SEO ranking factors come and go. Search engines such as Google continuously update their algorithms to provide all users with the best possible web experience. Today, Google tracks over 200 known SEO ranking factors. Most of these are straightforward, while others are rather complex. Dwell time is one of those tricky ranking factors. In fact, webmasters, marketers, and Google engineers can’t seem to agree on whether it should be considered a ranking signal in the first place.
What is dwell time?
The definition of dwell time is pretty simple. It’s the amount of time a visitor stays on a webpage before returning to the results page. The site visit must be from a SERP, and the user must exit back to the same SERP.
Here’s a scenario. Say you’re researching phones, so you search “best phones for $200.” Out of the millions of results, you click on the first one, skim through the list of phones for a minute before going back to the results page to look at another list on a different site. The dwell time on that first site was one minute.
What’s not dwell time?
Dwell time is often confused with other user experience metrics such as average time on page and bounce rate. Let’s clarify the distinctions between dwell time and other similar SEO metrics:
A bounce occurs when a user visits a webpage and leaves without interacting with any element on the page. This is also known as a single-page session. Unlike dwell time, bounce rate does not consider how long the visitor stays or whether they exit back to the results page.
Average time on page
This metric looks at the average time people spend on a particular page. In this case, visits do necessarily have to originate from or end on SERPs. The same goes for session duration—the total time someone spends on your site in one instance.
This is the ratio of users who click on your site to those who see your site on the SERP. CTR is not concerned with what happens after the click. Similarly, dwell time has nothing to do with what happens before the click.
Some marketers believe that dwell time is part of Google’s RankBrain. RankBrain is a machine-learning algorithm that determines the most relevant search results based on user interactions with SERP content.
Why dwell time matters
First things first, is dwell time a ranking factor? Many SEO experts consider dwell time an important ranking factor, but Google engineers insist that it’s not. And there is no definitive way to settle this. One, Google is very secretive about some of its ranking factors. Two, only the search engines can measure dwell time, and Google does not share that information. The closest you can get to measuring dwell time on Google Analytics is looking at Average Session Duration for organic traffic. And this only paints half the picture because it doesn’t show where users exit to.
Don’t get caught up in this debate when there’s a whole different way you could look at this. Whether dwell time is a ranking factor or not, getting visitors to spend more time on your site could potentially boost your ranking. People who find your site interesting, informative, or entertaining are likely to stick around, interact with its content, and visit again in the future. Here are a few ways you could increase your site’s dwell time:
- Create relevant, captivating, high-quality content
- Optimize page performance (loading time and responsiveness)
- Embed attractive visuals and engaging media
- Ensure your keyword strategy is spot on
- Interlink your pages and content so that users have more options to explore
While it may not be an official SEO signal, at least not according to Google, it can definitely impact a site’s SEO performance, though indirectly. If not for SEO, you should improve your site’s dwell time for conversions. The longer users stay on your site, the more likely they are to buy or convert.
Tracking metrics and figuring out their impact on web visibility is all part of the SEO gig. But it can be overwhelming and even frustrating at times. That’s why Whitehat Agency is here to lend a helping hand. Discover SEO prowess with our team of marketing, tech and design experts. Get in touch to begin your SEO journey with us.