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How to Use Page Dwell Time to Boost Your SEO

By Katie Gilbaugh | Content & SEO Strategist

Google changes their search algorithms at an average of 600 times per year. These changes can be hard to keep up with, especially if you aren’t cued into industry influencers, experts, and resources that can keep you up-to-date on Google updates. With updates this frequent, how are you supposed to know what your priorities are when it comes to on-page SEO? If you’re overwhelmed by the current SEO landscape, you’re not alone.

In 2018, Google has made it clear that it values websites that are fast, secure, and mobile-friendly, but outside of those three things, there are 200 other known rankings factors to look through. Ultimately, SEO is about providing users with a quality experience on your website; you want users to spend time on your website, showing search engines that they are finding useful information and finding what they need. One ranking factor that helps with this is optimizing for dwell time. Dwell time has been mentioned by Google Webmasters and reputable publications time and time again this year as an important factor to show up on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), but the best part is, it’s pretty straightforward. Let us break it down.

What is Dwell Time?

Dwell time was defined by Search Engine Journal as the amount of time a user spends on your site before clicking the back button to return to the search results page. Think of it as the period of time between opening the refrigerator door at two in the morning, only to shut it seconds later because the 3-week-old leftovers and expired bottle of milk on the shelf didn’t quite pique your interest. Rather than explore the fridge for a late night snack you decide to escape the smell and go back to bed. The same can be applied to search behavior.

While the term “dwell time” may be new to some, the concept behind it has been around for a while. Dwell time is truly a compilation of things that anyone in digital marketing is likely familiar with: session duration, bounce rate, and building a great user experience. While dwell time is made up of data that’s already in your marketing toolkit, you should also note that dwell time is not an accessible metric you can measure. So, how do we optimize for it if you can’t measure it? Session duration and bounce rate on your site are indicative of your users’ dwell time; setting up a great user experience and creating content that is usable, informative, and accessible helps increase the time spent on your website and decrease the number of bounces away from the site.

Why Dwell Time Matters

If I can measure my bounce rate and session duration separately, why should I care about dwell time? We’re glad you asked! Google designs their algorithms to reflect the quality of your website. If users are spending significant amounts of time on your site, it is indicative of quality content strategy, combined with other on-page SEO factors such as speed and responsiveness. Google will recognize this, and will reward you by ranking you higher for your target queries.  When you motivate your users to actually read through your content and spend some time looking through your information or convert into a customer, you show search engines that you’ve put strategy behind your content. It’s like putting out a tray of cookies at the company meeting—people are bound to spend more time lingering around afterwards.

Utilize Your Content Marketing Strategy to Increase Page Dwell Time

Ultimately, your content marketing strategy should both provide users with helpful resources and drive them to complete an action. When users visit your website from an organic search result and find what they are looking for or convert into a customer, your search strategy has succeeded. Using your content strategy to build trust and improve your user experience increases your page dwell time; so, how do we get there?

Create User-Focused Messaging

To increase dwell time, you need to get traffic to your site. To get traffic to your site, you need messaging that your audience cares about. It’s tempting to write your site content based on you and your great services, how long you’ve been around as a business, and why you are the best. While this is all important information (I mean, your users do have to know what services you offer), learning to build your site around the needs and perceptions of your user speaks to what they are searching for when they come to you in the first place.

When constructing messaging strategies for your website, the first thing to do is map out a user’s needs and problems, then position the brand as a guide to helping them solve those problems. Not only does this get the end user to the result they are searching for, but it inserts your business into their story in a way that isn’t overwhelming or over the top while still allowing room for search-optimized content.

Construct an Intuitive Sitemap

Avoid confusing your users and giving them reason to rage-quit your website and seek the information somewhere else (maybe even going to a competitor). By constructing an intuitive and easy-to-understand site structure, you’ll be able to guide your users through your website (showing them the content you want them to see) with ease. When users can understand and find the content they want on your website, they can spend more time finding what they’re looking for and less time clicking around in desperate search of something. If you’re utilizing tools like Hotjar or another heat mapping tool to monitor users, keep this in mind: it’s not a good sign if you see users rapidly clicking back and forth between a ton of pages. That probably means they’re lost.

If your main navigation structure is busier than a Target store on Black Friday, and important information is buried and hard to find, users are not likely to stick around. To increase the dwell time on your pages and make it easy for users to take a second action when they come to your website from a search result, create a site navigation structure that makes it intuitive to gather information they need and head on to the next step.

Ensure Your Site is Optimized for Mobile

Making your website mobile-friendly is one of the most important changes you can make to be relevant in Google search results. Google’s switch to mobile-first indexing has completely swung the scales of SEO weight from desktop-friendly sites to mobile-friendly sites. Read more about Google’s mobile-first indexing on our post by digital marketing and content coordinator, Erin Lamb.

In and of itself, sites that are optimized for mobile screens are of tremendous importance. As an ever-increasing amount of internet users surf the web on their phone instead of a desktop computer, your website will become essentially unusable if it is not functional on a small screen. As it pertains to dwell time, if users can’t use your site correctly on mobile, they won’t stick around, and you could be losing a huge chunk of an audience you could have otherwise captured.

Use Well-Researched & Effective Keywords

Dwell time is the measure of time between a user clicking on your link from Google’s SERP and then returning back to the SERP. Meaning, if your site isn’t ranking high enough for a user to visit in the first place, this whole thing is pointless. Insert the crucial nature of effective keywords in your search engine optimization.

Implementing useful keywords into your site should be done with intentionality and thoughtful research. Enlisting strategies intended to trick search engines, like throwing in white keywords on a white background, is called blackhat SEO (Google doesn’t like this and can block you from their search results). “Keyword stuffing” is also an SEO no-no and is exactly what it sounds like: stuffing a ton of keywords into a page or article that don’t naturally fit there and are intended to give your keyword density an artificial boost. When you implement a more intentional keyword strategy, the better chance you have when it comes to rankings. The better rankings, the better chance you have when it comes to getting users to visit your site. Clicks combined with quality content to keep your user interested, the more likely your dwell time will increase.

Optimize Your Pagespeed

This summer, Google rolled out The Speed Update, which works alongside their mobile-first indexing update. This takes into account the speed at which your page loads on a mobile device. In short, the faster it loads, the better. There are several ways you can increase your pagespeed, including taking a look at where your site is hosted, optimizing images and video, and more. You can also take a look at how your site measures up with Google’s pagespeed measurement tool. In short, if your page is taking too long to load, users are going to give up and go back to their search results to find a faster-loading resource. All of your strategically curated content is going to waste if not one can use it.

If you take a look at this tool and your site isn’t where you want it to be, don’t panic. Google’s about the only site that gets a perfect score here. It’s completely normal to see page speeds increase over time as you add new content and media to your site, and there’s plenty you can do to get that number back down to where you want it.

Get Help with Improving Your Page Dwell Time

If you don’t have the time to strategize and implement your own plan of attack for increasing dwell time, that’s okay! We’re always ready to talk about your digital marketing goals, hopes, and vision. Our job is to work with  you to grow your business—whether that’s through increasing SEO rankings with dwell time optimization or designing you a website that better fits your brand identity. Contact us today to get started.


Katie Gilbaugh

Katie came to us from The University of Iowa, where she earned her B.A. degree in Journalism & Mass Communications, with a minor in International Studies and a certificate in Entrepreneurship. Her mad skills in strategic content writing and marketing are complemented by a background in communications and management within the music industry while still in college. In her free time, Katie can be found traveling to friends in other states, treating her dog like a human, engaging in church activities, having a good laugh with her husband, or trying to be ‘crafty’--always with a coffee in hand.