You may have heard of dwell time. Lately, it seems to be the talk of the SEO town. But what is dwell time, really? And is it even something we should care about?
Dwell time is simply the duration between a user’s click on a search result and their subsequent return to the search results — it can be understood as a combination of bounce rate and time on page. In other words, it’s the amount of time a user spends on a given page before clicking back to the search engine results pages (SERPs).
In theory, a website that has a relatively short dwell time would be considered a low quality result, since the user was not able to find what they were looking for after clicking on their page, and needed to return to the results page to see if another site could give them the answer they were looking for.
Marketers are divided as to whether dwell time is an actual factor in ranking visibility. While search engines have not confirmed it to be so, they have not denied it, either. As a company, we would say it’s an immensely relevant and important element to consider — not one to be dismissed quickly.
The reason we believe dwell time is crucial to SEO is because it fits our overall methodology of JMACS and creating a site that users want to visit.
Just answer the question: Does this concept enhance the user experience?
If the answer is yes, then it is only logical to conclude search engines will seriously consider it when formulating their algorithms (if they haven’t already).
With that in mind, here are some ideas we propose will increase dwell time and keep users on our page before they even consider an alternative:
1. User-Friendly Formatting
The more complex your site is, the greater the chances of users leaving before they should. A website’s layout should effortlessly lead users to the content in question, not away from it.
Ensuring there are no obstructing elements and potential distractions is vital if the goal is to keep visitors on the page and consuming the content they came for. One rule of thumb is to have everything of importance located “above the fold”, that is, appearing on the screen without any further scrolling required.
Composing content in a way that is digestible and easy-to-read is also key. Using complimentary styles and formatting while regularly employing the use of spacing, bullet points, truncated sentences and organized lists will further enhance the user experience and promote a greater dwell time. You may have the greatest value content in the world, but if it’s not presented in a, well, presentable manner, then it’s of little use to those reading it and you for creating it.
2. Super Specific Relevance
No digital marketer would disagree with optimizing a web page for a set of target keywords, but we will go one step further and advise to make them highly specific for certain variations.
That’s right. Assuming the keyword intent is already there, targeting head terms and broader subject keywords will naturally dilute your message and make it less relevant than the next search result which the user may have no choice but to consider.
Hyper specifying your pages for longer tail keyword phrases may seem unwise or foolish, but it’s important to empathize with users who tend to seek specific answers. For example, if you sell headphones which market to the fitness subculture, while conventional wisdom would suggest to target “fitness headphones” as an all-encompassing high-volume keyword, it would be increasingly difficult to keep the attention and interest of a user who was only interested in “weightlifting headphones” or another who wanted to find “running headphones” — thus leading to higher abandonment rates and lower dwell times, which isn’t ideal for anyone.
The more specific and narrow a page is, the better your dwell time and subsequent engagement metrics could be.
3. Increased Page Speed
47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less.
As we’ve mentioned in other posts, over 40% of website visitors abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. Along with that, every second delay in page response results in a 7% reduction in conversions.
If your pages are not loading as quick as they could be, you’d best believe visitors are clicking back to find something else. Luckily, there are a number of measures we can take to speed up your site overall:
- Enabling caching
- Removing unnecessary page requests
- Compressing images with services like ShortPixel or ReSmush
- Utilizing a Content Delivery Network such as KeyCDN or CDNsun
Not sure how fast your pages load? There are many speed testing tools such as GT Metrix, Pingdom and PageSpeed Insights which can not only indicate how fast your page loads, but they can also help diagnose slow performance and identify potential solutions to consider.
4. Mobile Responsive Design
This year alone we discovered mobile makes up 59%+ of organic search engine visits. It’s amazing to see how some companies will spend thousands of dollars on marketing their business and yet neglect to make their website optimized for mobile. That’s a lot of customers being left on the table.
Mobile phone usage will only continue to grow — thus it is critical for websites to display, navigate and interact well on a mobile device!
With web development technology evolving and becoming more accessible to business owners, it is easier than ever to build a site that’s responsive to the screen dimensions of a device it is accessed on. You’ll know your website is responsive if, when viewed on a mobile phone, the layout will adjust itself to the full dimensions of the screen, while simultaneously conforming to a laptop or desktop screen when required.
Implementing a responsive design and ensuring other elements interact well on a mobile device will keep mobile users on the page and that dwell time up.
