Dwell Time & Bounce Rate: How Long Are Visitors Staying on Your Page? Are They Staying At All?
“Dwell time” refers to the length of time someone stays on a page after opening it via Google. “Bounce rate” refers to the percentage of people who “bounce” from the page, leaving quickly because they didn’t find what they were looking for.
We’ve all searched for something, opened one of the links, and then closed it after a few seconds because a quick skim revealed that it wasn’t what we were looking for.
If you search for “how to make a casserole out of leftover spaghetti,” you want an answer to that question.
If you click a link from Google and end up on a page that talks about the culinary history of casseroles, the different types of casseroles, and how casserole technology has evolved over time — but doesn’t have any instructions on making them from leftover Italian food — you’ll leave after skimming the page long enough to figure out that it doesn’t answer your question.
You’re looking for recipes and how-to guides, not a history lesson. So you go back to the search page and try the next link down instead.
You’ve bounced off the page. Your dwell time — the amount of time you had the page open — is short enough to make it pretty obvious that you didn’t stay long enough to read the whole thing.
Google notices when a lot of people are doing this with a particular search result, and this is something that’s factored into their ranking algorithms. If too many people bounce, and the average dwell time is too short as a result, this could result in the page being demoted in the rankings.
The reason for this is that Google’s goal is to create a good user experience. That’s how they stay on top of the search game, and continue to be the undisputed leader in that space.
If you’re over 25, you probably remember the late ‘90s and early 2000s, when there were a handful of different search engines all vying for dominance. You might even remember how unreliable search engines could be earlier than that. Remember how you used to have to use complex arrays of Boolean operators to try to find what you were actually looking for?
Google won out because they were the best. Their user experience was the best, and they did the best job of helping people find information reliably. Around the turn of the millennium, people were quickly figuring out that Google was a lot more likely to give them what they were looking for than competitors like AskJeeves or Yahoo.
If people don’t find what they’re looking for when they search, they’ll go elsewhere. This is already happening to a limited extent with image and video searches, with a surprising number of users beginning to favor Bing instead.
If Google rests on their laurels, they could lose their market share. Remember AOL? Being top dog doesn’t mean someone else can’t oust you from that position.
It’s in Google’s best interest, as a business, to provide a great search experience. That means the person finds what they’re looking for quickly and easily.
A high bounce rate and low dwell time indicate that your page isn’t up to snuff. Its presence in the search results is creating a bad experience for Google’s users, and you won’t stay on the first page for long unless you fix what’s causing it.
So how do you fix the problem?
Problems with bounce rate and dwell time could indicate one of several problems. Initially, you’ll want to pinpoint what’s causing users to bounce most of the time.
- Your content isn’t what the user is looking for. Or, if it is, it’s structured or written in a way that makes it hard for the user to get the gist of it “at a glance.”
- Your page doesn’t load correctly or work well on mobile devices. If that’s the case, desktop users might stay, but people on their phones won’t stick around. Mobile users these days account for over 40% of web traffic, on average. It’s very important that your site works on mobile. If it doesn’t, you could lose up to half your traffic.
- Your page loads too slowly, so people give up and leave. When you click a link and it’s been more than ten seconds, but the page hasn’t loaded yet, do you usually stick around? Probably not. It’s 2018, people have fast internet connections, and we’re used to sites loading almost instantly.
Content Structure: Skimmable Pages Get Lower Bounce Rates
When someone follows a Google search link to a page, they usually skim it first to find out if it’s the kind of thing they’re looking for. It’s important for your content to be structured in a way that makes it easy for people to know what the page is about at a glance.
Part of this has to do with information structure. Content tends to perform best when it’s divided up into clear sections with subheadings, so someone can skip easily to the part they want. If each page is a big wall of text without headings to break it up, it won’t perform as well — even if it’s incredibly well written and very informative.
A descriptive title also helps, along with a summary toward the beginning of the page. Don’t “bury the lede,” so to speak.
Mobile Responsiveness: Does The Website Work On Multiple Devices?
Mobile sites used to be pretty stripped down. A decade ago, few websites even had a mobile site. It was a big deal when early smartphones in the late 2000s, like the original iPhone and contemporary Blackberries, started becoming capable of actually accessing the full World Wide Web.
Today, it’s tough to even find cell phones that aren’t smartphones. You can buy a fully equipped Android phone at Walmart for as little as $20. Mobile browsing is ubiquitous, and a lot of people do more web surfing on their phones and tablets than on a desktop or a laptop.
It’s essential that your website is mobile responsive. This means the layout and design of the page changes to accommodate phone and tablet screens.
Ever have to pinch and zoom, then scroll sideways and back again constantly? It’s such a pain that you might well just give up and go try to find another source instead.
If that’s what it’s like to use your site on mobile, anyone on their phone will bounce. Chances are, a lot of your visitors are on their phones, so that leaves you with a bounce rate that tells Google, “This isn’t a good search result for this query, and people don’t want it.”
Because such a big chunk of web traffic is mobile these days, most successful websites have adopted a “mobile-first” orientation. Their web design focuses on mobile, with desktop browsing as the secondary concern.
