Is dwell time the SEO metric you’ve been overlooking?

“Dwell time” is the sort of SEO metric that seems shrouded in mystery and misconceptions. However, it’s also a gold mine of valuable information about how your content matches your reader’s needs.

By the end of this article, you will know:

  • What dwell time is and why it matters
  • How it differs from similar SEO metrics
  • What an ideal dwell time is for your site, and how to calculate it
  • The best ways to boost your dwell time

This critical measuring stick doesn’t need to be so elusive. Together, we can make your site one that searchers choose over and over again.

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What is dwell time?

Organic search requires well-tailored content that builds trust and keeps readers engaged with your site, even after their first query has been answered. That’s where dwell time comes into play.

What is dwell time? Dwell time refers to the amount of time a reader spends on a page after clicking the link on the SERP

This term indicates the length spent on a site between clicking on a search result and returning to the search engine results page.

In short, dwell time refers to how long a reader stays after clicking.

Common synonyms for the word “dwell” include “live, stay, and make a home.” A great dwell time leaves a reader feeling at home on your site, like they want to kick up their feet and click around for a while.

Let’s look at some examples of dwell time in real life.

Put a Ring On It

You’re looking for the perfect engagement ring. 💍 (Congrats!) 

You search for “oval cut engagement rings,” then click on the first result that isn’t an ad. 

Since you love the ring options, you look at several choices on the site for about 3 minutes before returning to the search engine results page to see if there are any better options. 

Your dwell time is 3 minutes.

The Only Bad Thing About Wine

You Google “how to remove a wine stain from your couch.” We’ve all been there, friend. 😢

You click on a fantastic, in-depth article with several ideas and different methods depending on the fabric and leave the browser open while you try your luck. 

Voila! It works after about 15 minutes of reading and effort. 

You click the back button on your browser and then look up some soothing puppy pictures. 

Your dwell time was 15 minutes.


You Google “best gluten-free brownies.” 

You click on a top result, only to realize the recipe contains gluten. 

You click away in under 5 seconds.

It’s important to note that dwell time is only in play if you found the page from a search engine result. Typing your favorite site into the search bar won’t contribute toward its dwell time. You’ll need to click a page from the SERP and return to the SERP to be counted as dwell time.

One other caveat: Ideal dwell time is not the same for every business, nor every webpage. Read on to learn more about what will work best for your business.

Don’t confuse dwell time with these other metrics.

“But wait,” you cry out to your laptop screen, “isn’t that bounce rate?” 😱

No, kind internet stranger, you have been misinformed. Dwell time is often confused with other ranking factors.

Here are the differences between dwell time and other metrics

  • Average time on page. This metric is somewhat similar to dwell time, as it is concerned with the amount of time on one web page. However, average time on page can include all visits: hits from social media, clicks of links shared through text or email, ads, and more. Dwell time is only concerned with visits via a search engine.
  • Bounce rate. Bounce rate is defined as how often a searcher clicks on a single page and then leaves your site. Dwell time, however, is simply concerned with the length of time a user spends on your site, regardless of how many pages are clicked.
  • Session duration. Session duration is simply concerned with how long a user decided to stick around on your site. Again, dwell time is specifically concerned with the time a user spends on your site after clicking on it from a SERP and before returning to that SERP.
  • Click-through rate. A click-through rate (CTR) in organic search is the rate at which searchers click on your site compared with how many saw the search result. Dwell time is concerned with how long the user stays once they click through.
  • RankBrain. RankBrain, Google’s machine learning algorithm, collects information about how a user engages with SERPs and specific web pages as a result of an organic search. Dwell time is centered around how users connect with a specific piece of content — it’s used as part of RankBrain, but not the only (or even most important) part.

This list crystallizes why dwell time is its own valuable measurement of what works for SEO. This metric doesn’t simply measure the length of time on the page or user clicks garnered. 

Dwell time is a helpful way to measure if your content successfully meets the user’s search intent.

Dwell Time’s Brief History

The history of dwell time runs through the past decade, with its first public mention dating back to 2011.

Duane Forrester, who was then the Senior Project Manager at Bing, said that:

“[Dwell time] tells a potential story… Your goal should be that when a visitor lands on your page, the content answers all of their needs, encouraging their next action to remain with you. If your content does not encourage them to remain with you, they will leave. The search engines can get a sense of this by watching the dwell time.” 

