If you were to create your own Google algorithm for ranking sites, you might come up with all kinds of reasons to rank sites higher than others. So, imagine for a day that you had the power to create your own ranking formula…what sort of factors would you include?
As I personally think of this question, its seems intuitive that one factor to include in my formula would be to rank sites higher if people spent a lot of time on them. Doesn't that seem to make sense?
If people are spending a long time on your website, that must mean that they are reading, learning, or otherwise enjoying the content that is there. So, I personally believe that the metric of time on site is a good way to know if people find the content on your site valuable – and hence should be ranked higher.
But the real question is: How important is time on site (Really) for ranking in Google? Does Google actually use this metric currently to rank sites higher or lower?
Bounce Rate vs. Time on Site
To be completely forthright, Google has never stated whether or not they use Visitor Time (or time on site) as a ranking factor. But Matt Cutts has explicitly said that they do NOT use Bounce rate as a ranking factor.
But bounce rate is not the same thing as the amount of time a visitor spends on your site. Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors that leave your site after only viewing one page. Notice that time is not a factor in bounce rate at all.
So, a visitor could come to your site and spend 3 hours reading just one page, but if they click back to Google without viewing a second page on your site, this is considered a bounce. So, while they've explicitly said that bounce rate is not used, there is no official word on average visitor duration.
However, as others have said, controlling your bounce rate is still very important.
My Take on the Importance of Time on Site
I personally think that its very important to keep visitors on your site for a long time and likely is part of the Google ranking algorithm. But I don't think Google is spying on your Google Analytics. (I know that other feel differently about this).
Most likely they simply look at how long it takes someone to come back to Google after they click through to your site. This is referred to as “Dwell Time”, according to a few SEOs. Dwell time is basically how long it takes a user to come back to Google after looking at a site. And they don't need to see your “Analytics” to get this number.
If users are quickly coming back to Google every time they land on your website, Google might start thinking that your site isn't worth ranking.
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What is a Good Time on Site?
I can give you some stats from my own sites, but the average visitor duration is going to be very different depending on the type, quality, and subject matter of the site you own.
- The “average visit duration” for my site NichePursuits.com, according to Google Analytics, is 3 minutes and 58 seconds. This is a long time for an average visit duration.
- My survival knife site (from my public niche site project here) has an average visit duration of 2 minutes and 36 seconds. This is also very good for a small niche site.
- I think anything over 2 minutes is actually very good for a niche site.
- Between 45 seconds to 2 minutes is perhaps average for a niche site.
- Under 30 seconds is really bad.
These are just some general numbers I put together looking over a few of my own niche sites that I own.
While it has never been stated explicitly by Google that they use Time on site to rank sites, I personally believe that this does come into play for SEO purposes. Google knows how quickly users are coming back to Google after visiting your site, and can use that data.
So, in addition to the many factors that I've discussed for how to rank in Google, you should certainly do what you can to increase the amount of time visitors are spending on your site.
Do you have something to add to the discussion? I'd love to hear your comments or questions below!