In this article, let’s discuss dwell time.
If you stick to the end of the article, you will not only find out what dwell time is, but you’ll learn some actionable techniques on how to keep your audience engaged and make them stay longer on your pages.
Why is that important?
Well, this Moz study found a correlation between longer dwell time and Google ranking position.
Basically, the study shows that the average dwell time for the pages ranked higher is longer than on the pages ranked lower.
I’ll do my best to boil this down to a step-by-step guide that you can start implementing immediately.
Let’s jump in!
What is dwell time and does it affect Google Rankbrain?
No, dwell time isn’t measuring how much time you spend in your mom’s basement every day.
Hey, no judgment here.
I was a basement dweller myself.
Dwell time represents the amount of time you spent on a page from the moment you clicked on it in the SERPs (search engine results page) until the time you returned to the SERPs or clicked on another page.
Dwell time isn’t a confirmed Google ranking factor, per se.
In other words, no one from Google ever specifically mentioned dwell time, but it’s pretty much unanimously regarded to be a ranking factor by the SEO community at large.
And it makes sense.
If your audiences spend more time on your pages, they must be finding them useful and valuable.
And Google is all about promoting pages that people find useful.
The reason why Google hasn’t specifically mentioned dwell time is probably because they call this metric something else, or break it down into more than one metric.
For instance, confirmed ranking factors that people sometimes confuse with dwell time are Session Duration and Bounce Rate.
Dwell time vs. session duration vs. bounce rate
You can find both session duration and bounce rate for your website in the Google Analytics under Audience > Overview.
Bounce rate is often perceived negatively because the word ‘bounce’ has negative connotations to it.
Simply put, bounce rate measures the percentage of the audience that clicked on your website in the SERPs and then clicked back to SERPs without clicking on any other pages on your website.
Sure, a lower bounce rate is better, but a higher bounce rate isn’t necessarily as bad as you might think.
Because even though the visitor bounced off of your website, they might have spent 10 minutes reading through your content.
That wouldn’t be considered bad at all.
This is where the average session duration comes in.
Average session duration is calculated as follows – duration of all sessions in seconds during a specified period of time divided by the total number of sessions in that period of time.
For example, if your website had 100 sessions that amounted to 6000 seconds combined during one week, your average session duration for that week would be 10 minutes (6000 seconds/100 sessions=600 seconds).
From this, we can conclude that bounce rate is very different from dwell time, but average session duration is much closer to it, while still not being identical.
To increase the dwell time, you have to put yourself in the shoes of your audience.
Do your best to provide value to them and don’t detract from their user experience on your pages and they will stay for longer.
Step-by-step guide on how to increase dwell time on your website
I will do my best to provide you with multiple steps that you can take to improve your dwell time.
Not for the metric’s sake, but for your audience’s sake.
Everything in this guide is consumer-centric.
Meaning, this guide aims to eliminate as many friction points between your audience and your content as possible.
By providing a smooth user experience, your audience will simply spend more time on your pages.
It’s not rocket science, right?
Let’s continue with the first step…
Step 1) Improving your website loading speed
Your visitor just clicked on your page from the SERPs.
What’s the first thing they notice?
The loading speed.
Website loading speed is one of those things that people don’t really take note of if everything is alright and the site loads fast.
But if it loads slower than what’s considered acceptable, it sends a signal to your visitor that something’s odd with your website.
A one-second delay in page load time will translate to 11% fewer page views, a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction, and a 7% loss in conversions.
How can you speed up your website?
1. Optimize images – there are plugins that take care of image compression.
One of the best WordPress plugins for this is EWWW Image Optimizer.
A weirdly named plugin, but it does a fantastic job with image compression.
Compressing images is really important because images usually take up 50-90% of your website’s size.
You can imagine how much of an important being efficient with images it is for your website.
This means that the files that are towards the top of the page load first.
So, the first bits of content are ready for consumption almost instantaneously, while the rest of the page keeps loading up in the background.
There are many WordPress plugins that can help with that.
3. Keep your WordPress plugins number to a minimum.
I know I just suggested you get two WordPress plugins, but, as a general rule, you should only get the most necessary plugins.
Forget the fancy stuff.
It’s really easy to go overboard and drown your website in plugins.
Step 2) Optimize your website for mobile
Mobile has already surpassed desktop computers when it comes to web searches.
So, having a website that’s not optimized for mobile is an easy way of alienating more than half of your visitors straight away.
Your mobile users go back to the SERPs as soon as they realize your content is too difficult to consume on their device.
Google takes note of that too and de-ranks your article.
Just take a look at these couple of tweets from Google and you’ll understand their philosophy when it comes to mobile.
1. Use a mobile-friendly WordPress theme.
There’s really no excuse not to have a mobile-friendly WordPress theme in today’s day and age.
If your theme is outdated, change it.
I would even consider buying a decent mobile-friendly theme, although there are some decent free options too.
