Increase dwell time… PAH!

March 1, 2022
Just stop and think about that statement for a moment, is that really what you mean or want?

Image credit: Universal City Studios, Inc

The Old English origin of the word ‘dwell’ means to hinder, lead astray or delay.
​Is this what you want to do to your users? Hinder them? Lead them astray? Delay them?

Goodness me, I hope not.

Now, let's get into what sentiment is meant by this objective.

Ten years ago, clients used to be obsessed with saying they wanted links to open in a new tab or browser, when we questioned why, they'd state that they wanted to keep the users on their site... "we don't want them visiting our competitors", "we want more ad revenue, so we want more page views, if they've clicked away how can we do that"

Fast forward to today, and the leading businesses’ understanding that they need to put their users’ needs at the centre. Okay, businesses need to make money, so we need to match the user needs with the business needs - the best companies manage to create the balance, find the sweetspot. Too easy is it for businesses to place their own desires ahead of their customers’ wishes, and this will be their downfall - sure they may get short term gains, but in the long-term, customers will see through it and return less frequently.

Let's say you are an ad-funded business. Page views are important to you.

I'd argue, dwell time is NOT.

If you create real value every time your users read your content or have a touch-point with your brand, they will return more often and you created trust and/or value - you will feel safe or valuable to them.

However, if you use tactics to increase the number of times they have to click, try to lock them into your site (luckily people don't tend to use the link in the new tab (target="_blank") method much anymore) you will frankly piss them off.

Which user likes hurdles or barriers or to have their time wasted? Time is one of, if not, the most precious of commodities in our modern lives.

Now of course, businesses operate in commoditised spaces, competition is rife for many companies online. So not only do you have to create compelling content to make your users reach for the navigation bar and type in your URL, but you also have to ensure you are found, enter the complex and constantly changing world of SEO, organic and paid. If you haven't cemented yourself as the one-stop locations your customers get your type of content or product, then you had better make damn sure you're being found ahead of everyone else. Of course, SEO is not the only player in town, some state social media could be just as important (or more important). After all, users are either searching or interacting on the major platforms in our lives: Google, Facebook, Twitter (INSERT YOUR FAVOURITE HERE!).

On our ad-funded business model example, for me it is clear what to focus on:

1. Put the demographics needs top of the agenda

2. Try to balance their needs with the business needs

3. Make content so appealing and valuable, they want to return to the brand, time and again.

4. Make sure the correct content is being found when people are searching.

5. Make sure the business is having conversations with customers on the social media platforms that make sense to the brand.

This article started with dwell time, so I'll return to that.

Surely it is much better that our users read our content, get what they want and leave as quickly as they desire, instead of trying to hang on to them.If they spend 5 seconds getting what they want and we deliver that need, they will return more frequently. However, if we turn that five seconds into two minutes and increase frustration, they will return less frequently.

If any agency says they are going to increase dwell time, challenge them about exactly what they mean and how they are going to do it without annoying your users.

Also, if you are an agency and a client says a KPI or objective is to increase user dwell time, do the same, challenge the notion.

Hopefully I’ve kept this short and to the point - no need to dwell :)

Postscript: There are of course always exceptions to the rule, a website where the idea is to allow the user to explore and discover, or a site with a game or multiple games et cetera. Ensuring the site is exciting enough to warrant them staying for longer in those scenarios makes sense.