Explaining Dwell Time, Bounce Rate & Other Important User Signals For SEO

SEO is changing. It’s no longer a game of tricking and cheating the algorithm so that you can get to the top. Link building isn’t as effective as it used to be – and nowadays user behavior dictates where your site gets to rank.

Surely, you can trick your way around it in the short term. But in the long term, the user is the one who will push your page below with their behavior if it’s not up to standards.

Because of that, let’s break down some of the important metrics that Google uses in rankings that are created solely from how users interact with Google and your website.

Search Intent Explained

Firstly, let’s begin with Search Intent. It’s important to understand this term at first because it is the defining factor for more or less all other items on the list.

Search intent is the intention or expectation that a user has of what they are going to see (or what they want to see) when they search. Normally, you can see the real SERPs in your preferred SEO tool (I use https://morningscore.io/) – which is where you will find the true websites ranking at the top for your keyword.

If a user is searching for “types of dog food” they expect not only to find a website specifically about dogs and dog food – but rather also one that specifically explains what types of dog food there are. Different people prefer different mediums – and therefore as a general idea, the more diversified your content is, the higher chances of ranking up you have.

For example, many speculate whether including a YouTube video helps you rank. Well, whether simply adding an iframe to your code directly helps you rank sounds far fetched. However, the result from doing that – all the interactions that users have with your site which you’ve created – are a factor. They contribute and show google that users spend time on your site. And this in terms is a ranking factor.

How can you match the user intent perfectly? Simply look at the existing top results and break down their pages and what elements they have on them. Some ideas for matching the Search Intent are: comparison tables, custom graphics, videos, charts and graphs? Can you replicate that – and add more to the subject. If they simply have text and nothing else, try to add those other elements. Remember that it’s always about being the most useful result to the user.

Click-Through Rate Explained

The next important thing on the list is Click Through Rate, also known as CTR. This is the rate of which people click on your results versus other results. CTR is often influenced by three specific things:

1. How well you match the Search Intent with the content on the page

Since you can use markup to show many of these elements in Google’s Search Results – or Google can show them by themselves. They can spark the interest in the user by giving them good info they are interested in directly in Google – and therefore persuading them in a way that your result is more relevant. These elements can for example, be the “Featured Snippet”, “People Also Ask, or “FAQ Schema Cards”.

2. How well you communicate that you’ve matched the search intent with your Title Tag & Meta Description Tag

That is, how captivating your title & meta descriptions tags are for the end user to click on them. When people search for your target keyword, your Titles & Meta Description are the storefront for your website. Someone shopping for dog food wouldn’t find it a fit if the store sign says “cat food”.

3. What your brand name communicates – and how well known it is

Similarly to how someone wouldn;t enter a store that offers only cat food, someone wouldn’t enter a store if they know their brand isn’t the right fit. For example, dog owners likely won’t shop their supplies on BestCatFoodStore.com.

Alternatively, this example works the other way around – for example, how well known your brand is for something. The bigger brand you have, the easier time you will have in Google search. That is because if your pages appear for what you’re known for, people are naturally inclined to click on your results since they are familiar with you and “don’t have to go out into the unknown”. For example, if you want to buy washing detergent, you’ll probably click on either Omo.com’s or Ariel.co.uk’s result rather than BestWashingDetergents.com’s result.

Dwell Time Explained

Next up on the list, we’re looking at Dwell Time. But Dwell Time is often misunderstood. Dwell Time itself is a representation of how long a user coming from a search engine stayed on your site before returning back to the search results.

While in general, many people believe that longer dwell time means more page satisfaction, that is not necessarily true. Imagine that you have two pages – one of them is a how-to, and the other one is a weather stats. Someone reading that article at 8PM is going to spend 5 minutes on it. But someone checking the weather at 6AM before work is going to spend 30 seconds at best on that page. Does that imply the weather website is not useful and should never be shown in the results?

Not really, and this is what makes things complicated. For that reason exactly, dwell time isn’t directly measured the same way your average time on page is. A short time on page followed by no more interactions might signal to Google that you’ve gotten what you were looking for. On the contrary, a short time on page followed by a return to the SERP might tell Google you haven’t found what you needed.

Bounce Rate Explained

Bounce Rate is another one of those metrics that express how a user interacts with your website. A bounce rate is defined as the percentage count of all visits. While in it of itself bounce rate does not directly impact SEO, it is a good indicator which you can use to understand how your SEO is performing.

It can also give you an idea of which pages are getting a lot of traffic – but are not well tied together to the rest of your site – and are therefore “bleeding” users out. This can, in terms, prompt you to offer different materials and incentives so that users remain on and interact with your website.

Pogo Sticking Explained

And last but not least, Pogo Sticking happens when a user visits several search results before they find what they are looking for. This behavior is a very strong signal in google that the user was not happy with what they’ve seen – and over time Google is likely to adjust the results to prioritize the one users end up on. If users keep clicking on a result and then quickly bouncing back to the search result and selecting another result – it’s a good sign that they are not happy with what they’ve seen. Obviously, you don’t have to be worried if that happens once or twice – Google never makes big changes based on such small datasets.

However, if your article has consistently had an increase in its Bounce Rate and a decrease of the Average Time On Page in Google Analytics, it’s likely going to impact you in the long term. Additionally, you can check your CTR stats for individual pages and queries in Google Search Console – and look for similar trends there. If both your Impressions and Average Position keep rising for the same keywords but your CTR or Number of Clicks is the same or lower, it’s likely that you won’t keep your rankings for a long time.