What is dwell time and what effect does it have on Google positions?

Łukasz LewczukŁukasz Lewczuk
Published: 04.07.2019
6 minute
You type a specific phrase into a search engine. You choose one of the search results that seems most relevant and interesting to you, click on the link and go to the target page. If you find what you’re interested in there, you’ll probably stay there for a while. If not, you quickly return to the list of search results. The time that elapses between your clicking on the link and returning to the search results is what dwell time is.. .

Dwell time in practice

. Recently, this notion caught on in the SEO world mainly after the SMX conference, where it was the “nail on the head” like voice search or mobile used to be – apparently the industry likes such hooks on which to hang for a while, tell clients about them and show how “up-to-date” we are. Is it the same for dwell time? In truth, it’s hard to say, because since the dawn of time, extracting the more and less caloric ones (not to mention the most important ones) from the bandied list of mystical wounding factors is simply very difficult. Dwell time is one of the more difficult paramaters to define more precisely. It is an indicator that deals with only organic traffic. Its values for individual websites are not widely available. It cannot be unequivocally considered one of Google’s ranking factors, although it is very often recognized as such by specialists involved in website positioning, mainly in the West. Nevertheless, it is worth attempting to analyze it, even though it has passed somewhat unnoticed in our country. .

What affects dwell time?

. Since dwell time is a hard-to-measure parameter, it is not easy to determine what factors affect it. However, in most discussions among SEO specialists, three key parameters are mentioned: .
  • Bounce rate, which determines the percentage of people who quit browsing a site after looking at just one page. Without clicking through further, they press “back” or close the tab (bang! They just raised your bounce rate);
  • .
  • session duration, which is the average time users spend on a given page per visit;
  • .
  • click through rate (CTR), which characterizes the frequency with which a site appears in search results when a specific phrase is typed into a search engine, and how often users choose to visit a site by clicking on a link to it.

What does dwell time affect?

. . So far, there is no official information confirming the impact of dwell time on page position in search results. Rather, Google analyzes it as one of the parameters that determine the usefulness of a resource and how well it responded to a user’s query. Therefore, it cannot be explicitly stated that it is one of the official ranking factors. Rather, it should be regarded as a suggestive parameter, based on which we can determine the usability of a site and the information it contains from the reader’s point of view. . .

How to use dwell time?

. . Analyzing dwell time for the usability of our site is difficult because we usually lack a comparison with the results of other sites. We can’t refer to the time a user has spent on similar sites, so it’s not easy to assess how our site compares to others. In addition, every user is different, searches differently and expects something different. Likewise with the sites themselves. . Let’s consider and compare two situations: . .
  1. Mr. Plumber’s business card page that pops up in local results. We are looking for help, our sink is leaking, we select a search result, there is a large phone number at the top of the page. We save and close the browser. The page was onepager, so there is no way to click through, everything served on the main page. Operating time: ~20 seconds
  2. .
  3. We are looking for a motorcycle helmet, we enter a store that has about 200 of them on offer. We browse, add to the comparison, something jumped on the wishlist – one even to the shopping cart, in a word – we have fun. After 7 minutes, we leave, because we decided that our total will pore over one more season.
  4. .
. For which of the above cases will dwell time be an opportunity and for which a threat? Should the ranking take these visits into account in evaluating our site/domain? How does Google know what is in this case caloric and what is not? .

Low vs. high dwell time service

. . Low dwell time values are certainly alarming. They mean that our site doesn’t contain information that is valuable from the point of view of the average user of a search engine, or that it is not readable enough, and the user, discouraged by the not-so-clear layout, gives up on getting to know the content on it more deeply. Maybe a problem with navigation or some technical errors helped him decide to leave our site? . On the other hand, too high dwell time is also no reason to be happy, especially when searching for short, simple phrases. This usually means that the user had to spend a lot of time finding the content they are interested in, indicating that our site is not very readable or difficult to navigate. . For a full list of factors that Google’s quality raters look at when evaluating sites, see here. .


. Due to the difficulty of analyzing dwell time attainment and the lack of clear information as to its recognition as a ranking factor by Google, the usefulness of dwell time is often questioned. However, it is certainly worth considering as one of the additional indicators that can prove useful for optimizing our site’s content for usability for readers. . Perhaps in the future, when Rank Brain and machine learning reach greater perfection, dwell time will be the next Holy Grail for SEOs, ecommercers, and anyone who wants to do good, is trying to understand, and beyond mindless linking is still trying to actually serve good, valuable resources to the user. . For the time being, in our opinion, dwell time as an important ranking factor is still in the waiting room.
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Łukasz Lewczuk

Pasjonat dobrego SEO, zwłaszcza tego technicznego. W temacie od 2007 roku, sporo jako freelancer, jeszcze więcej jako Head of SEO w dużej agencji zajmującej się marketingiem zintegrowanym w sieci.

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