What is dwell time in SEO?

'What is dwell time?' graphic — picture of a clock and a computer mouse.

What is dwell time? In this post, I’m going to provide a clear definition of it, explain why it matters in SEO, and show you how to increase it.

There are two ways to use this resource — you can watch our video guide to dwell time, below, or read the whole post (which goes into the concept in a bit more depth).

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A definition of dwell time

Definition of dwell time graphic.

Dwell time is the amount of time between the moment a user clicks on a search result and the moment they return to the search engine results pages (‘SERPs’).

Dwell time matters in SEO because it can tell a search engine how useful a page is to a user.

If a user clicks through to a web page from search results, but after a quick look at it hits the back button on their web browser, this suggests that the page isn’t giving them the information they need.

By contrast, if that user hangs about on that page for ages before returning to the search results, they’re sending a strong signal to search engines that the page is satisfying their query.

Search engines can then use that data to decide whether or not to show that web page for similar search queries in future.

But do search engines actually use dwell time to rank pages?

Search engine logos

Well, based on information posted on the Microsoft blog, we know that Bing probably does.

As for Google, the company is less clear on the subject, but Google engineers have in the past have hinted at the fact that its machine learning algorithms consider dwell time when ranking content.

And research by the SEO site Moz into dwell time seems to indicate a correlation between dwell time and better search rankings.

So, many SEO professionals DO think that dwell time is a ranking factor, and something worth focusing on.

But how can you actually increase dwell time?

Let’s take a look at doing just that.

Ways to increase dwell time

Before discussing specific tactics for keeping people longer on your web pages, it has to be said that the very best way to increase dwell time is simply to make your content as engaging and as interesting as it can possibly be to your users — and as relevant to the search queries they’re using.

If a piece of content is genuinely satisfying to a user, the dwell time will naturally reflect that.

But that said, there are some specific tricks you can use to keep people on your page longer.

Let’s go through these now.

1. Embed videos in your content

Embedding video content

By adding videos to your content and encouraging your visitors to watch them, you can keep people on your pages longer — in some cases, considerably longer.

Similarly, compelling images, charts and infographics can also help keep people hanging about on your site.

2. Lengthen your content

Long form content

Although creating long form content for the sake of it should be avoided, it’s fair to say that quality, in-depth articles with large word counts can definitely increase the amount of time your visitors spend on your content.

The emphasis has to be on quality, though: ‘bloat’ will not be rewarded by search engines.

3. Encourage comments on your content

User comments

A lot of web users love to read and react to user comments on posts, so if there’s a lot of comments on your content, you’ll probably keep people hanging around for longer on your pages.

So always actively encourage your visitors to add comments or questions to your posts: it will naturally lengthen your content and make it more engaging (so long as you only publish relevant comments — ensure you moderate this process carefully).

4. Ensure your pages load quickly

Page speed graphic

There’s a lot of research available that shows that if a web page loads slowly, it is more likely to be abandoned, with users returning to search results extremely quickly.

This is obviously going to result in a very poor dwell time, so make sure that you do as much as you can to improve your site’s page speed.

5. Make your content really easy to understand

Easy-to-understand web content

If your website’s content is confusing or full of jargon, you’re going to annoy your visitors and have them heading straight for the back button on their browser.

So when writing for the web, always…

  • use simple language
  • break your content into clear sections
  • use headings to separate out key topics and concepts.

6. Use bucket brigades to keep users reading

Bucket brigade graphic

Using ‘bucket brigades’ is a copywriting tactic that encourages users to stick around to find out what happens next.

Bucket brigades tend to be questions or sentences that end in colons, for example:

  • What’s the best way to do this?
  • Here’s the story:
  • It gets worse…
  • But here’s why it matters:

The trick is to insert bucket brigades into sections of your content where you think people might be losing interest. A good bucket brigade can pique it again.

So that’s it — our simple guide to dwell time and how to increase it! Good luck with encouraging your site visitors to spend more quality time with your content.

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