Dwell Time: The Most Important Metric You’re Not Measuring


Dwell time is one of the most important, yet frequently misunderstood, site metrics. Many marketers put too much faith in Time on Page when evaluating traffic, but this metric is unreliable and can be misleading.

In today’s post, we’re going to look at what dwell time is, whether search engines use it as a ranking signal, and examine ways in which you can increase the average dwell time on your site.

What is Dwell Time?

Three years ago, Duane Forrester at Bing wrote a blog post about how to build quality content. It was in this blog post that the concept of dwell time was first introduced.

Simply put, dwell time is the actual length of time that a visitor spends on a page before returning to the SERPs. In theory, the longer the dwell time the better, as this indicates that the visitor has consumed most (if not all) of the content on a page before either returning to the SERPs or performing another action on the site.

Bounce Rate and Actual Bounce Rate

Before we go any further, it’s worth pointing out the differences between bounce rate and actual bounce rate, since dwell time is closely related to bounce rate.

Analytics platforms, including Google Analytics, need two clicks to accurately determine Time on Page – and entrance click and an exit click. However, without that all-important second click, even a session in which a visitor arrives at a page, stays for 25 minutes and then leaves will be considered a bounce, even though it clearly isn’t. This is the principle behind bounce rate and actual bounce rate.

Obviously, a visit with a duration of six seconds is an actual bounce. The visitor arrived, decided almost immediately that the page or content wasn’t what they were looking for, and bounced away. However, a visit during which the user arrives and spends almost half an hour reading an engaging piece of long-form content before leaving is not an actual bounce. This is why some pages that rank highly and have excellent content may seem to have high bounce rates. They don’t have high actual bounce rates, but high standard bounce rates.

This is why dwell time is a more reliable indicator of a page’s quality and relevance than bounce rate, which some marketers feel is too simplistic to be trustworthy. But what do the search engines do with dwell time?

Want to boost traffic to your site? Download our free guide: 25 Ways to Increase Traffic

Is Dwell Time a Ranking Signal?

The question of whether dwell time is used by the search engines as a ranking signal has been debated at length by SEOs for years. Although Google remains characteristically tight-lipped about any specific metric that features in its algorithms, the introduction (and subsequent removal) of a particular feature in Google suggests that dwell time is a ranking factor. That feature was the option to block all results from specified domains.

The general consensus is that Google determined whether or not to offer the option to block a domain from SERPs based on dwell time. Obviously the precise threshold remains a mystery to this day, but it stands to reason that a shorter dwell time would result in a visitor being presented with the block option, as this resulted in a considerably better user experience – Google’s ultimate goal (besides making boatloads of cash, of course).

Another indication that the bods at Google were paying attention to dwell time as a ranking signal was the “More by” feature in the SERPs.

This function was closely connected to authorship. Verified content creators publishing articles with long dwell times were apparently being rewarded in the SERPs with higher placements and the “More by” links beneath the primary search result. Although authorship remains an important social signal, both “More by” and domain blocking have been retired by Google – a real shame, given how useful these features were.

Regardless, let’s not forget Forrester’s assertions in his post that dwell time can be used to reliably infer the quality and relevance of a page’s content to the user. It’s not often we’re given such a clear indication that a search engine is indeed focusing on a particular metric to tweak its algorithm.

For now, the question of whether dwell time is a definitive ranking signal will remain unanswered – but personally, I suspect that it is.

How to Increase Dwell Time

So, now that we’ve established what dwell time is and why we should probably consider it to be a ranking signal, how do you increase dwell time on your site?

In all honesty, you should be doing at least three of these four things anyway, regardless of whether you’re trying to increase your dwell time or not. There is no magic bullet when it comes to increasing dwell time, but adopting these techniques might help your content become more “sticky.”

Produce Better Content

The first suggestion to help you increase dwell time is to produce better content. After all, nobody’s going to stick around to read your stuff if it’s crap, are they?

Whether you’re producing blog posts, infographics or videos, good content should be:

  • Useful (actionable or educational)
  • Entertaining (funny, unusual/offbeat, surprising)
  • Accessible (skimmable, conversational, well-designed)

We’ve written plenty of great content about, well, content, so if you’re worried that your blog isn’t performing as well as it could be, check out some of our resources on creating killer content. The better your content, the more likely visitors are to stick around, thus increasing your dwell time.

Use Strong, Logical Internal Linking

Since dwell time is measured on the time between arriving at a page and returning to the SERPs, it makes sense to provide users with additional actions to take when they’ve finished reading your content, essentially preempting a possible second query or answering another question. This results in a better user experience for the visitor, which is why internal linking is so important.

Of course, internal linking is essential to maximizing SEO. Without a strong and logical internal linking strategy, your site may suffer in the rankings, as the search engines’ spiders may not be able to thoroughly index the entirety of your site.

Adopt Better Engagement Tactics

Just as internal links to other articles and pages can persuade your visitors to stay on your site for longer, so too can engagement techniques such as content recommendations.

By suggesting relevant articles to your readers, you’re providing them a strong incentive to remain on your site. This tactic can be highly effective when implemented correctly, and the more closely related the recommended articles are to the piece of content the reader is viewing, the more likely they are to remain on your site by clicking through. After all, if a visitor can learn more about another topic of interest to them without returning to the SERPs, why wouldn’t they?

