Dwell time is the amount of time a visitor referred by a search engine spends on a web page until they return to the search engine results page (SERP) or perform another action on the site. This could be a matter of seconds, minutes, or they may never return to the SERPs at all.

There is some uncertainty in the SEO community about whether search engines use dwell time as a ranking factor, although Google flat out denies this.

Some SEO experts suspect that dwell time is a strong signal for how well a web page meets the needs of search engine traffic. If there is a high number of people who immediately return to the SERPs and click on different results, this could be interpreted as a strong signal that something is wrong with the user experience or the content of the web page that the traffic was first sent to, which could be important information to Google. 

Dwell Time vs Bounce Rate

Bounce rate and dwell time are often mistaken for each other.

Dwell time is how long a user spends looking at a site once they have selected the link from a SERP, before going back to the SERP. Bounce rate is the percentage of all visitors to a page who visit that page and then leave that site without visiting another page, irrespective of how long they stay. High bounce rates can be a sign that a website isn’t engaging users by driving them to other pages on the site, but it can also be normal depending on the purpose of the page.

Dwell time is a more nuanced metric because it specifically considers the amount of time that people spend on a website until they return to the SERP, perhaps on the hunt for more information. 

A low dwell time might not just be about the quality of a web page’s content. It could also reflect a range of other technical factors that may contribute to a poor user experience such as a poor mobile experience, too many pop-ups, or slow loading speeds that cause traffic to return to the SERP.