If you’ve ever clicked a mobile link on desktop, you’ve noticed that it’s not ideal. But it’s definitely less annoying than trying to look at a non-mobile-friendly site on your phone. So it makes sense that mobile comes first for modern web designers.
So what should you do to make sure your site is mobile friendly?
If your site’s current design doesn’t take well to mobile, you probably need to overhaul it, replacing it with a modern mobile-responsive design instead. Get in touch with a web design agency and get it sorted out as soon as you can.
If you’re not sure, try running your URL through SEOptimer. It’s a great online tool that can give you a full audit of your site’s SEO friendliness, including speed and responsiveness.
You can also use this free tool from Google to test your site’s mobile speed. Many non-mobile-responsive websites load fine on a desktop browser, but take too long on mobile.
Load Speed: Users Won’t Wait Around, They’ll Just Go Elsewhere
Thankfully, the ancient days of slow 56k dialup modems are far behind us. We’re all used to websites loading almost instantaneously.
Sometimes it can take a few seconds, but that’s okay. Past a point, though, you get frustrated waiting for a site to load, and just kind of give up. You’ll bounce back to Google and click a different link.
From Google’s perspective, giving a good user experience means helping people find what they’re looking for quickly. If your site’s load time is a problem, to the point that people are bouncing because of it, it’s going to stand in your way as far as SEO is concerned.
And these days, a “slow load time” doesn’t have to be as long as you might think.
Slow load times are a major cause of unusually high bounce rates — and as a result, poor rankings for the keyword searches you’re trying to target. A load time of just four seconds can result in a 17.1% bounce rate. Almost a fifth of users just don’t want to wait that long. At seven seconds, you’re looking at over 30%.
Just a few seconds could cost you as much as a third of your potential search traffic.
Usually, this is a problem that stems from technical problems with your page. In many cases, the root cause is that your page has one or more very large images.
You’ve probably noticed that sometimes if you go to a direct link for a big, beautiful, high resolution photograph, it takes a bit of time to load completely. Embed one on a web page, and suddenly it takes forever to load.
You can avoid this by optimising your images using a tool like Optimizilla.
Slow load times can also stem from other technical problems with a website’s code. While large images are the leading cause, it could also be any of the following issues. These are things that need to be fixed by a web developer, as these problems are rather technical.
- Flash content. Ten to fifteen years ago, Flash was a staple of the internet. From edgy indie cartoons on Newgrounds, to interactive tools, to online games, a lot of the web was built using Macromedia Flash. Today, it’s largely been phased out, partly due to security concerns. Many things that would have been Flash videos a decade ago are using HTML5 instead. Flash content is bulky and slow to load, and some modern browsers don’t even support the associated plugins. If your site has Flash content, you need to replace it.
- Unclean or “ugly” code. Code is “clean” when it’s streamlined, and as minimal as it can be while doing what it needs to do. A big culprit here are CSS stylesheets, which determine the visual appearance and layout of a page. Tweaks like consolidating multiple stylesheets into one can help speed up load times.
- Too many ads. This is a big one. Many websites, possibly even your own, are monetised through advertisements. Even if there are other sources of revenue, ads have long been a staple source of revenue. But while display ads are a great way to make some cash from high traffic, too many of them can actually hurt you by slowing down your site. The worst offenders here are media-rich ads, like video ads and animated banners. These kinds of ads are sending out tons of HTTP requests, which can slow browsers to a crawl.
- Bad web hosting. A lot of small businesses, monetised blogs, and other websites end up running into this problem. If you’ve saved money by going with an inexpensive overseas hosting company, you may be stuck with unreliable service and slow speeds that could be doing more harm than good. If this is the case, switching your hosting provider can make a big difference for the better.
Missing Out on Shareability: People Share Good Experiences, Not Bad Ones
If a page loads at a snail’s pace, or the confusing layout makes it hard to find the info you’re looking for, you’re not going to share that page with other people.
People share good experiences, not bad ones. We share links online to make our friends laugh, to educate and share information, and for other reasons.
If something is a frustrating experience for someone, they’re not going to share it with other people. An annoyingly slow page, where you have to zoom awkwardly if you’re on a smartphone, and that makes it hard to find the exact answer to your question, is not a web page you’re going to post on Twitter or send to your Discord chat.
A bad user experience can mean your site is missing out on a lot of natural, organic distribution. Word of mouth is essential, and it’s one of the most genuinely effective forms of marketing out there. It’s not something you can just buy, per se, though you can take steps to encourage it.
Social shares, as well as backlinks from other sites, are earned by having great content, and part of that means a good user experience. People don’t notice when the UX is great, but they do notice if it leaves something to be desired.
No one wants to share or link to a page that takes thirty seconds to load, is impossible to read comfortably in a mobile browser, and has tons of intrusive ads that block the actual content.
At the end of the day, a good user experience is something every website needs to be successful, and it’s worth investing in. If you’re having issues with high bounce rates and dissatisfied users who don’t stick around, get in touch with a web design agency and look into revamping your site to make it faster, more responsive, and more enjoyable for your audience.