Introduce a ‘Pageless’ Scrolling Design

Another technique you can use to increase dwell time is to introduce a “pageless” or scrolling design for your webpages.

Although infinitely scrolling pages can be great in terms of user experience, they can actually harm SEO if implemented poorly. This is because search engine crawlers are stupid and cannot always replicate user behavior, such as clicking or scrolling. Dumb robots.

Fortunately, there’s a handy solution that doesn’t involve a great deal of work. To help search engine crawlers thoroughly index the content of a scrolling page, the page has to be broken up into paginated sections. Each section has a similar <title> tag, with rel=”next” and rel=”prev” values declared in the <head> tag.

To read more about how to paginate an infinitely scrolling page, check out Google’s official blog post on the topic.

Stick Around, Why Don’t You?

Whether dwell time is a ranking signal or not, increasing the amount of time visitors spend on your site and reducing your bounce rate can only be a good thing. By implementing the features listed above, you can make your pages stickier, provide a more engaging experience for your visitors, and potentially increase conversions. Oh, and if Forrester is right, you might just rank more highly as well.

Find out how you're REALLY doing in AdWords!

Watch the video below on our Free AdWords Grader:

Visit the AdWords Grader.


Paul Gahagan
Jun 10, 2014

This is some really useful information! Thanks!

Dan Shewan
Jun 11, 2014

Thanks, Paul. I'm glad you found the post useful.

emping jagung
Apr 02, 2015

Hello, I enjoy reqding all of your article. I like to write a little comment to
support you.

Samuel Lavoie
Sep 25, 2014

Dweel time is definitly something to think more and more about. The UX and SEO fields are more than ever converting!

Jan 21, 2015

Nice article..I am wondering if anyone can help in answering "How Google Analytics or similar analytics platforms able to track from which source a visitor come to the website or a page or from search engine ". I would love to get thoughts of Larry on this, I like more technical and indepth answers even.

Juan Pablo
Jan 15, 2016

Hello, and thanks for such an informative post. Now, I have a question. I run an eCommerce website and, most of the time, when people visit my website, they are looking to see how much things cost.

When people are comparing prices, my landing pages provides exactly what they need at a simple look, so a 5 second visit would suffice. However, I see my competitors websites are harder to navigate and their landing pages are equipped with unnecessary pagination which, I suspect, is making their dwell times much higher.

What high quality, user satisfaction-oriented approaches would you recommend for me in order to increase dwell times?

Thomas Lawien
Jan 19, 2016

A recent post by the New York Times that reported its most popular posts of 2015. The American Encyclopedia of Law has reported the same.

Since Dwell time is the amount of time people spend viewing your content. This measure is particularly noteworthy in today’s marketing environment because, for example, Facebook has changed their EdgeRank algorithm to acknowledge this metric.

Jan 19, 2016

Thanks, great article, super user-friendly!

Juan Pablo
Feb 06, 2016

By the way, suppose that you're not getting any organic traffic to a specific page.

Do you know whether adwords traffic could get my pages to rank given that their dwell time is better than my competitors?

Maurizio Fumini
Jun 21, 2016

Very useful article, these 'hidden' factor are important for a good SEO.

Amit Patel
Dec 20, 2016

It's an interesting metric, I never thought except bounce rate as ranking signal. However as you suggested there are not much different between, bounce rate and dwell time, still it's important to have knowledge of dwell time. Good article.

Jan 04, 2017

Dwell Time is not a buzzword we hear often. Its not a metric most talked about but it is significant. There are some great comments above about sites "gaming" their dwell time by making information less ready and available. It seems they are getting away with higher dwell times but remember like all metrics its balanced into the user experience as a whole. If one sites increases their dwell time by making people really search long and hard for easy info such as pricing then they are losing on other areas or metrics. Everything gets weighed in the balance so the idea is to make your decisions based on customer needs and adding value and not making your metrics "look good". In the long run looks fade and true value remains.

Julia Ramos
Mar 01, 2017

I have a question: based on the definition given, dwell time is "the actual length of time that a visitor spends on a page before returning to the SERPs" so, just to clarify the difference between avg. time spent on page and dwell time as define above - avg. time spent on page is related to time spent on the page from any pageview including navigating to the page from other pages on the site, whereas dwell time is basically avg. time spent on page but only specific to when the the page is entered from the SERP and then exited back to the SERP without navigating elsewhere, correct? I would assume that if dwell time is a direct impactor to ranking success, then avg. time on page from organic traffic would also be a direct impactor to ranking success. Would it be accurate to say that dwell time is a way to get closer to differentiating between the type of bounce that could negatively impact rankings (an immediate bounce) versus the type of bounce that does not negatively impact rankings (an engaged bounce)?

Digital Marketing
Apr 02, 2017

Thank you for share informative Post !! For Onpage optimization with Content !!

Jul 15, 2017

Thanks for the post. I know something to improve my site :)

Jan 04, 2018

thanks for grate article.
I believed for 2018- SEO Dwell Time is the most important.

Vikas Sudan
Feb 06, 2018

Thanks for sharing this information with us.

Leave a comment