Dwell Time – The key to measuring user engagement

Dwell time is a crucial metric in SEO, measuring the time users spend on a webpage. It reflects user engagement and can indirectly impact search rankings. Optimizing dwell time involves creating valuable content, improving user experience, and using multimedia elements.

Dwell time is the time a user spends on a web page before returning to the SERPs (Search engine result pages). While we do not know if it is a direct ranking factor, it remains a crucial metric in search engine optimization.

Dwell time provides insights into user behavior and engagement.

What is dwell time?

Say you search for ‘how to bake chocolate cookies at home’.

You get the result as shown below. From the meta description and title, you feel the third  result is the best fit. You click on it and see it claims the process may take more than an hour and thirty minutes. You spend 10 seconds on the page and click on the back button, landing on the search page. This time you click on the second result and actually spend a couple of minutes reading through all of it.

This tells the search engine (tracking this behavior) a good deal about user behavior given the search prompt. If you are the website administrator, you would like the user to spend more time on your page than any other or the SERPs.

In the rest of this post we will look into the importance of dwell time on SEO and how you can optimize it for better search rankings.

Why is Dwell Time Important for SEO?

Good user engagement is an essential prerequisite to a popular blog or website. Dwell time is a metric to understand the level of user engagement.

If dwell time is high for most of the pages of your website, you are good.

Let’s look at the question – why is dwell time important?

Well, it is important to improve user engagement. It makes sense to keep your users on your page, hence organically enhancing the dwell time.

User engagement depends on user experience.

And the following factors are just some that affect user experience:

  1. Page speed – Nobody likes a slow page. Google recommends a page loading time between 1 to 3 seconds. Drop off probability increases by 32% beyond load times of 3 seconds.
  2. Get to the point – Average user attention spans have gone down to between 10 to 20 seconds. It is recommended to offer the reader what he or she wants within the time. A good short summary of what is on offer on your post should do the trick.
  3. Readability – The font size should be large enough to not let the user strain their eyes. For regular text, a font size of 15 px or thereabout should be good. It is not a one size fits all thing, but legible text with decent contrast is desirable.
  4. Limited distractions – Too many ads above the fold, or pop ups and notification requests are undesirable. Instead of engaging the user, they end up annoying them and this increases the probability of increasing your bounce rate and reducing dwell time.
  5. Security – Basic security is important. Most web browsers now show if your webpage is secured by HTTPs or not. Even if your website does not deal with transactions, you should have a SSL certificate installed. At least a basic one from LetsEncrypt should be present – configuring it is not that difficult either.
  6. Credibility – This goes without saying. You will always find a reputed news channel  more credible than a WhatsApp forward message when it comes to news. It is the same for your website.
  7. Accessibility – Ideally there should be no paywall or post login content. That restricts information dissemination. Unless you are The New York Times, it is best to keep your posts open to all.

Also here are some details that show how user engagement metrics are so essential.

What Search Engines think about dwell time 

Most search engines worth their name have an emphasis on user engagement and relevance metrics in their ranking algorithms. Some of these search engines include:

However, it’s important to note that Google is by far the most dominant search engine, with over 93% of the global search engine market share. As such, optimizing for Google’s ranking algorithm is usually the top priority for website owners and SEO practitioners.

Google Brain Canada was recorded to confirm that it uses click metrics to rank websites. While this may be problematic from a user privacy standpoint, this admission (often overlooked) tells us how important Google started taking this when machine learning usage in SERPs was still in its relative infancy.

How to Measure Dwell Time?

You will need Google analytics to get the average time on page. Bing WebMaster Tools will also work fine.

Most web analytics tools use a metric called ‘average time on page’ or something similar to it. That is almost what dwell time is.

To measure dwell time using Google Analytics, you can follow these steps:

  • Log in to your website analytics tool, such as Google Analytics.
  • Navigate to the “Behavior” section and select “Site Content.”
  • Click on the page you want to measure dwell time for.
  • Look for the “Avg. Time on Page” metric, which shows the average time users spend on that page before navigating to another page or leaving the site.
  • Keep in mind that the “Avg. Time on Page” metric may not accurately reflect dwell time, as it doesn’t account for users who return to the SERP without navigating to another page on your site. However, it can still provide valuable insights into user engagement and help you identify pages with high or low dwell time.

Dwell Time and Bounce Rate

A bounce is recorded when a single request is made in a session to your site. The user does not visit any other page and leaves your website.

The bounce rate is the number of bounces (single page sessions) divided by the total number of sessions for your site.

A high bounce rate shows that the user engagement is low.

Both dwell time and bounce rates  are user engagement metrics that tell you about the efficacy of your site’s content and overall user experience. But they differ in the way they are calculated since the parameters on which they depend on are slightly different.

For example, the following factors will reduce the bounce rate of your website:

  1. Responsive and fast loading web pages are desirable for maintaining user attention. The whole website should be relatively fast to provide a consistent experience. 
  2. Every page should be optimized for content that appeals to your target audience so that they are hooked to it right away.
  3. Navigating the website should be easy so that the user does not go back to the SERPs or any other website. Your site should also have a search page to allow results to be populated within your root domain.
  4. You can include exit triggers for users like offering discounts, sign up offers or more.
  5. Text aesthetics are important for improving both dwell time and reducing bounce rates.

All the above factors will also positively impact the average users’ dwell time. The focus for dwell time is on the individual content pages instead. Sending a user an internal link right when he is going to the introduction of a post is not smart, even if it works! This is especially true for websites with a lot of informative text – like blogs, tutorial and how-to websites, informational portals and so on.

Bounce rate is something that you as an administrator will have to optimize your entire website. Dwell time on the other hand can be more relevant to pages that have a lot of content – either educational, news, instructions, video tutorials and so on.

Note: We have covered Bounce rate in detail on this post

How to Improve Dwell Time?

Optimizing dwell time requires creating engaging, relevant content that meets user needs. Here are some tips for optimizing dwell time:

  • Create high-quality content: Your users are more likely to stay hooked to your content if they are genuinely useful to them and provide value. Quality content should be your first priority as a content creator.
  • Improving the user experience of your page – We have covered this in the previous section for your website in general. For a single post, however, the following are the ones that you should focus on.
    • Hook your readers to what they are looking for as early as possible.
    • Create a good headline with the appropriate keywords that you want your page to rank for. Keep it short and relevant, like you want to answer the most important question your user is likely to have when navigating to your page the first time.
    • Use descriptive headlines and subheadings: Nobody likes to go through a huge paragraph and dig the information out that they want. Break your content up into sections, with headings and subheadings to keep the text easy to understand and follow. A Table of contents will help too. Just ensure the internal links are working fine. 
    • Include multimedia-rich content: Use relevant images, videos and other content that add value to your page. Infographics are a great source of information that is graphically represented. Plus, they also stand a higher chance of being shared on other social media platforms – like Instagram or Pinterest.
    • Keep the static resources to lazy load off the page so that the above the fold content is loaded on time and the user is not kept waiting, even on slower connections.
    • Optimize your website for accessibility features – You should consider making your website accessible to people with disabilities. Keep the language or jargon simple, use meaningful alt text for images and font size legible.
    • Test your website for issues with the Lighthouse or Insights tool.

Note: You can use the lighthouse wrapper API to ensure a faster deployment.

By Sarthak Ganguly

A programming aficionado, Sarthak spends most of his time programming or computing. He has been programming since his sixth grade. Now he has two websites in his name and is busy writing two books. Apart from programming, he likes reading books, hanging out with friends, watching movies and planning wartime strategies.

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