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What does Dwell Time mean in SEO?

Dwell Time refers to how long a visitors remains on a web page or website after arriving via a search engine like Google. More specifically in SEO it is a way of measuring how long after a visitor who has clicked through from a search engine's results page - SERPs - before they click the back button and return to those search results.

The entire action of coming and going is known as 'Pogo Sticking'.

Dwell Time is often confused with Bounce Rate but bounce is actually a measure of how many people arrive at a page on your website and then leave without visiting any other pages. In other words visitors who view only one page. They may have come from a search engine or they may have come from somewhere else like a referral from another site or a link on Social Media. Dwell Time is specific to traffic coming from search engines.

Measuring Dwell Time helps search engines determine if your website is ranking in the right place. The longer a person stays on your page after clicking through from the SERPs the more likely it is that they found something there of value.

For Google it is a key component in their 'needs met' analysis. Did your website meet the needs of the user? Obviously Dwell Time alone is not enough to determine this so Google also looks to see if the user, after clicking back to their SERP, then goes to visit another website in the list.

Its crucial to remember these are indicators in ranking algorithms that consider hundreds of other signals and there is no black and white conclusion that can be drawn from Dwell Time alone.

If, for example, a user clicked through to your web page, then clicked back and then clicked on a different search result that does not mean your website completely failed to meet the needs of that user? Perhaps it partially did so.

Just because they carried out no further activities after visiting the second website doesn't mean that it met their needs completely. Perhaps it only partially did but thanks to the information on your page, between the two of you, the user got everything they needed.

Dwell Time helps to clarify these possibilities. If the user spent 1 minute on your page (a Dwell Time of 1 minute) and 10 seconds on the second website this is an indicator that your website had more value.

Many Search Engine Optimizers get a bit obsessed about Dwell Time, putting far too much effort into increasing it when such action isn't necessary. Like all things in SEO you are only trying to create a Dwell Time longer than your competitors and, hopefully, provide all the content the user is looking for so they don't feel the need to go back to the search results and visit someone else's site.

In other words there is no magic figure for Dwell Time, you just have to be better than your competitors. A dictionary website, for example, might have a Dwell Time of 15 seconds as most visitors quickly pass through to carry out a spelling check. That's absolutely fine if all their competitors have Dwell Times of 10 seconds. It would, however, be disastrous for a comprehensive blog post to be receiving such short visits and very clear to a search engine that it is ranking in the wrong place.

So what should you doing? I advise clients to completely ignore Dwell Time.

What? Ignore a signal that Google uses to determine rankings. Have I lost my marbles?

No, I advise to focus on improving conversion rates instead - what percentage of users do what they want them to do (buy a product, sign up to a newsletter, register for a service, etc.). That's what is core to your business and if you improve that metric you'll automatically improve your dwell time as well.

I'm Tim Hill, a Search Engine Optimisation and Online Marketing specialist. I created this site to help others understand that SEO is not a mysterious black art!.

If your a newbie try the Getting Started in SEO page, otherwise feel free to dig around and learn more.

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