It is well known that Google constantly grooms its algorithm to provide what it deems the most relevant search results possible in its 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 link schemes and the like, to, again, push legitimate sites to the top of search rankings.
With the new algorithm changes, however, 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 continually evolves, making real experts in SEO stand out from the crowd.
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.
.net magazine 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 the 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. “No one has yet to prove that it is a factor and Google has not said it is. Neither has Bing for that matter,” she says. “What I do know is that much of Panda was based off of user experience testing. In my professional opinion, the dwell time is a factor or is going to be, but like the 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, an agent with RE/MAX Associates Utah, 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 more so than before (among other things).”
Not confirmed, still relevant
Jeff Bernheisel, project manager at 1000watt Consulting, 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 – i.e. 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.”
Despite not being a confirmed part of the Google Panda algorithm, Bernheisel notes, “I have had sites with a six-page view average, and three-plus 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
.net magazine says, “Dwell techniques mean creating and utilizing 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. Webmasters should also ensure that no matter what platform they are on, 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.”
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