What is Length of Stay or Dwell Time?

The length of stay, or as used more often in technical language, the “Average Time on Site” shows the average time that a user spends on a website. This measures the time from when the page is accessed until it is closed. The length of stay is documented with the help of web analysis tools, such as Google Analytics. Based on the length of stay, the interest of the user on the website, its content, and the quality of the page can be measured. The weaknesses and strengths of a website can be deepened or improved.

A Simple Definition of Dwell Time is below.
The length of stay describes the period of time in which a user stays on the entire website or on the sub-pages. In tools like Google Analytics, you can look at the average value of your stay and draw conclusions for the page quality, just like the bounce rate.

Origin of the Length of Stay Term

The term length of stay (or length of stay) is used in healthcare. It indicates the number of days that a patient on average in one hospital inpatients treated. In addition to the number of hospital cases, the length of stay is also of decisive importance when determining bed requirements. The average length of stay of a patient in the hospital is influenced, among other things, by individual factors such as age, gender, constitution, type and severity of the illness, marital status, shared flat, type of health insurance; medical factors such as the level of development of medicine, discipline, qualifications of doctors and nursing staff; Hospital-specific factors such as bed supply and bad use, discharge practice, type and scope of medical and technical equipment, size and age of the hospital, type of hospital operator. A hospital can have a limited influence on the length of stay.

After a while, the Length of Stay is also used in the entertainment sector. With time, it has become a basic and important term in Digital Marketing for conversion optimization. You may want to read some of the related UX and Marketing Guidelines:

  1. What is User-retention Rate?
  2. What is Conversion Funnel?
  3. What is a Mobile-first Design?
  4. What is Click Path?

Page Quality Indicator

If a user stays on a page for a long time, it means that they are interested in the content. Apparently, they are informative enough to hold it on the page or on multiple pages for a long time. If the average length of stay is very short, this can have two causes:

  • The content does not address the target group. This can be due to wrongly chosen keywords, for example.
  • The user cannot find his way around the page and therefore leaves the page after a few seconds.

The longer the dwell time, the higher the probability that the page corresponds exactly to the wishes of the searcher. Therefore, the duration is also evaluated as a ranking criterion by Google. Even if a long stay is a positive signal, one cannot call general guidelines for a “good stay”, because the type of content has a big influence on it. And that can be very different depending on the industry or website type. In the case of purely informative websites, such as news sites, it will generally be higher than on the site of a craft company.

A Short Dwell Time Can Also Be Good for Users

Length of Stay or Dwell Time can be interpreted as different in some other industries. For instance: in a currency calculation website, length of stay may not be so long, but it doesn’t mean that the website’s performance is bad. Also, in some cases, shorter sessions are an indicator for a satisfied user because it means that the user can find what he/she seeks for easily. Length of Stay should be interpreted according to the industry and search intent. Satisfying the users’ search and browse intent in the as much as possible fastest way should be the real purpose.

Analyze dwell time

The total length of stay refers to the time from the first-page view until the website is left. It can be determined using website analysis tools, e.g. Google Analytics or Piwik. With Analytics, the value can be found under the target group view as “Average visit duration”. This is the length of stay in relation to the entire website. It is an average of all “visitor times” of the selected month.

Total time spent in Google Analytics:

Dwell Time and Google Analytics
You can see that the Session Duration and Session Amount of Organic Traffic have a correlation. Source: Google Analytics

If you want to check the retention time for a single page in Analytics, you can get this value via Behavior> Website content> All pages. There you can select the desired subpage. A comparison with the time spent by other sites is also possible.

Time spent on a single page:

Analytics and Dwell Time
Checking Session Duration page by page is possible via Google Analytics. Source: Google Analytics

Another way to gain insight into the length of time a website is available is through heat map tools such as Eyequant, Hotjar, or CrazyEgg. The tools show the areas where the visitor’s eyes “get stuck” or where the eyes are directed. That could be placed as a call for action. Heat map tools also make those places visible where visitors click particularly often, where they scroll, and where they feel lost.

