If you’ve been around the SEO world for any amount of time then you’ve probably heard the word “dwell time” thrown around. With over 200 ranking factors, experts try to understand exactly what factors influence page rank, and dwell time is one of the popular educated guesses within the SEO community.
Before we jump into dwell time, it’s important to note that marketers, regardless of the current popular SEO experiment, should be primarily concerned with prioritizing customer on-page experience. Google’s ranking factors share one commonality: “what makes the searcher experience the best experience?” This question is the heartbeat behind dwell time and its importance in SEO.
What is Dwell Time?
Dwell time is the amount of time that passes between the moment someone clicks on a search result until they click back out of the page and return back to the SERPs.
For example, let’s say I want to understand all the SERP features for 2018, so I type in “2018 Serp Features” into the search bar.
I am interested in informative articles that will provide information that covers all of the various SERP features. I click on the first link and find out it’s an ad for an SEO optimization tool, rather than an article.
While this may be exactly what someone else is looking for, it’s not quite what I am looking for, so I click back to the search results and continue to browse for articles.
The 2 seconds I spent on this page before returning to the search results would be my dwell time.
I scroll down and click on a link that looks like it will provide me with more of the information I’m interested in pursuing, and find an article titled “The 2018 Visual Guide to the SERPs,” by Raven Tools and it’s everything I was looking for. Consequently, I end up spending 15 minutes and 34 seconds on this site before clicking the back button to land on the SERP page to browse for more relevant articles.
The 15 minutes and 34 seconds I spent there was my dwell time.
Is Dwell Time an SEO Ranking factor?
Google hasn’t come out with an official statement saying whether or not dwell time is an actual SEO ranking factor. Similarly, there is no official “dwell time” metric on Google Analytics like there is for “bounce rate” (percentage of visitors who only spent time on one of your website’s pages) and “time on page” (the amount of time a visitor spent on a page before moving on). Interestingly enough, there is no guarantee that just because a metric is included in Google Analytics that it is a ranking factor either.
John Mu, a senior webmaster for Google spends a ton of time on twitter emphasizing what we’ve already stated.
While there is no official metric for dwell time and no official statement from Google, there are subtle hints from Google that it may be a ranking factor. Remember, Google creates their algorithm to reward websites with the most relevant information. They do this to reward brands that are pumping out detailed, comprehensive, and helpful content, instead of brands that are jumping through hoops (like earlier days of SEO) in hopes of getting rewarded with high rankings. As such, Google isn’t completely transparent about all their ranking factors.
While there isn’t a cut and dry list from Google about what to do, we can make inferences about important metrics simply based on what they measure. If the metric is an indicator of generating searcher engagement, it’s worth measuring.
Dwell time is one metric that definitely indicates how engaging your content was to a user, and therefore, dwell time is incredibly important as a metric for marketing efforts that allows you to put your finger to the pulse of your content. Monitoring clicks and page views are definitely important, but ideally, you want to understand how people are interacting with the content you’ve created.
For example, if your dwell time is around 2-3 seconds, it says a user didn’t find your content engaging and went back to the SERP to find something better. If dwell time is around 2-5 minutes, it means your content is worth a quick read, but may not include enough relevant links to keep the reader interested in pursuing further information on your page. If dwell time is 15+ minutes, it means your content most likely answered the question they were looking for and may have answered additional questions the user was interested in as well.
While we don’t know whether or not dwell time is an actual ranking factor, it does say something about your content marketing practices. The higher your dwell time (and other customer experience metrics), the better your content is. We also know that when content is providing a steller UX, it means something to Google.
Dwell time is an important metric that you should be measuring. It may play an important role in SEO. It also for sure plays a role in telling you how well your content is resonating with your audience. The higher your dwell times are, the more you know you are reaching your audience in meaningful ways. And, that means something to Google, to website visitors, and to your clients.