search engine optimization and google penguin

Dwell time: the new make or break SEO metric?

July 9, 2012
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search engine optimization Dwell time: the new make or break SEO metric?

Dwell time and your website

It is well known that Google constantly grooms their algorithm to provide what they deem the most relevant search results possible, in their endless quest to think like a human brain. In February 2011, a batch of updates, known as Google Panda launched, which sought to punish content scrapers and bring high quality results to the top. In April 2012, Google Penguin rolled out, seeking to get rid of websites using black hat SEO, or that use link schemes, and the like, again to push legitimate sites to the top of search rankings.

With the new algorithm changes, however, remains quite a bit of mystery, and vague new terminology is coming to the surface, leaving small businesses in a lurch who can barely decipher whether or not they should be on Twitter, or if their neighbor’s son who set up their website in 2001 is the right person to handle their online presence. The Google algorithm has gotten more complex and is a living organism that continually evolves, making real experts in SEO stand out from the crowd.



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One such vague term: dwell time

“Dwell time” is one term being tossed around, which typically refers to a quality signal for Google’s pay-per-click (PPC) services, but many are now saying this is a consideration being included in Google’s Panda algorithm.

NetMagazine notes that, “In a nutshell, dwell time (and specifically dwell time relevant to organic search) is a signal that averages the amount of time spent on a page after click-through in results. The longer the searcher spends on site, the more relevant that site appears to Google.”

Kate Morris, Lead SEO Consultant at international strategic marketing agency, Distilled said that dwell time is an untested theory, and that “No one has yet to prove that it is a factor and Google has not said it is. Neither has Bing for that matter.”

Morris continued, “What I do know is that much of Panda was based off of user experience testing. Asking people how they feel about a site and if it’s trust worthy. In my professional opinion, the “dwell time” is a factor or is going to be but like bounce rate there won’t be hard numbers. It’s not something people can track to bring down, unless the engines give us that data as webmasters and that is possible but not probable right now.”

Ben Fisher says that dwell time is “definitely a real part of the algorithm, albeit a small part. Panda was about signals to google the page deserves to rank high, so content above the fold, dwell time, bounce rate, etc were all accounted for or targeted moreso than before (among other things).”

Not confirmed, still relevant

Jeff Bernheisel, Project Manager at 1000WattConsulting echoes Morris’ sentiment that Google has never confirmed dwell time as “a solid part of their algorithm but have alluded to it many times saying they want a better ‘user experience.’ User experience can be achieved through good design – ie getting a person to click through at least once which in effect reduces your bounce rate OR by things like including video which increases time on site averages (usually).”

Despite not being a confirmed part of the Google Panda algorithm, Bernheisel notes, “I have had sites with a 6 page view average, and 3+ minute time on site where I’ve had to do WAY less “off page” SEO work (building back links) than my other sites with less page view and time in site average so I think that legitimately backs up their claims.”

How to improve your site’s dwell time

NetMagazine says, “In a nutshell, dwell techniques mean creating and utilising content on category, sub-category and other important pages throughout the build, which encourage users to read over or interact with the page and refrain from bouncing. Explaining a brand’s USP using a slideshow or 30-second video clip makes the information easily digestible and keeps them engaged for the time it takes to reach the end. From a search perspective, this content has resulted in a longer time on site, which means a better signal to Google.”

Morris encourages webmasters to continue working on usability and conversion rates. “Using things like Content Experiments through Google Analytics or other A/B testing software can help. Even click trackers like Crazy Egg help webmasters understand user patterns on the site. Also, webmasters should also ensure that no matter what platform they are on, that conversion tracking is set up and working correctly. Knowing how site conversion is over time can provide good insight as to how users feel about a site.”

“The simplest way to do any kind of user testing is still buying pizza and getting some friends to ask their friends who don’t know the site to come over and give feedback,” Morris notes. “This doesn’t have to be scientific. You just need feedback on if people are getting the information, products, and services they need from a site and if it’s easy to find.”

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