What is Dwell Time in SEO? (2023 Guide)

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

What is dwell time? In this blog 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 YouTube 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 search engine optimization (SEO) because it has the potential to 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.

But if that user hangs about on that page for a while before returning to the search results (or doesn’t return to the search results at all), they’re sending a signal to search engines that the page is satisfying their query.

Search engines can then use that signal 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 in all likelihood, Bing does.

As for Google, the company is less clear on the subject.

One the one hand, Google engineers have suggested that its machine learning algorithms consider dwell time when ranking content.

Against that, Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller is on record as saying that the time spent on a page isn’t a ranking factor.

(Time on page isn’t necessarily the same as dwell time, however — dwell time refers specifically to how long a user spends on a page before returning to the search results).

But research by the SEO site Moz into dwell time indicates there may be a correlation between dwell time and better Google rankings.

Furthermore, Google has registered a ‘long click’ patent that suggests dwell time might be a ranking factor.

Perhaps most interestingly though, when you use its Search Console Insights tool, you’ll notice that Google flags up pages that people spend a large amount of time on — as demonstrated in the screengrab below.

The 'high average duration' metric displayed by the Search Console Insights tool
The ‘high average duration’ metric displayed by the Search Console Insights tool

As with much else in search engine optimization, the waters are a bit muddy.

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


How do I measure dwell time, then?

Well in truth, you can’t, because you’re not Google. But you can get a rough idea of a page’s dwell time by looking at its ‘average session duration time’ metric in Google Analytics.

I say ‘rough idea’ because this metric doesn’t just show you the length of time somebody spent on a landing page before hitting the back button — it covers quite a few other scenarios too.

Accordingly, it should be used as more of an indication of how engaging content is, rather than a precise calculation of dwell time.

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 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, this will naturally lead to an increase in session duration.

But that said, there are some specific tactics you can use to keep people on your web pages longer.

Let’s go through these now.

1. Embed videos in your site 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 readers interested and increase the average time they spend reading a page or post.

Tip: Even if you don’t have any videos of your own to enhance your pages and posts with, you can still apply this tactic — just embed somebody else’s YouTube videos in your content! Make sure any videos added are relevant, high-quality ones however.

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 — and by extension, the average dwell time.

The emphasis has to be creating on quality content, though: ‘bloat’ will not be liked by users — or rewarded by search engines.

3. Encourage comments on your content

User comments

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

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.

(As always, the emphasis has to be placed on quality here: moderate the comment approval process carefully, and only publish relevant, interesting comments.)

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
  • use short paragraphs.

Similarly, you should avoid a poor user experience: pop ups, slow-loading images and intrusive ads on a piece of content can lead to readers making a swift exit from your site.


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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