How Dwell Time & Time-on-Site Impacts Your SEO

Conduct a search, select a result, peruse the page, hit the back button. Select another result, peruse the page, hit the back button. This routine is familiar to all of us, and from a user perspective, it seems simple and insignificant. From an SEO perspective, however, this routine is detrimental to a website’s ranking and you want to do everything possible to keep users away from that back button – at least for as long as possible.

The ultimate goal here is to keep users on your webpage for a considerable amount of time, a metric otherwise known as “dwell time”. Dwell time refers to the amount of time a user spends on a webpage before returning to the SERP (search engine results page).

While similar, it is important to remember that dwell time is still different from time on site. Time on site, which can be inferred by your average session duration on Google Analytics, accounts for the overall amount of time a user spends clicking through your site. Meanwhile, dwell time can only be calculated if the user returns to the SERPs. Clicking to another page on your site or closing the tab entirely does not allow Google to establish a concrete dwell time.

Dwell Time and Bounce Rate

You may be thinking: isn’t dwell time also the same thing as bounce rate? Surprisingly, the answer is no. Bounce rate refers to the percentage of users that leave your website entirely after viewing only one page. It has absolutely no regard for the amount of time the user has spent on that page. They may spend 25 minutes reading and engaging with the webpage, but if they hit that back button, Google Analytics counts that as a bounce.

This is why dwell time could actually be considered a more accurate measure of your website’s relevance. After all, just because a user leaves your page does not mean they did not find your content useful, especially if they’ve spent a reasonable amount of time reading it.

Side Effects of Dwell Time on SEO

Simply put, dwell time correlates with relevance, which is a key factor in your SEO performance. If a user finds your website through the SERP and remains on that page for a while, chances are, they find it relevant to what they were searching for. Therefore, while Google does not confirm dwell time as a value for SEO ranking, it certainly does impact it indirectly by determining relevance. A higher dwell time also correlates with a higher time on site, which increases the likelihood of conversions.

To determine the average amount of time a user spends on your site, you can check your Google Analytics. Just do so by selecting the “Audience” tab on your Google Analytics, and then narrowing it down to “Behavior”, followed by “Engagement”. A section titled “Avg. Session Duration” should pop up, showcasing the average amount of time users spend on your website.

Source: Search Engine Journal

As a guide, Bing suggests that anything more than 1-2 minutes is typically a favorable dwell time. Google also abides by this two-minute guideline, but has not openly admitted so. Rather, Google will populate a “block results” option under links on the SERP that have been determined to have a session duration of less than two minutes.

Source: Wordstream

Improving Dwell Time on Your Webpages

If you are dissatisfied with the average session duration shown on your Google Analytics, there are a few things you can do.

#1) Offer quality content. The most important (and most obvious) is to ensure your site includes intriguing yet informative content on topics pertinent to your overall focus. Make sure this content is equipped with the correct keywords, which are crucial to your relevance ranking. Videos can also increase dwell time, particularly if they’re captivating. If you run an e-commerce site, longer product descriptions and in-depth ordering instructions could also impact dwell time. Oh, and whatever you do, avoid the use of clickbait!

#2) Attractive, user-friendly design is key. If users find your website complex, outdated, or unattractive then chances are, they’re going to leave. Entice users to stay longer by making your website easy to navigate, prioritizing content so that other information they might need is only one click away, and implementing a modern and minimalistic look. Make sure to also mobile optimize your website. Most searches take place on phones, and a responsive design is what it ultimately takes to hook people.

#3) Improve page load time. You’d be astonished at the amount of people who bail on a website before it has even loaded. Or, you may not be, considering we’ve all probably done it. According to Search Engine Journal, 53% of people leave mobile pages that take longer than three seconds to load. Not only does this make an argument for mobile responsiveness, but it also tells you to shoot for a load time of less than three seconds. To test your website’s loading speed, we recommend using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.

#4) Choose your pop-ups wisely. While pop-ups can be extremely useful for capturing emails or notifying customers of promotions, they can often be viewed as pesky. Particularly on mobile devices where they often seem nearly impossible to close. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to get rid of them entirely, however. Just make sure that pop-ups are easy to close so that users don’t get frustrated and hit the back button.

#5) Don’t optimize your website for vague keywords just to get more traffic. You may think “the more, the merrier” is a standard practice in driving traffic. However, the more traffic you attempt to drive that way, the more you risk that they are not interested in what you actually have to offer. When you do your keyword research, don’t just choose the keywords that possess the highest search volume. Make sure the keywords are specific to what you do, and that they’re being used by the audience you’re targeting.

Improving Overall Time On Site

Decreasing bounce rate and increasing the overall amount of time people spend on your website is another goal to have when optimizing your website for longer dwell times. You want to keep users clicking within your website which increases the opportunity for conversions. For example, if you have an e-commerce website, you may want to consider a “Related Products” module, encouraging users to view similar products and engage with your site for longer.

Reviewing your website design and architecture will also benefit overall time on site. By showing users that there are other options and pages with useful information, you convince them to click to more pages, and also increase your chances of being a go-to source for them next time.  

A good way to encourage this is by implementing a mega menu on your site. The mega menu serves a few purposes. One is that is it allows more webpages to be clickable from anywhere on the website (which gives them more authority with Google). The other is that it shows users the variety of options, be they content or products, that you have contained within various pages on your website. When people know more of the options (or that there even are more options), they’ll be more inclined to select one.

Something to Dwell On

While Google may never reveal dwell time as a concrete ranking factor, you can definitely bet it’s an important reflection of relevance and overall time-on-site, two elements that certainly do impact your SEO and are heavily based on an up-to-date web design and captivating content. Be aware of this correlation and you’ll be able to more objectively determine what improvements your website or SEO campaigns need as a result.

Finally, remember that dwell times may vary by industry, and what works for some may not necessarily work for others. If you run an e-commerce site, two minutes may not be as favorable a dwell time, particularly considering average time-on-site for e-commerce tends to linger closer to 3.5 minutes, according to a study from Wolfgang Digital. The key to keeping your dwell time high is simplifying your design and nailing your users with relevant content as soon as they click onto your page. To put it in retrospect, look at every page on your site as a potential first impression, and remember that good first impressions are often what establish long-term relationships (and loyal, recurring visitors).

About Ellie Batchiyska

Ellie is a PR & SEO Outreach Coordinator for Conversion Giant with three years of experience in digital marketing, social media management, and client relations. A former journalist, she is committed to delivering content with integrity and transparency.