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Dwell Time, Short Click Data and Creativity

Updated on February 2, 2012

I previously discussed why dwell time is more important to search engines that bounce rate. A bounce in itself does not indicate that a page was useful or not, whether it was helpful or not or whether it met with user expectations. Dwell time on the other hand measures how long a visitor interacts with your website and infers that a page bounce with a short dwell time is failing to meet the needs of a visitor in some way.

Dwell time is useful to search engines in many ways, however, I want to concentrate on one aspect known as short click data. Short click data refers to bounces or exits with a short dwell time. Understanding how search engines interpret short click data and how they put to use underpins many of the techniques designed to increase the time visitors interact with your content.

Consider this:

  1. When you type a search into Google a dialog opens up offering predictions based on what you enter into the search box.
  2. If your PPC ads fail to connect with people that are guided to your landing pages your quality score will drop and the price you pay for your ads will rise.
  3. The Google keywords tool is a great place to find related keywords.

Three seemingly disparate pieces of information perhaps, but without short click data none of this functionality would be possible.
Interpreting Short Click Data

The most obvious signal that short click data provides search engines is that a page does not meet with the users expectations or fulfill their needs. It’s common practice to quickly and frequently bounce back to a search engine in order to view other pages or refine your search term. As you bounce back and forth between the search results and webpages, search engines are analyzing the short click data you provide including the refinements to your search query.

In effect, short click data tells search engines that a page is not relevant for a specific term and at the same time provides information about related keyphrases. This information helps seed automated search predictions that appear as you type into search engines and keyword tools.

Skim Reading Above The Fold

Skim Reading. I do it, you do it and visitors to your pages do it. No one has the time or inclination to read every word on every page they visit. This makes searching and finding useful information online a process of elimination. If your pages do not immediately communicate to a visitor that they are in the right place, that you have the information that they need, you will quickly become another short click statistic.

This means that content appearing above the fold must immediately grab the attention of the reader. If you are rewriting hubs in attempt to regain traffic, pay particular attention to the title and the first paragraph. Search engines tend to view content closer to the top of the page as more important than content further down the page. Although it makes good sense to use your main keyword in both the title and the first paragraph this isn’t a legitimate excuse for keyword stuffing.

Whether you are promoting a product or offering information users want to know very quickly what’s to be gained by more than a cursory glance at your page. So tell them right up front, don’t be cryptic or obtuse and don’t try to be clever, just tell the reader in plain and concise language what’s in it for them.

The Reverse Pyramid

The reverse Pyramid is a journalistic device for writing news stories. When a journalist writes a news article the most important and most relevant information is placed at the beginning of the piece. If you were telling a joke it would be similar to starting with the punch line and filling in the details later. By putting the most pertinent information first i.e. the main benefits and the take away, you grab the attention of the reader.


AIDA is an acronym of Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. AIDA has been successfully used in the world of marketing for a considerable time as a guide to creating effective print, radio and TV adverts. It is essentially a list of states or emotions that a potential customer will go through prior to taking an action or buying a product.

  • Attention (Awareness): attract the attention of the customer.
  • Interest: raise customer interest by focusing on and demonstrating advantages and benefits (instead of focusing on features, as in traditional advertising).
  • Desire: convince customers that they want and desire the product or service and that it will satisfy their needs.
  • Action: lead customers towards taking action and/or purchasing.

Source Wikipedia

Although the Reverse Pyramid and AIDA were around long before the internet was conceived, it makes sense to keep their principles at the back of your mind when writing.

Keyword Research

Keyword research is important, it tells you what your target audience is searching for and the words and phrases they use to find it. However, most people write to those keywords without trying to understand the intent behind them or the inner dialog of the person typing them.


The reverse pyramid, AIDA and keyword research are effective techniques especially if you write commercial or sales hubs. That doesn’t mean that a poorly written or poorly laid out article will gain any benefit. First and foremost there has to be an interest in the subject matter of your article, it has to be objective, usable and accessible.

Reading from a monitor is 25% slower than reading from normal print, comprehension is also lowered by about 25%. Keep paragraphs short, stick to one idea per paragraph and use the simplest language possible. Once completed, read the article out loud to make sure the words flow fluently.


All of this might seem to some as stifling creativity in the name of technology. The problem is search engines evaluate and score documents based on computer algorithms. In an ideal world this wouldn’t be the case and the cream would automatically rise to the top. The trick is to remain creative despite the demands search engines place on us.


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