Dwell time: how to make your website sticky, so customers stay longer - Heart Internet Blog - Focusing on all aspects of the web

Dwell Time, as the term suggests, is all about the length of time your visitor spends wandering around your website. It can be influenced by a lot of things, such as how well your site answers their questions…

“I’m glad you asked me that, sit down and I’ll tell you all about it.”

It’s also influenced by how welcome you make your visitor feel.

“Put your feet up. Kettle’s on – cup o’ tea?”

There are several reasons why Dwell Time matters. Firstly – and rather obviously – when your visitor is looking at your business’ website, if they stick around for longer, they’re more likely to buy something.

But Dwell Time also matters because those all-important search engines take note of how long your customers stay. The longer they hang around, the stickier your site is, the more the search engines approve of you.

Come back and stay

The importance of Dwell Time was pointed-out by the man who popularised the term: Duane Forrester from Bing, who said

“If your content does not encourage them to remain with you, they will leave. The search engines can get a sense of this by watching the dwell time. The time between when a user clicks on our search result and when they come back from your website tells a potential story. A minute or two is good as it can easily indicate the visitor consumed your content. Less than a couple of seconds can be viewed as a poor result. And while that’s not the only factor we review when helping to determine quality, it’s a signal we watch.”

So, in a nutshell, Dwell Time is one of the ways the all-powerful search engines judge your website. If you are deemed to be satisfying people who click your link in the search results, the engines will offer that link to more and more people.

The job of a search engine is to keep their searchers happy and, if you’re contributing to that, then the Gods of Search will smile benevolently upon you and shine their almighty Search Light your way.

But Dwell Time isn’t the only analytic they pay attention to …

  • Dwell Time: As defined by Duane, this is the period of time between your user following a search result, then returning to the search page. If they go anywhere else, that doesn’t count.
  • Bounce Rate: This is the number of people (usually measured as a percentage of total visitors) who leave your site after visiting just one page. It doesn’t matter how long they stay.
  • Average Time on Page: You’ll never guess – oh, you did. That’s right, this simply records the length of time people spend on your homepage before they click off – to another page on your site or another site.

You can possibly see that, while all of these are perfectly sensible measures of a website’s effectiveness, none of them is without problems. You may have a fascinating one-page site that loads dynamically, without needing extra clicks. This would give you a great Time on Page measure, and a terrible Bounce Rate.

Of course, Google and the other Gods of Search don’t tell us how much stock they put into any of these values; nor which, if any, is considered to be of greater value. Their methodology for selecting sites to show you is lost in a fog of corporate non-disclosures and intellectual property rights.

But, whatever metric they are using, one way to guarantee that you will get great results – is to provide good quality content that makes people want to come back and stay.

Welcome to the machine

Forrester’s point was that quality is king. Populate your site with great quality content – and people will stay. Simple as that, really.

The end.

Okay, you might want some flesh on those bones.

The truth is, your website has to work for two different audiences:

1 – The Organic

Also known as human beings, or ‘users’. Your content needs to occupy, interest and, ideally, inform your user. It never hurts to be entertaining while you’re about it. It’s relatively easy for a good writer and web designer to put themselves in the place of their users, and evaluate whether their work is sticky enough. Writers and web designers are, generally speaking, human beings too and, as such, can empathise with and predict the responses of other human beings.

2 – The Digital

Your second audience is The Gods of Search – the search engines themselves. They are immune to the aesthetics of a page – they’re all about the content. If your page aggregates information that is freely available elsewhere, or you describe your products using descriptions lifted from other sites (even manufacturers’ own sites), those pesky search engine web-crawlers will know, and they’ll penalise you. They respond well to good quality original content. Cut and paste simply won’t cut it.


The most successful way to get people’s eyeballs stuck to your website, is with content that works for both the human users and the inhuman search engines.

Here are a few ways to make them linger:

Where’s Your Head At: Find out what your customers want. Don’t just look at other similar businesses – their customers might not be your customers. Give your customers what they want from you. How do you know? You could always ask them – social media is a great platform for encouraging involvement and engagement in this.

Substitute: Reposting copy from elsewhere (even with the permission of the original site) simply will not do. The Gods of Search are looking for new, original, unique content.

Get the Balance Right: You need a mix of text and images. Too many pictures with no content providing context, means people probably won’t stay long; too many words with no pictures to illustrate and break it up, means people will probably get bored and… probably won’t stay long.

Get It Right the First Time: Proofread! Seriously, you can’t have too many eagle-eyed grammar-pedants checking through your work before you press the all-important ‘Publish’ button. Typos and poor grammar do undermine the authority of the content.

The Long Run: It was long thought that readers preferred their content short and snappy – and that’s undoubtedly still true on social media platforms – but the search engines reward more in-depth writing on websites – because it automatically generates greater Dwell Time. Research also demonstrates that website users rate longer content more highly. Apparently size really does matter!

Computer blue

You can improve the chances of those eyeballs staying glued to your website by carefully controlling a lot of the conditions that affect the user even before they’ve commenced reading:

Sign of the Times: Neil Patel discusses, in forensic detail, how every second counts, when it comes to Loading Time. Upwards of 25% of your readers will abandon you if your page takes just four seconds to load – and 50% of those won’t come back. So, make sure you address the software and hardware issues that could be making your site drag its heels.

You Got the Look: Ensure that your design reflects your business and the needs of your customers. It’s also important to make sure that your site looks up-to-date. Fashions change – even in the retro/vintage market – so make sure your site isn’t “so last decade”.

Take Me With You: An absolute essential nowadays, is to have a responsive website that works well on any mobile device. Over 60% of users access the internet on their phone. It’s a huge sector of your potential market that you simply can’t afford to lose.

Exit music

Dwell Time, Bounce Rate and Average Time on Page are all related and inter-connected but, until such time as the Gods of Search make their algorithms open source and tell us how they evaluate and relate these values to each other, all you can do is use common sense and best practice.

If you write it well (and design it well) they will come!

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  • Alan Leaver


    no auto playing music should be mentioned, it results in instant bounce by the majority of visitors even on music related sites.


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