Does Dwell Time Really Matter for SEO?

What’s the real impact of machine learning on SEO? This has been one of the biggest debates within SEO over the last year.

I won’t lie: I’ve become a bit obsessed with machine learning. My theory is that RankBrain and/or other machine learning elements within Google’s core algorithm are increasingly rewarding pages with high user engagement.

Basically, Google wants to find unicorns – pages that have extraordinary user engagement metrics like organic search click-through rate (CTR), dwell time, bounce rate, and conversion rate – and reward that content with higher organic search rankings.

Happier, more engaged users means better search results, right?

So, essentially, machine learning is Google’s Unicorn Detector.

Machine Learning & Click-Through Rate

Time on Site Acts as a Proxy for Long Clicks

Time on Site & Organic Traffic (Before RankBrain)

Time on Site & Organic Traffic (After RankBrain)

Does Longer Dwell Time = Higher Search Rankings?

A Few Caveats on the Data

What Does It All Mean?

This report is basically your donkey detector. It will show you the content that could be most vulnerable for future incremental traffic and search rankings losses from Google.

That’s how machine learning works. Machine learning doesn’t eliminate all your traffic overnight (like a Panda or Penguin). It’s gradual.

What should you do if you have a lot of donkey content?

Prioritize the pages that are most at risk – those that are below average or near average. If there’s not a really good reason for those pages to have below average time on site, put these at top of your list for rewriting or fixing up so they align better with user intent.

Now go look at your own data and see if you agree that time-on-site plays a role in your organic search rankings.

Don’t just take my word for it. Go look run your own reports and let me know what you find.

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