What is Dwell Time, and Should You Care?

It seems like there’s an endless list of digital metrics law firms should pay attention to when optimizing their sites for search. In fact, there are more than 200 ranking signals Google uses to decide which sites rank first on search engine result pages (SERPS). One metric that you may not pay attention to is dwell time. While it’s not listed as an “official” ranking signal, a lot of evidence and chatter indicates it can affect your firm’s organic rankings. Here’s why paying attention to dwell time may help you sign more clients from your digital marketing efforts:

Dwell Time Explained

Dwell time is a measurement of how long a user spends on your website. A lot of marketers get dwell time confused with bounce rate or session duration, but the three metrics are all unique. Bounce rate is the percentage of users who land on your firm’s site and leave without interacting at all, such as visiting a second page or filling out a “Contact Us” form. Session duration is how long someone spends on your website, whether it be 30 seconds or 30 minutes.

Dwell time is a combination of the two, plus a third metric: how a user interacts with your website on the search result pages and eventually returns to the SERPs. For example, let’s say someone is looking for a Social Security attorney and clicks from one law firm’s website to another without interacting at all. Google analyzes whether the user interacts (bounce rate), how long a user spends on the site (session duration), and whether the user seemed satisfied with the website he or she clicked on (SERP interaction). This culmination or metrics creates your site’s “dwell time.”

Why is Dwell Time Important?

Bounce rates and session duration are both important metrics to monitor, but dwell time gives search engines a more accurate understanding of how useful your site is for potential claimants. For example, let’s say a woman with breast cancer is trying to understand how to qualify for Social Security disability benefits and she clicks on the first two websites and clicks her browser’s “back” button within 10 seconds to go back to the SERPs. These websites would have a terrible dwell time because she bounced immediately and spent very little time on the first two URLs.

If your site is the #3 position for her query and she spends 2 minutes reading your article before closing her browser entirely, you would have a desirable dwell time compared to everyone else on the SERP for this query. While her session duration isn’t exceptionally long and she technically “bounced” if she closed a browser, the user did not go back to the SERPs to find more information and she spent enough time on your firm’s site to at least read your article in full.

If you’re consistently outperforming your competitors on dwell time, you should eventually outrank other law firms for queries where your content is more valuable to users. On the other side, if users are pogo-sticking off of your site and onto other search results, you’ll drop in rankings in lieu of more helpful content.

How to Optimize for Dwell Time

So let’s say you have a bad bounce rate and nobody’s spending time on your firm’s website. What can you do to improve your metrics? There are a lot of options you can consider:

  • Produce better content. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it can be hard for law firms to write high-quality content if they don’t have a designated digital marketing team.
  • Ensure there are call to actions that are easily accessible so anyone can connect with a member of your intake staff to go forward with the claim process.
  • Avoid anything that looks spammy and would cause users to leave your site, such as an auto-play video or pop-up ads prompting users to submit a Free Evaluation form.
  • Make sure your site’s internal linking structure makes sense. For example, a breast cancer page should be accessible from your main “cancer” page or your “disabling conditions” page.
  • Consider endless scroll. This is a debated topic among SEOs, but if session duration is a big issue of yours you can implement an endless scroll on your site so users will be prompted with more and more content as they travel down a single page. Just be sure to speak with your web development team to ensure this is implemented correctly.

Because there’s no “dwell time” metric in Google Analytics, it can be challenging to know whether your hard work is paying off. Consider tracking SERP results as well as your own analytics to get an understanding of whether your content is beneficial to claimants. Above all, always focus on helping the claimant instead of getting as many leads as possible! While it’s true that at the end of the day you need to generate leads to make revenue, Google will reward you in the search results for focusing on user experience instead of profits.