Google uses over 200 ranking factors in their search algorithms, and dwell time is one of them.
Dwell time is the amount of time a visitor spends on a web page when they clicked on a link in search results, before they turn back to the SERPs.
Sounds similar to bounce rate?
That’s the key reason why people often confuse dwell time with popular metrics like bounce rate and session duration.
Dwell time is the amount of time spent on a web page whereas bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who visit a page but then return to the SERPs without visiting other pages. No matter how much time a visitor spends on your web page (2 seconds or 2 hours), if they didn’t click on anything, it’s a bounce.
For example, you searched for "how to follow a diet without failure" on Google. You liked the snippet of the first SERP result and clicked on it to learn more. You read the entire article for 4.5 minutes, which is considered dwell time.
After reading the post, you returned to the SERPs without clicking on any other link on that page to continue with your research. This action of leaving the site without visiting other pages is counted as a bounce.
Bounce rate doesn't tell Google about whether or not the user got satisfied after reading your content.
Dwell time is often confused with session duration as well. Session duration refers to the total amount of time spent on a website before the user leaves the site.
Dwell time tells a different tale.
Let's see what it is and how it matters for SEO.
Dwell Time as an SEO Ranking Factor
Let’s take our "how to follow a diet without failure" search example further.
Let's say you opened the top ranking article in the SERPs for this keyword, but you didn’t find it valuable.
You returned to search results to click on #2 result to see if it could answer your question. This time, the content was so amazing that you ended up reading the entire article for five minutes.
This tells Google that the web page ranking #2 in Google search results offers more value to users than the first one.
Do you think Google will change the rankings of both of these web pages?
Google never confirmed publicly that dwell time matters for SEO. However, we are aware of the fact that Google values user experience.
Image via Twitter
Mike also captured an audio recording from the event in which someone from Google confirmed integrating machine learning to evaluate dwell time.
Here’s the transcript:
Image via Search Engine Roundtable
Larry Kim ran an experiment to confirm the importance of dwell time in SEO. He checked WordStream’s positions in the SERPs before and after Google introduced RankBrain.
Before RankBrain (i.e., 2015), many of their web pages were ranking well.
Image via WordStream
As you can see in the image above, some of their well-ranking pages had less average time spent on the page. It means Google wasn’t ranking web pages based on how much time readers spent on the page.
After RankBrain (i.e., 2017), their web page rankings got affected based on the time users spent on them.
Image via WordStream
All well-ranking pages, except two, had above average time spent on the page. This suggests that search rankings are going hand-in-hand with time spent on page (dwell time).
Undoubtedly, Google is honoring pages with higher dwell time with prominent search results rankings.
Does it mean that dwell time is the most valuable SEO ranking factor?
What is the Impact of Dwell Time on SEO?
It’s worth noting that Google Analytics tracks metrics such as bounce rate and session duration, but not dwell time. (Session duration might include multiple pages or articles, but dwell time focuses on one piece of content.)
But, dwell time still impacts your search rankings indirectly. That’s because it tells Google whether or not your web page offers value to users.
For example, when we searched the term, "how to make a schedule," in Google, wikiHow’s article titled, “How to Make a Schedule (with Pictures),” ranked #1 in the SERPs.
Image via Google
This is a comprehensive article that covers everything from creating a schedule to following it consistently. It uses a good mix of text and images to engage readers and this post got a tremendous response from readers.
Image via wikiHow
The article perfectly fulfills user intent, which is why most visitors spend 10-15 minutes (I did) on the page.
In contrast to this, let’s take a look at the page that ranks #7 for the same search query.
Image via TimeCenter
If you read this article, it won’t take you more than a minute to realize that the post doesn’t offer much value to those who want to create a customized schedule. It just lists generic tips. Also, the content is difficult to read and understand.
Most users won’t spend much time on the page, reducing its dwell time.
Dwell time acts as an indicator of the quality and relevance of your content. The more time visitors spend on a page, the greater value that page delivers to users. And, the more signals Google gets regarding the quality of that web page.
To simplify it:
So, that’s how dwell time impacts your search rankings indirectly.
With that, let’s discuss how you can improve dwell time on your web pages.
7 Tips to Enhance Dwell Time for Higher Search Rankings
The entire concept of dwell time revolves around content quality. You should focus on creating high-quality content that can capture the attention of your visitors and make them stay on your page longer.
Content quality holds the utmost importance when it comes to achieving higher search rankings. If your content is valuable, relevant, and easily readable, visitors are likely to spend more time on the page. This will result in increasing the dwell time and, thereby, help you improve your search rankings.
In a nutshell, improving dwell time is directly proportional to delivering a better user experience.
Here are seven actionable tips that can help you achieve a better dwell time on your web pages.
1. Understand Search Intent
Before jumping into creating content, you should first take time to understand search intent.
Search intent is the intention of users behind performing a particular search query. For example, if a person searches for "best brands for speakers," chances are that they intend to discover the most reliable speaker brands and they’re probably looking to buy a speaker.
Google values user experience and focuses on solving users’ problems. The search engine is likely to rank pages that deliver information that is highly relevant to the search term and user intent.
If you want Google to rank your content better, you should determine the user intent behind the most common search terms used by your target audience.
You should seek answers to the following questions if you want to understand search intent:
- What are your potential customers searching for?
- Are they looking for information or do they want to buy?
- Which terms do they search for when they are looking for information?
- Which terms do they search for when they want to purchase a product?
- What are common problems that the current top-ranking content doesn’t address?
Once you understand user intent, you can create content that will fulfill their needs.
2. Use the APP Method to Create an Engaging Introduction
If the introduction of your article is not engaging, visitors may return to the SERPs to find a post that can impress them right from the beginning.
