What is dwell time? Does it have any impact on a website’s search engine rankings? More importantly, if it does have an effect, what can you do to optimize the dwell time and improve a website’s rankings in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
When webmasters and SEO professionals think about SEO audit and improving a site’s search engine rankings, they only focus on a few big aspects: keywords, content, backlinks, etc.
However, as search engines are evolving, they are now putting a lot more emphasis on seemingly smaller factors. One of the core focuses of search engine algorithms is user engagement metrics and user experience. Dwell time is one of those metrics that tells search engines how good your website is for potential visitors and how well and accurately it presents the information users are seeking.
In this blog post, we will answer the following:
- What dwell time is
- What dwell time isn’t
- The potential impact of dwell time on a website’s search engine rankings
- How to optimize dwell time and improve a site’s chances for ranking higher in the SERPs.
Let’s start from the beginning.
What is dwell time?
Dwell time refers to the time a user spends on your website before going back to the search engine results page.
Here is how it usually works.
Online users use search engines to find information. The search engine presents thousands of relevant websites. The user clicks on one of the results to browse its content and find the information she seeks.
If that website does not have the information the user was looking for, she will hit the back button, go back to the search engine results page, and click on another website.
Dwell time is the period that starts when a user lands on your website from the search engine and ends when he goes back to the SERP to find another, more relevant website.
It is important to note that dwell time is different from time on page and bounce rate.
For reference, the bounce rate refers to visitors who only visit one web page before they leave. And time on page refers to the time a user spends on a web page before visiting any other web page.
The impact of dwell time
Search engines, like Google, use engagement metrics, such as dwell time, to find out if a web page truly matches the search intent of the user. If most search engine users quit a web page as soon as they land on it, it is a pretty strong signal that the web page isn’t very relevant to that search query. More importantly, it is not serving users with the information that they want.
As a result, Google is more likely to demote that web page that keyword phrase in the SERPs.
Apart from search engine rankings, dwell time is also a good indicator of how good your content is, how user-friendly your website design is, and how relevant the information on a web page is for a search query.
In short, low dwell time may send negative signals to search engines, which can potentially lead to a demotion of your web page in the search engine results pages. WordStream analyzed their website and found out how Google demoted certain pages because of user engagement metrics and mismatched search intent.
How to optimize dwell time
Now comes the more important part.
If dwell time may have an impact on a site’s search engine rankings, what can you do about it?
Here are a few steps that can help you optimize dwell time on your website:
1. Create excellent, helpful content
There is no alternative to great content.
If your content is well-written, contains useful information, and is in line with the user’s search intent, visitors will stay for longer. As a result, dwell time will improve on your website.
On the other hand, if the content does not contain any useful information, starts with boring, unimaginative headline, subheading, and first paragraph, and seems unpleasant and difficult to read, visitors will quit your website immediately, go back to the SERPs, and click on some other result.
Your goal should be to create incredibly useful and interesting content for your readers that matches their search intent. Then present that content in a visually pleasing and functional way.
2. Have a clean web page design
The design of your web page also plays a crucial role in optimizing dwell time.
As you may have heard, the first impression is often the last impression. If your page design is intuitive, balanced, and easy on the eyes, it will draw readers in and encourage them to stay longer.
Optimize for user experience (UX) and especially focus on readability.
For instance, make sure that the headline is clearly visible, the font isn’t too small, and you are strategically using images, subheadings, and bullet points, and white space to make reading easier.
Medium is a great example of a great readability experience.
3. Remove intrusive pop-ups and ads
When users click on a website result, they need information. They certainly do not want to see annoying pop-ups and intrusive ads as soon as they land on a website.
Make sure to remove any intrusive pop-ups and ads at the start of the user journey. If you have to display some, opt for an exit-intent pop-up strategy. Otherwise, users will likely quit your website almost instantly, which will negatively affect the dwell time and, eventually, the search engine rankings of your website.
4. Accurate and engaging meta title and description
The meta title tag and meta description of a web page may also play a key role in optimizing a web page’s dwell time. As you know, the title tag and meta description are displayed on the search engine results pages.
The search result snippet not only highlights what a web page is about but it also sets certain expectations of what the user will find on the page. It is important to write engaging yet accurate descriptions and titles of a web page.
For example, if a meta description oversells a web page, while the page itself does not contain the information that the description promises, users will be disappointed. They would quickly leave the page, which will affect the dwell time on your site.
5. Be strategic with internal links
Internal links are a great tool to keep users stay on your website for longer. If you redirect them to relevant and useful web pages on your website, it will take longer for them to go back to the search engine results page.
Improving the internal linking structure on your website will also help improve the bounce rate on your website. Both these metrics may lead to better search engine rankings.
For more information, read this guide on internal links.
6. Start powerfully
If you want to engage users right away, make sure to start your content powerfully. This includes perfecting the main heading, subheading, and the opening paragraph of your content.
You can start with a thought-provoking question, use a relevant statistic, or refer to an interesting and credible study to hook your readers.
Once users become interested in what you have to say, they will more likely stay on your page for longer. This will result in a better dwell time, and it may also help with higher conversions, sales, and revenue.
While dwell time may not appear as the most important search engine ranking factor, it is a reflection of all the things that you need to get right to top the SERPs.
It helps you identify the quality of your content, the accuracy of your meta information, the efficacy of your website design, the robustness of your website’s internal links’ structure, and the relevance and usefulness of the information you are sharing with your readers.
Use the six techniques mentioned in this article to optimize dwell time and make sure you are providing the best user experience to your website visitors.