2. Choose a decent web hosting service
If your website is new, a shared hosting plan will do just fine.
For an older website that’s getting thousands of page views per day, getting a VPS or even a dedicated hosting plan would be a good idea.
Dedicated hosting plans cost considerably more than shared hosting plans, but if your website is earning money, it’s definitely worth reinvesting some of it back into dedicated hosting.
3. Consider stripping down the mobile version of your site.
There are solutions out there that give you the option to hide some of the features on the mobile version of the site.
By doing that, you could immensely improve the responsiveness of your website on mobile.
One such solution is the Thrive Architect, which has a ton of other functionality too.
Step 3) Improve your article layout
The first thing people notice once your page loads up is the layout.
Make sure it’s easy on the eyes and avoid unnecessary distractions.
I know it’s tempting to try to give your audience as many options as possible to click on something else on your site while they’re there, but that can easily backfire.
If your audience feels overwhelmed, they might bounce sooner than if your layout was nice and clean.
1. Avoid too many sidebars.
Featuring a few more related articles in a sidebar is fine.
Social share buttons in a sidebar are fine too.
But having more sidebars than that could really make the layout look odd and distracting.
2. Narrow down the width of your articles for desktop users.
Following a line of text from one edge of the monitor to the other can be so tiresome and make your content difficult to consume.
Instead, have your article displayed in the center of the screen and not more than 800 or so pixels wide.
3. Use images that are wider than they are taller.
This one comes down to preference, but images that are wider than they are taller just look better to me.
I especially don’t like tall and narrow images that create too much blank space on the screen.
Step 4) Use the “PPT Formula” when writing introductions
You have to hook your readers from the get-go or else they might leave before they get past the first few sentences.
That would not help your dwell time.
The PPT stands for Preview, Proof, and Transition.
Write a sentence about what your readers can expect from an article.
For example, “In this article, you will learn everything there’s to know about how to optimize your website for mobile.”
The goal here is to make a promise to your reader about what they’re going to get out of the article if they stick to the end.
Make sure you keep that promise, by the way.
As proof, you might want to offer a useful stat that backs your claim.
Numbers work really well for this because they hint to the reader that you’ve actually done some research.
For example, “Following these simple steps increased my mobile traffic by 23% in the first month.”
This one’s really simple.
Transition simply means following the Preview and the Proof up with a simple sentence like “Let’s jump in!” to guide your reader to the next section of the article.
It just helps with the flow of your article.
Step 5) Create easy-to-consume articles
This one’s huge.
You can significantly increase dwell time by creating content that’s easy to consume.
I’m sure you’ve run into articles that are so badly formatted it’s almost anxiety-inducing.
Do your best to format your content in logically and make it flow well.
1. Have your titles and subheadings clearly stand out
You can do this by using bigger font size for your titles as well as bold them out, for example.
You can also make your titles and subheadings stand out by using an entirely different font for them.
This can look very effective.
Just make sure you use complementary fonts and not something outrageously different which would only be distracting.
2. One sentence per paragraph writing style.
I know some people have a hard time writing this way, but it really makes the content more readable.
It makes the text feel lighter and more spacious.
Whatever you do, avoid the blocks of text that could remind your audience of textbooks and homework.
3. Don’t go over 400 words or so without a new subheading
I always aim for this number to be in the 200-300 words range.
It just feels right and that’s what I prefer when consuming content on other sites too.
Subheadings, when used correctly, can really make the content flow well.
Step 6) Use images and videos in your content
Not only does Google prefer articles that have images and videos in them, your audience does too.
Videos are amazing for increasing dwell time.
Because when someone clicks ‘Play’ on a video inside your article, they’re in there for the entire duration of the video.
Sure, not everyone will watch every video for the entire duration, but every bit helps.
Adding videos to content to increase dwell time is so powerful this case study reports a 260% increase of dwell time in content pieces with videos in them.
1. Use a paid stock image platform >IF< you can afford it.
And that’s a big ‘if’ for a reason.
Stock images can get really expensive, especially if you need a large number of them on a daily basis.
Avoid this entirely and use the royalty free images if you’re just starting out.
Pexels and Canva are excellent sources of royalty free images.
2. Is it OK to use other people’s videos in your content?
Generally speaking, yes.
No one will mind being featured in your content if you’re not derogatory towards them or something to that effect.
So, if you’re not creating your own videos, don’t shy away from using somebody else’s content.
Just be classy about it and always give credit where credit is due.
You could even take the extra step and contact the content creator and offer to remove the video if they have any objections.
9 times out of 10, quite the opposite will happen and you might even start building a network of connections this way.
3. How many images and videos should you use per article?
There’s no right or wrong answer here.
I’ve seen articles that do really well with 20+ videos in them.
I’ve also seen articles with 30+ images and graphics in them that also do very well.
It all has to make sense, however.
When it does, images and videos can help tremendously increase dwell time because every time people get to an image or a video, they pause and check it out.