Fast-forward to 2017. Nick Frost, head of Google Brain, mentioned:

“Google is now integrating machine learning into [the process of figuring out what the relationship between a search and the best page for that search is]. So then training models on when someone clicks on a page and stays on that page, when they go back, or when they are trying to figure out exactly that relationship.”

Unfortunately, neither of these quotes come directly from Google or outline exactly how dwell time plays into Google’s algorithm. Nevertheless, statements from experts imply that dwell time is a factor to consider for search engine rankings.

As time goes on, the relationship between dwell time and SERP results may become more apparent. For now, know that if experts mention something for 10 years, it’s worth considering.

How Dwell Time Impacts SEO

It’s no secret that Google keeps a tight lid on their ranking signals, and there’s never been an official announcement on dwell time’s effect. That said, dwell time likely impacts SEO even though it doesn’t appear obviously in Google Analytics.

Is dwell time a Google ranking factor? Most signs point to dwell time being a Google ranking factor, though there’s no official statement. Search engines want to see users engaging at length with long-form content, or quickly finding the answer to the question they searched for.

Dwell time may indicate several things that Google is looking for in ranking:

  • Good user experience. If a user spends considerable time on a site before clicking back, it may indicate that they found all, or most, of what they were searching for in that result. Often, longer dwell times can signal that the user is enjoying their experience.
  • Potentially more reliable than bounce rate. People may “bounce” off of a site for many reasons — maybe they got all of their answers, disliked the content, or left their browser open. Dwell time gives an “exit click” back to the SERP, which is a more precise indication that your time on the site is over.
  • Can indicate the quality of content. If someone clicks out of long-form content in just a few seconds, it’s likely due to poor quality content (unless it’s directly answering a question… more on that in the section below).

Though dwell time isn’t featured in Google Analytics, don’t count it out as an essential metric in Google’s methodology.

Alternative search engine tip: Bing openly states that it uses dwell time as a ranking signal.

Is your dwell time good or bad?

Many business owners trying to optimize their site for SEO ask about the ideal dwell time. The answer here (like with so much in SEO) is: It depends.

When A Shorter Dwell Time Is Acceptable

Yes, sometimes a shorter length of time spent on your page can actually be a good thing. Surprise! 

With short or simple question queries, it’s perfectly fine to have a short user dwell time.

Users searching for a short or question-based query, like the phone number to the White House, don’t want to spend 5 minutes on one page. 

A long dwell time for these sorts of queries can often indicate you aren’t meeting user intent. Is the number for your brick-and-mortar store too hard to find? Is your website loading very slow or difficult to navigate?

Similarly, shopping queries can range a bit shorter, as many potential clients are comparison shopping and will click back and forth several times.

When A Longer Dwell Time Is Ideal

For most organic search content, a longer dwell time is better. It indicates that the user is engaging with the page, most likely because it meets their original search intent. From here, they will ideally stick around and click through other articles or products, further increasing their dwell time.

If you find users clicking away after a few seconds, it can be a sign that your content is thin (under 500 words) or doesn’t have what searchers want to see. 

If this is the case, you may consider comparing it to other top SERP results to discover any missing information that aligns with search intent. 

The Bottom Line

No matter what your content is designed to accomplish, a dwell time of under one second is universally bad. However, depending on the query and the nature of your site, a shorter dwell time can sometimes be an indicator that you’re hitting the mark.

Industry benchmarks suggest that the average dwell time should fall between 2-4 minutes. A dwell time of over 10 minutes is considered unusually long. Under one minute is also atypical. These standards can be helpful for marketers to keep in mind as they design their content.

How to Calculate Dwell Time with Google Analytics

How do you calculate dwell time? You can calculate your dwell time data by logging into your Google Analytics account and following these simple steps for your site’s property:

1. Go to the “Behavior” tab.

2. Click the tab for “Site Content.”

3. Select “Landing Pages.”

how to calculate dwell time with Google Analytics

4. Begin by creating a “New Segment,” then select that you only want to see “organic traffic.” This will pull up the “Average Session Duration” metric. 

Now, it’s time for a bit of data analysis

  • Which pages are holding the viewer’s attention? Do you see a thread between your content with the longest session duration vs. the shortest?
  • Similarly, do you see common denominators between pages that aren’t working well? How can you incorporate the tips from the section below into your content for better dwell time?
  • Are there any places you can insert internal links to retain viewers on your site?

Following these simple steps can give you insights into the types of content and pages most effective for your brand.

7 Ways to Improve Dwell Time on Your Website

Many factors contribute to how long a searcher stays on your page. The good news is that improvements geared toward increasing dwell time can benefit your site all around.

