clicking on your website from the SERPs and then staying there a long time, Google thinks (understandably) that your website must be a great search result for that term.

If its users come to your site and leaves straight away, it suggests that they haven’t found what they were looking for and therefore, Google thinks your site mustn’t be very good.

What does this mean for you?

It means that, by improving your page’s dwell time, you can actually improve your organic search rankings too.

Here, we’ll provide actionable tips to help you increase dwell time on your site to improve your search rankings and user engagement.

dwell time

How to measure dwell time

Before we get started, it’s important to have a clear benchmark on your dwell time. You need to know how much time people typically spend on your page.

You might think that bounce rate, as reported by Google Analytics, would be a good measure of dwell time. However, it’s important to remember that bounce rate is calculated using a first click and second click; Google needs to see someone arrive on a page and then take another action on your website in order to calculate how long that person stayed on your page.

So let’s say someone lands on your blog post then spends 30 minutes reading your content, taking notes and actioning your tips. Then they leave. As far as Analytics can tell, that person has bounced because they haven’t moved to another page on your site.

That means Google registers this user as a ‘bounce’. In reality, that user has consumed everything on the page and clearly found it useful.

That’s why dwell time also considers time on page. We have no way of knowing how exactly Google calculates dwell time, but we can make an estimated assumption that both our page’s bounce rate and time on page are key metrics.

To set your benchmark, you should record the current bounce rate and time on page for the page you’re looking to improve – or for the whole site if you’re working on a more macro level. [Tweet this tip]

Tips to help you increase dwell time on your website

Once you know your existing dwell time metrics, you can get to work on improving your page/site to improve. Here are our top tips:

Draw people in

The first thing to consider when looking at improving dwell time (i.e. keeping people on your site longer), is how appealing your page is to that user from the off.

Brian Dean, author of Backlinko (a really useful resource particularly around link building – take a look!), is an advocate of the APP model of introducing content. It looks like this:

dwell time app method

Rather than trying to hook your audience with generic (and frankly dull) introductions that typically involve some kind of definition, think outside of the box about how your content is going to best appeal to your target reader.

You might, for example, start with a statement with which your audience will agree (e.g. ‘dwell time has got to be a ranking factor, right?’ – to which hopefully you responded ‘well, yes, it does make sense…’).

Next, make a promise to your audience relating to that statement (e.g. ‘by improving your page’s dwell time, you can actually improve your organic search rankings too’).

Then, give them a preview of what they’ll get if they stick around (e.g. ‘we’ll provide actionable tips to help you increase dwell time on your site to improve your search rankings and user engagement’).

The idea here is that you’re drawing people into your content and giving them a good reason to stay, thus improving dwell time.

Digestible content

We do quite a bit of work with one of our region’s biggest brands (they deal with numbers and financial data) and one of their core areas of focus at the moment is ‘digestible content’. They want to understand how they can engage with their audience by creating content that is quick and easy to consume and action, thus giving them the ability to tap into key buyer moments throughout the sales process.

Now:

Let’s consider that concept in the context of a blog post or web page. Whilst long form content is incredibly powerful, presenting that content in an easy-to-digest manner is essential in actually getting people to read it.

That means:

  • Using shorter sentences.
  • Writing in shorter, less complex paragraphs.
  • Using content chunking techniques such as headings and lists.
  • Making sure your content is skimmable.

Remember, people don’t read a web page as they would a book. They’re far more likely to skim through your content to find the bits that interest them. By focusing on creating digestible content, you make it easier to read and therefore more appealing – leading to increased dwell time. [Tweet this tip]

Creating content worthy of sticking around

Of course, people won’t stick around for content that doesn’t warrant their time.

Once you’ve made your initial promise (which actually comes before the user gets to your site, as we’ll explain in a moment), it’s important you fulfil that promise.

Write a blog post entitled ‘how to improve dwell time for increased SEO rankings’ and you’d better explain how people can improve their dwell time for increased SEO rankings!

Simple, right?