The extent to which the user follows content on a page can also be traced via Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics with the Scroll Events.

What is the Engagement Trap?

Engagement Trap is another term in SEO. If a user can’t find what he/she seeks for, but they feel that they can find the answer or the thing they need in another web page from the same website or below the fold section of the same web page, they continue to engage with the current website. This increases the engagement and dwells time, but it is an absolutely dangerous situation for the rankings. Engagement Trap can be very easily understandable via the Google Analytics’ User flow section. If a user goes and comes back between the same web pages, this decreases the bounce rate while increasing the dwell time, but it also means that the user can’t find what he/she seeks for. So, dwell time can be valued with attention in a more analytical way. A web page that can’t perform its purpose can’t have the high ranks on the SERP for targeted topics and query groups Also, checking the users’ length of stay in the Conversion Funnel Steps is important. If a user stays longer than usual in a specific conversion funnel step, it means that in that section something can distract the user or there might be a problem in the User Interface.

How to Improve the Dwell Time?

The user always comes to a website with a certain need: he wants to verify something, wants to buy something, looks for the solution to a problem, etc. So he has certain expectations. In order to generate a long residence time, this expectation should of course be met, not only by simply delivering the solution/product, etc. but by making the way there very easy by the user immediately recognizing: I am right here.

The following points can improve the length of stay, for example:

  • Simple website structure: intuitive, understandable, without dead ends
  • Clear website content: e.g. structure texts in a reader-friendly manner, supplement with pictures or videos, offer further content
  • Optimize snippets: “promise” of the snippet content should be confirmed with website content, not automatically generated!

User-based Metrics and PageRank

A web page with high traffic and dwell time can also be crawled more frequently by the Search Engine. A web page with high traffic and historical data along with high search demand is more valuable than an ordinary low-traffic web page. Because of this situation, if a web page has better user-based metrics and Search Engine Optimization Performance, it has more PageRank. Links from those kinds of pages should be used in a better strategy for PageRank Distribution. A web page that needs better rankings can take a boost from those kinds of web pages. A link can carry different link equity according to its position, font, color, likability, and its host web page’s performance on the web.

Importance for search engine optimization

The length of stay is an indication of the quality of a website, and it is generally assumed that it is a ranking factor. The latter is also known as the pogo stick effect or pogo-sticking. However, the significance of the length of stay depends on the goals of a website and the interaction with the content and other key figures. The way in which the length of stay is measured, for example, means that only visits from users who have also carried out an action at the end of their visit are recorded. In other words, there has to be an interaction so that the length of stay is recorded correctly and says something about the visit. As this is not always the case and the data is also calculated on average, the length of time spent on some websites should be treated with caution. These include, for example, pages that answer user inquiries relatively quickly and satisfactorily. Events can be used to increase the significance of the length of stay with regard to the website goals and goals that can be set up with Google Analytics.

Depending on the type of site is also the link between retention and bounce rate on one hand and on the other hand between sessions and visited sites important factors such as the flow of reading, the depth of the content, and its arrangement in the information architecture, the residence time influencing positively and negatively – the same also applies to the design, various interaction elements (e.g. call-to-action) and user guidance. In general, it can be said that the length of stay is particularly relevant for content-oriented websites and blogs, insofar as it is correctly recorded and viewed together with the website goals, content, and structure of the page.

For e-commerce websites such as online shops, the length of stay is an important factor, since the length of time that the stay increases usually increases the chance of a conversion. It is therefore an important part of search engine optimization to provide users with the best possible results so that they can find exactly what they are looking for on the page.

There is no official statement from Google whether the length of stay is included in the ranking. But since the introduction of the Panda Update, it has been assumed that the average time on site is relevant for the ranking. However, duration should be an important aspect of search engine optimization. If the page is visited on average longer than the usual average 40 seconds, this is a sign that the user likes the content. This means that the content is relevant and worth reading. Since Google and other search engines also include the content in the ranking, the length of stay is also an indirect indicator of this.

As Holistic SEOs, we will continue to improve our Length of Stay Guideline.

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