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Is ‘dwell time’ the next big thing for SEO? Blog Feature

Kaitlyn Petro

VP of Operations, IMPACT+, 7+ Years Of Digital Marketing Strategy, Operations/Project Management, & Process Creation Experience

January 24th, 2020 min read

When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), there is so much you need to pay attention to.

There’s on-page, technical, and off-page SEO, and within those buckets, there are a plethora of elements you need to audit, report on, improve, and manage.

It’s an ongoing debate amongst experts exactly which SEO metric is the most important to track.

Some say it’s organic traffic, while others say it’s an increase in keyword rankings. Others claim bounce rate or pages per session are the ones to focus on. Narrative SEO Founder Franco Valentino swears by Google impression rate (found in Google Search Console).

And now HubSpot has released a recent article talking all about the importance of "dwell time."

In truth, we know that analyzing all of these metrics is critical to making the best decisions to optimize our digital footprint. We put forth all of this time and effort to ensure we have an overall healthy website that people can actually find. After all, SEO is all about attracting users to your site over your competitors’, right?

Sure, but do we ever stop to think about what happens after the user clicks on your search result?

The point that HubSpot is making with its focus on dwell time is that SEO success doesn’t just stop when someone gets to your site. The results or answers you’re providing them with still need to do their job; if they don’t, the user is going to find what they need somewhere else.

Enter dwell time.

What is dwell time?

According to Search Engine Journal, “Dwell time is the length of time a person spends looking at a webpage after they’ve clicked a link on a SERP page, but before clicking back to the SERP results.”

We’ve all done that. If we’re looking for an answer to a specific question, and we don’t find it on the first result we click on, we’ll go back to the search results to find a better resource.

As consumers, we know we want the best answer to our question, and we know we want it immediately. But as marketers, we often forget to solve for this when creating content or optimizing for search.

Luckily, tracking dwell time can help improve the relevancy of page content, thus improving the relevancy of a website in Google’s eyes.

In fact, dwell time has become such an important factor in SEO that AZ Big Media and other sources are saying it will take great prominence in your 2020 SEO strategy.

Grit Daily even goes as far to say that this year, articles will become lengthier than normal because dwell time increases when a user spends more time reading. And when dwell time increases, Google rewards those pages with more organic traffic.

With that said, it’s important you begin to monitor this metric for your own site.

How to analyze dwell time

Here’s the bad news: dwell time is not an SEO metric that you can directly measure using a third-party tool like Google Analytics. Unfortunately, only the search engines have access to reports like this.

The good news? There are other metrics you can measure to get an idea of what your dwell time might be, and there are also a few things you can do to increase your dwell time.

Key performance indicators like average time on page and session duration can be looked at to gain a better understanding of the activity taking place on your web pages. Bounce rate is helpful, too.

Average time on page is simply the amount of time a visitor spends on one of your pages, on average. It’s different from dwell time because it also tracks people coming to your pages from a source other than the SERP, like a social media post or an email, for example.

Session duration describes how long someone spent on your site. This could be on one page or more, and again, they may not have come from the SERP, so this cannot be considered dwell time, either.

Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who visit just one of your pages and then click off your site without continuing to explore additional pages, menu links, or resources.

All of these KPIs can be viewed in Google Analytics, so we’re able to define what “good” and “bad” numbers look like.

A good average time on page is 2-3 minutes, and you’ll want to aim for the same timeframe when it comes to session duration. An average bounce rate is anywhere between 40-55 percent.

By knowing these numbers, you can begin to garner if your dwell time is good or not.

For example, if you have a great average time on page and session duration, but the bounce rate for a couple specific pages is extremely high, you can assume those pages need some work in regards to content or messaging, and you can create a prioritized strategy to improve them.

Don’t forget — when reviewing these numbers in Google Analytics, filter by source (organic) so that you can see the reports for visits from the SERP specifically.

Adding dwell time to your overall SEO strategy

If you want to start improving your dwell time, you’ll first need to come up with a benchmark to work towards. (Tough without being able to actually measure it, right?)

According to Impression, “to set your benchmark, you should record the current bounce rate and time on page for the page you’re looking to improve.” Then you can try some of the following tactics:

  • Draw people in with an introduction they can’t stop reading
  • Make sure your content is digestible by using shorter sentences and content chunking techniques
  • Make content skimmable, and add visuals where applicable
  • Answer a question or search query, and be the best at doing it
  • Include internal links to keep people on your site
  • Make sure your page load speed is acceptable (40% of users will abandon a web page if it takes more than three seconds to load)
  • Ensure your website is mobile optimized

If you successfully improve your website’s dwell time, you’ll begin to see the average time on page and the session duration increase, while the bounce rate decreases (from organic sources, of course).

As I mentioned before, Google rewards websites with higher dwell times, so don’t waste any time implementing this in your SEO strategy.

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