Of course, it’s not just about giving your user what you say you’re going to give them. If you’re expecting someone to spend even just a few minutes on your content, you’d better have something worthy of their time. [Tweet this tip]

That means:

  • Understanding your audience and doing your keyword research to ensure you’re covering a topic people really care about.
  • Writing content that is long enough to justify longer dwell times (a 200 word blog post isn’t going to take someone 5 minutes to read!).
  • Giving something extra that people may not have even considered in their initial assessment of your content, such as free downloadable resources or extra information.

Use internal linking to keep people on your site

Once people have read your page, you should give them somewhere to go next. Since dwell time is measured on the time between someone coming to your site and returning to the SERPs, it makes sense that you should try to keep users on your site once they’ve finished reading the page they’re on.

One way to do this is to have a ‘related content’ widget. This is especially common in blog posts, where you’ll often see ‘related posts’:

dwell time related posts

As you can see in this example, Company Check has used a widget to show popular or most recent posts at the bottom of their article. They also have an email sign up form, which encourages a micro-conversion which plays an important part in the buyer journey.

The Impression site uses related services to help people delve deeper into our offering:

dwell time related services

Here’s how you can add related posts easily:

If you use WordPress, there are plugins available to pull in related posts for you. Here’s one we like.

Match the searcher intent

As we mentioned above, the user experience of your web page starts before they even get to your domain. It actually starts in the search results.

Here’s why:

When someone searches for something, they show a clear intent. For example, they want a digital marketing agency in Nottingham:

dwell time serps

They get the result shown above. The title tag matches the user intent – it shows this result is from a digital marketing agency in Nottingham (and London, as it happens).

The description says it’s a page for a digital marketing agency too. It then uses similar terms you’d expect to see that relate to digital marketing, such as SEO, PR, PPC and so on.

When the user lands on this page, they’re met with information about this particular digital marketing agency and again, phrases that are related to digital marketing, as well as the seed phrase, are used throughout. This is much more likely to meet the searcher intent than, say, a search result with claims to be a digital marketing agency in Nottingham but turns out to be one in Leicester or Derby.

If you want to increase dwell time, one of the most important things you can do is ensure your web pages match and meet the searcher intent. You may get fewer visitors but you’ll know the ones you do get are relevant and likely to stick around. [Tweet this tip]

Is dwell time a ranking signal?

Dwell time was famously pioneered as a phrase by Duane Forrester at Bing who wrote about producing quality content. In his guide, he talked about the importance of dwell time:

By taking this deep approach to building your content, the page a visitor encounters will be viewed as an authority on the topic or item.  Your goal should be that when a visitor lands on your page, the content answers all of their needs, encouraging their next action to remain with you.  If your content does not encourage them to remain with you, they will leave.  The search engines can get a sense of this by watching the dwell time.  The time between when a user clicks on our search result and when they come back from your website tells a potential story.  A minute or two is good as it can easily indicate the visitor consumed your content.  Less than a couple of seconds can be viewed as a poor result.  And while that’s not the only factor we review when helping to determine quality, it’s a signal we watch.

We know that dwell time is important to Bing. Given this was first written in 2011, it’s highly likely Bing’s ability to understand dwell time has progressed.

And let’s not forget, Microsoft (owner of Bing) recently acquired LinkedIn – will dwell time be a ranking factor in our news feeds on LinkedIn too? It remains to be seen.

Rand Fishkin and the Moz team have also been doing some testing around the idea of dwell time, which you can learn more about in this Whiteboard Friday.

dwell time rand fishkin

Google remains quiet on the topic of dwell time. We’ve reached out to Google for comment but at the time of writing, haven’t heard back.

So who cares?

Well, 590 people each month in the UK search for ‘dwell time’:

dwell time searches uk

How many of those are your competitors, trying to improve their own dwell time to get ahead of you?

Do you want to risk being left behind because Google hasn’t explicitly said dwell time is a ranking factor?

Google wants to give its users the most useful, engaging results for any given search query. That means it wants to serve up websites which offer a good user experience and meet the search intent.

Related posts

The following posts are great reads if you want to learn more about improving on page metrics:

Laura Hampton

Head of Marketing & PR

Head of Marketing & PR at @impressiontalk specialising in user-centred SEO, PR, content marketing and digital strategy. In my spare time, I jump out of planes.