5. Compelling Copywriting
Composing great copy is not easy. There is no doubt a certain level of skill is required to write in a convincing and captivating manner. If done correctly, however, it can keep users glued to their screens, sales rolling in and dwell time soaring.
There’s a reason copywriters are paid so well. Copywriting has a direct correlation to user engagement and customer acquisition. It is the difference between a viral blog post and a mediocre one. It can make or break your entire message & marketing efforts and therefore should be taken very seriously.
Investing in a copywriting book, course, or even hiring a copywriter to rewrite your webpages is a pragmatic strategy that will bring a net positive ROI.
6. Videos & Slideshows
Any form of relevant media will influence a user to stay on a page longer to potentially absorb its contents. But there are few formats as engrossing as video. Video can turn a relatively mundane page into a remarkably enthralling one. In fact, the team at video hosting company Wistia did their own study and found that people spent on average 2.6x more time on pages with video than without.
The other great thing about video too is, it doesn’t have to be a video made by you. Any embedded video can work well, as long as it is related to the topic at hand and complementary to the surrounding content.
Supporting slideshows are another optimal way to keep users engaged while delivering an additional layer of value for the user. Of course, it would only make sense to do so where it is warranted, otherwise it may come across as dull and unnecessary.
Utilizing a combination of both video and slideshow (if executed correctly) would make for a significant uplift in time on page and interactive metrics.
7. Internal Linking
Internal linking is not just good SEO practice — linking to other pages on your site is a simple, easy and effective way to keep people on your site and dwell time up.
There is always the possibility a user does not find your initial result particularly satisfying, however may click through to another page which could very well contain the answer they were looking for. In this instance, internal linking has not only assisted in fulfilling the users request, it also induced the added bonus of driving session duration up and bounce rates down. Bounce rates may not be an accurate indicator of user satisfaction, but by encouraging visitors to click onto other areas of a site, it can lead to potential customer acquisition, and that most definitely is.
As we can observe, employing internal links when relevant and appropriate has multiple benefits for both visitors and businesses alike.
8. No Vexing Elements
Don’t annoy your visitors — it seems simple, right? And yet, there are many practices out there which actively disturb users in the hope of generating revenue. A few examples would include:
- Chat dialogues
While these features can be beneficial, they may also end up doing more harm than good.
Pop-ups and chat dialogues are known to aid in conversions, list building and even visitor retention, but they are all-too-often seen as pesky and bothersome. From a users perspective, we can all agree getting bombarded with one of these within the first few seconds of landing on a page is not a great experience. Nevertheless, if you must include one on your site, we strongly recommend it be both a) relevant to the page in question, and b) extremely easy to close (especially on mobile devices!).
Webpages which automatically play video or audio upon being loaded are not helpful in any sense. Not only is autoplay an unpleasant surprise for most, it also encourages users to exit and drive dwell time way down. There would be no circumstance where autoplay could be considered a beneficial user experience, unless you are a media site like YouTube, which we would suspect you are not.
9. Actionable Next Steps
Once a visitor is done reading your blog post, watching your video or analyzing your page, they can either close the page or return to the search engine results. But are these the only options available to them?
Considering we want to keep the user on our site as long as possible, it would only make sense to offer supplementary content for them once they have consumed the initial piece. This can be done in many ways, including the following:
- Displaying related articles they can read (as we do on this blog).
- Present a mega menu for users to navigate.
- Offering resources such as an eBook, online course etc.
- Featuring a comment section for users to interact with.
It may take some experimentation and testing to see what works best for your audience, but it is imperative to implement some form of actionable next steps once users reach the bottom of your pages to actively prevent a bounce back to the SERPs.
Final (Important) Thoughts
In the past, Bing has suggested that anything more than two minutes is typically a favorable dwell time. As they explain in a blog post:
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.
The head of Google Brain (a deep learning artificial intelligence research project), Nick Frost, also elaborates:
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 and trying to figure out exactly on that relationship.
Neither quotes outright confirm dwell time is an operational ranking factor, and yet the sentiment is clear: dwell time is an integral detail every website should be paying very close attention to.
By taking this deep approach to building your content, you can ensure visitors have a positive experience with your pages, increasing user satisfaction while safeguarding any demotion search engines may consider imposing on those who aren’t so thoughtful.Was this helpful? Let us know!
Sebastian Hovv is the CEO & founder of SEO 101 and the author of the book, The Little White Book of SEO. With over 13 years of experience in SEO, he has become an expert in the field and a contributor to the world of online marketing education through the online courses and learning material SEO 101 provides.