Step 7) Write comprehensive content
There are hundreds of millions of blogs out there and something like 4.4 million articles gets published each day.
You won’t get anywhere with mediocre content.
Of course, you might give it your best and still not succeed, which is OK.
You will learn from your mistakes and do better next time.
Comprehensive content certainly helps increase dwell time because the people in your audience who want to learn about something in-depth will keep reading until the end.
Which could translate into them spending 5-10 minutes on your page easily, considerably increasing the average dwell time.
1. Always shoot for the stars and aim to create the best article out there on your topic or keyword of choice.
Brian Dean from Backlinko gave this concept a name and called it The Skyscraper Technique.
This involves researching what’s already out there on a particular topic or keyword and simply going above and beyond.
There’s a clear correlation between the length of articles and Google ranking spots.
Don’t confuse this with ‘causation’ and think you need to artificially boost the word count, but comprehensive content tends to be longer.
2. Expand your old content
Don’t forget you can always go back to your older content that you’re not particularly happy with and make it better.
Expanding and updating content will also trigger Google to reconsider its ranking placement.
Of course, this doesn’t happen overnight.
Keeping your content up-to-date is always a good idea even if we’re talking about minor changes because nothing makes your readers bounce faster than realizing your content is not current and accurate.
3. Combining 2 or more articles into a larger piece
There’s nothing wrong with occasionally re-purposing your older content to make something better and more substantial.
Combining 2-3 closely related articles to create a more comprehensive one will help you increase the dwell time.
Make sure not to abuse this and re-purpose content too often for no good reason.
Google likes original content and will go as far as to penalize your website if you go overboard with duplicate content.
Step 8) Build a community around your website
Gary Illyes from Google stated on Twitter that when Google notices a community around a website, it boosts it in rankings.
You can help form a community around your website by interacting with your audience and creating channels in which they can interact with each other.
People that consider themselves a part of your community will certainly consume more of your content than other members of your audience, thus, increasing the dwell time.
1. Turn on the Comments section.
A healthy comments section is not only a good way of helping your community grow by enabling your visitors to leave their 2 cents, but it will also increase dwell time in and of itself.
People like reading other people’s comments.
Some people even jump to the comments section first to get a teaser of what’s in the article or to confirm or deny their suspicions about the content.
2. Enable social media shares.
By making it easy for your audience to share your content on social media, you will not only grow your reach but hone a sense of community on your website too.
Have you ever stumbled upon a friend sharing a piece of content that you’ve also read?
“Hey, you read so-and-so’s blog too? Awesome!”
Not only do you feel closer to that friend, but you feel closer to the content creator as well.
3. Include your audience in your content.
Ask questions and encourage people to leave comments.
Not for the sake of comments, by the way.
But to help you truly understand their needs and problems and help you know what to address in your future content.
A community-building effect is going to be a happy byproduct of this approach.
It goes without saying, but reply to each and every comment.
Step 9) Stop using predatory tactics on your website that make your visitors feel like a commodity
You know the kind of website that makes you feel like an object from the second you enter it?
Doesn’t that make you hit the ‘back’ button straight away?
Sometimes you suffer through because you want to check out the content, but you don’t really spend a second more in there than you absolutely have to.
What are some of the things that could make your audience feel like they’re being preyed upon?
1. Clickbait titles – don’t use them
Clickbait titles are a sure way of decreasing your page dwell time.
As soon as people realized they were tricked by a clickbait title, they hit that ‘back’ button.
Not only are you decreasing the dwell time by having clickbait titles, but you’re also increasing the bounce rate, decreasing the average session duration, etc.
Not to mention killing the trust your audience has with your website.
2. Intrusive popups – I’m not a fan.
Sure, popups are great for getting people to subscribe to your email list.
If you can pull off having a non-intrusive popup, great.
But some websites have popups that take up the entire screen and they “pop up” the second you enter the website.
I don’t know about you, but I usually immediately want to hit the ‘back’ button.
Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.
I never feel good about it, though.
3. Breaking articles into multiple pages.
Some websites split their articles in such a way that you have to hit the “Next” button every few hundred words to continue reading the article.
Sure, they get extra page views because you have to go through multiple pages to read just one article.
That sure as heck decreases dwell time, however.
Plus, did you ever stick to the end of an article when it’s laid out in this manner?
The last thing you want to do is to annoy your audience.
That’s just my philosophy, anyway.
Simply put, dwell time is the amount of time your audience spends on your pages.
Increasing dwell time means providing a better experience for your audience.
That’s what every content creator should strive for, right?
No one’s perfect and we all make mistakes when it comes to our websites.
Luckily, most of these mistakes can be fixed.
If you make many minor improvements, they have the potential to compound into significant changes in how Google perceives your website and your content.
In this article, my goal was to point out many possible culprits for your low dwell time.
Take this information and try to objectively judge your website.
Try not to be romantic about it.
Focus on your audience.
Help them out by making sure you provide value to them in every possible way.
That’s what it’s all about, anyway.