If your dwell time is underwhelming, here are some steps you can take today to keep your visitors engaged and increase your dwell time.

1. Expedite Your Load Time

First things first: If your page is slow to load, you could fall into that dreaded statistic of under one second of dwell time. Similarly, broken images, a poor mobile design, or clunky code can contribute to a user clicking back to the SERP quickly.

If you need to clean up your code, compress images, and ensure that your site is responsive for mobile users, make this a top priority. 

The harsh reality? No one cares how great your site is if it makes them wait. Most top-ranking sites load in 3-5 seconds or fewer.

2. Prioritize User Experience & Intent

Clarity wins when it comes to user experience. 

A well laid-out site, intuitive navigation bar, writing that clearly outlines what you’ll learn, and content that doesn’t bury the lede can all contribute to great UX. 

404 pages, broken links, and pixelated visuals all need to be addressed — and fast.

If you know your UX is lacking, you may want to invest in an SEO site audit to find what’s slowing you down and turning users off.

In our content writing, we recommend short paragraphs (2-3 lines), bulleted/numbered lists whenever possible, and answering questions early in each section. As attention spans wane every year, keeping your content easy to consume and concise is the way to win.

3. Emphasize Internal Linking

Link building can significantly improve dwell time. A few well-placed internal links can keep searchers on your site longer, encouraging them to stay awhile before returning to the SERP. 

As you build that trust in your brand, that same user may even choose your result first in the next search, skipping over another site they don’t recognize.

Exercise caution here: Your links should be relevant to the current page. It’s better to include fewer, curated links instead of stuffing every site on your page into the article. Or, as we like to say, better safe than spammy!

If your pages don’t include internal links around your site, it’s time for a change. Insert them into existing pieces of content as well as new uploads. 

Bonus tip: It’s essential to have clearly defined categories that are well-organized to make the most of this strategy.

4. Thoughtfully Select Keywords to Target

It’s impossible to overstate how crucial keyword selection and research are. 

Without analyzing what people are searching for, related terms, and commonly asked questions, you won’t appropriately match search intent.

It’s worth investing in a content strategy as well as tools like Ahrefs and Clearscope to ensure your content is hitting the mark and landing on the right SERP. 

As we like to say, online content without a plan is just noise. 🔊

Need a starting point? We can help.

5. Create Phenomenal Content

There’s no debate: the best way to keep people on your site is to provide the most value. 

Give your user examples, illustrations, guides, tips, and more. Look at the SERP contenders to determine what hasn’t been covered that could match search intent, then include it in your piece.

This doesn’t mean your content needs to be longer than anyone else — we said to add value, not necessarily length. Concise content can still blow readers away, so long as it includes what they really want to know. You’re aiming for content twice as good as the next piece, if not better.

6. Regularly Refresh Your Content

Web content is not a product from an infomercial; you can’t “set it and forget it.” For our SEO Site Maintenance clients, we suggest that their content is updated at least annually, and often more when it comes to SEO titles and meta descriptions. 

When it comes to SEO and what ranks, the climate is ever-changing. Don’t assume your thoughts from 2019 are still relevant. (Pro tip: Include the year in some of your SEO titles for extra clicks, like “7 Tips For Better Dwell Time In 2021.”)

Keeping your site updated builds trustworthiness — fresh is best when it comes to online content.

7. Include Media Items

That’s right — you aren’t confined to text and code when it comes to increasing dwell time. 

The benefit of embedding media items like videos, podcasts to play, and images is twofold:

  1. Watching videos, examining images, and listening to audio clips can all keep individuals on your page longer while adding value to your content.
  2. This practice gives you a chance to promote other types of content your brand creates. Have a YouTube channel? Try embedding one video into a related article. The user may make their way over to your channel the next time they want video assistance.

Having on-page value not only increases your average dwell time, but also creates a better experience that educates and entertains your visitor. 

So… should you obsess over this metric for your website?

While dwell time is an excellent sign of how well you’re matching search intent and what your UX is like, it isn’t the end-all, be-all of SEO. In fact, no one metric is the magic solution to getting more organic search traffic.

Short dwell time may mean that there’s some serious work to do to entice users to stay. 

If you have a great dwell time, congrats! Keep tweaking your site, so users love to stick around.

No matter your dwell time, focusing on fixes like the tips listed above can improve the user experience, added value, and ranking of your site. The end result of these changes will be a high-quality online presence people trust.