You’ve probably heard of bounce rate and user engagement, but Microsoft coined the phrase “dwell time” in its blog outlining how quality content could be determined from a search engine standpoint. Dwell time is the amount of time it takes for a user to click a link in search engines, return to the search engine and click another link. It’s highly coupled with bounce rate, but search engines can’t identify bounce rates once the user goes to your site. They can, however, identify when a user leaves your site to choose another link in search results.
Dwell Time and Site Quality
As a site owner, you know that quality matters when it comes to user engagement and search engine rank. Plenty of SEOs will tell you tricks to boost ranking, but these tricks rarely last forever. Site quality will keep visitors engaged and increase revenue even if you aren’t ranking well and need to use a large budget for marketing. However, search engines attempt to identify site quality out of the massive amount of spam on the Internet and you want to be the one algorithms determine to be quality over your competitors. Dwell time is one factor in user satisfaction for a search engine.
Google has said that bounce rate isn’t a good factor in their algorithms for quality signals. But they also tell people to create quality content. How does a search engine determine quality?
Think of the average user, or even recreate your own browsing habits. You click a link in Bing or Google, you go to the site and immediately get your first impression. If the site has a nice theme, good content, and gives you the results you want you might go to another page within the site to buy product (here is where a good call-to-action is necessary). Conversely, if you determine that the site is not what you wanted, you immediately go back to your search tab and click another link. Search engines can use that time between clicks to determine if users are receiving the results that they want.
Ways to Increase Dwell Time
Only search engines know the exact metrics, and using Google Analytics’ bounce rate numbers aren’t reliable. You should reduce bounce rate, but you can have a high bounce rate for a legitimately useful site. Think about dictionary.com and what they offer. Go to the site, get a definition and leave. This would show a high bounce rate in Analytics but the dwell time would be high since conceivably a user wouldn’t go back and click another link. Your overall goal should be user engagement and satisfying the user when they click your link in search.
Here are some ways to increase dwell time.
- Reduce page load times. There are numerous ways to improve speed. A CDN is one way. Here are some other ways to speed up your site. Also, look into AMP for mobile browsers.
- Evaluate your design and layout. Poor navigation, poor or outdated site designs, and too many ads are just a few reasons users bounce from your site.
- Keep content above the fold. It’s unlikely that a user will scroll down the page to look for information. Keep users interested when they first land on your site by providing information at the top.
- Avoid using popups. Ads, ajax popups and even some chat windows can annoy users and interfere with the content they search for on your site. Avoid using them unless necessary.
- Implement a good call-to-action. What do users do next after they read your content? Is the goal to get them to buy products? Sign up for a newsletter? Contact you? Make it clear and provide instructions on what to do next.
- Provide quality content. “Quality” is relative to everyone, but you should take a hard look at your site content and determine if it’s providing information that the user wants. It can be difficult for a site owner to critique his own work, but it’s important for user engagement. You can get a third-party opinion or even look at your content and update it if it’s outdated.