A good introduction can grab the attention of your readers right away. You need to give them a strong reason to stay on the page and read the entire content. If you can do that, people will spend more time engaging with your content, which can lead to an increase in dwell time.
The popular APP method can help you craft a compelling introduction. Here’s what it looks like:
The APP Method
APP stands for: Agree, Promise, and Preview
Agree: You should start your post with something that readers are likely to agree with. This tells them that you understand their problems.
For example, people who want to increase the number of email subscribers are likely to agree that it is difficult to convert website visitors into subscribers.
Image via Backlinko
Promise: Then, you should promise to deliver something valuable to your readers.
For example, in this article, Backlinko revealed that they are converting 21.7% of their traffic into new email subscribers by just adding one simple page. This gives readers the hope that they can discover a strategy that can help them increase conversions.
Preview: Then, you should clearly tell your readers what you have in store for them.
For example, they clearly stated that they are going to disclose how you can add that squeeze page to your site that can help you increase your number of email subscribers.
Such an introduction is likely to keep your users engaged and can encourage them to read further.
You can also use “bucket brigades.” These are short and sweet words and phrases that can keep people on your page. Some of the most common bucket brigades include:
- But there's a catch
- What's the real story?
- And the best part?
- That's not all…
- You’ll learn...
3. Write Long-Form Content
Long-form content generates an average of 77.2% more backlinks than short posts. It also receives more social shares than short posts.
Long-form content tends to perform well as it usually contains in-depth information about a specific topic. Longer posts generally include answers to all of the major questions a user has when they search for a term related to that post.
For example, when we searched for "how to make a schedule," the article by wikiHow, which ranked #1 in the SERPs, answered almost everything related to the topic. And, it was a 1500-2000 word article.
Overall, it's more about creating an in-depth article that answers all of the questions related to a particular topic such as what, why, how, when, and where. And, when you answer these questions, it will lead to creating a longer post that offers more value, and, thereby, longer dwell time.
4. Focus on Readability
Before reading an article, users often scan through the entire content to decide whether it is worth their time. If they only find long blocks of text, there will be a higher chance that they will return to search results to look for a post that is easily scannable.
That’s why you need to create content that is easy to read and scan through. You should include proper headings and subheadings. Also, it is important to use a perfect blend of text and images to encourage people to read more.
Google prioritizes user experience. That's why they reward web pages that focus on enhancing readability.
Try it yourself. You can perform a Google search for any keyword and check for yourself to see whether the article ranking #1 is easily scannable or not.
For example, we searched for “how to write faster.” Another article from wikiHow titled, “How to Write Faster,” ranks #1. The article talks about two different methods to write faster and each of them covers a handful of actionable tips. You can get an idea about the content by just reading the subheadings.
Moreover, the post includes a mix of text and images to enhance its visual-appeal. Bulleted points also make it easier for readers to get concise information.
Bottom line: You should put effort into making your content scannable. Including subheadings, highlighting facts, and inserting images and videos can make your content easier to consume.
5. Insert Videos
Wistia’s team analyzed the top 100 pages receiving maximum traffic on their blog in terms of the time users spent on each page. They found that pages with videos had 7 minutes and 21 seconds of average time spent while the average dwell time on pages without videos was 2 minutes and 48 seconds.
Image via Wistia
Google has also started ranking videos if they offer value to their users. For example, when we searched for "walk at home exercises," the 121-second video below ranks #1.
Image via Google
Videos have as much chance of ranking #1 on Google as an article does. Plus, video content is far more engaging and easily consumable when compared to long-form posts.
6. Improve Page Speed
With their Speed Update, Google confirmed that page speed will be an important ranking factor for mobile searches as well. That’s because people want to find answers to their questions quickly and they really care about the speed of a page.
Even Facebook announced that they’ll prioritize posts that link to faster-loading web pages to improve News Feed experience.
Consumers are quite impatient and they are likely to bounce back if your page doesn’t load fast. That’s why you have no choice but to improve your page speed if you want them to stay longer and enhance your dwell time.
You should make sure that it takes less than three seconds for your web pages to load. You can compress and optimize the images and video content on your site for faster loading.
7. Optimize Your Site for Mobile Devices
In the second quarter of 2019, mobile devices accounted for 48.91% of global website traffic. This suggests that it is very important for brands to optimize their websites for mobile devices.
You should make sure that your website is mobile responsive if you don’t want to risk losing the massive amount of mobile traffic.
Mobile responsiveness is not an option anymore. It’s a compulsion. A well-optimized site can help you enhance dwell time and user engagement, which can then improve your search rankings.
How to Track Dwell Time
Implementing these tips to enhance dwell time isn’t enough. You need to keep track of how your web pages are performing in terms of dwell time.
You should also track the changes in their search rankings over a period of time. This will help you analyze whether you need to improve SEO.
Unfortunately, there is no direct way to track dwell time as the Google Analytics dashboard doesn’t show any such reports. But there is an indirect way to calculate dwell time.
Google Analytics enables you to track average session duration and the number of pages visited per session. You can see page visits that lead to higher average session duration and analyze what makes users stay longer on your site.
There is no fixed tactic to help you enhance dwell time. You need to implement a couple of things simultaneously to improve dwell time and overall SEO results.
However, it is very important to create and publish content that is relevant to your target audience and their search intent. You should focus on delivering an excellent user experience to ensure that visitors stay longer on your web pages, improving dwell time.
Google might not have listed dwell time as a ranking factor but improving dwell time is proportional to improving the overall quality of your web pages. And, web pages that deliver high-quality content and a good user experience are likely to rank higher in the SERPs. This means that working on tactics to enhance dwell time does impact SEO results in a positive way.