In the physical world, the concept of dwell time is important for advertisers and retailers. It makes sense, the longer someone stays in your store the more products they will see. The longer they stand in front of your screen the more ad impressions your network can deliver. No surprise then that dwell time is like a Game of Thrones episode, the longer the better.


This sentiment is carrying over to digital. Marketers and digital product managers are asking themselves, how can we get people to spend more time on our sites and digital properties? On the surface it makes sense. The more time someone spends browsing products or services, the more interested we can assume them to be. But are we really thinking about the experience? Is increasing dwell time, or in analytics “length of visit,” a good strategy?

Let’s look at the other end of the spectrum, Google. Google is the world’s specialist in reducing the amount of time that people spend on their site. Their main goal is to connect you with information as fast as they can, so that you come back again and again and complete more searches which trigger more ads and opportunities to click those ads. Google’s strategy is to try to reduce their dwell time as much as possible.

Could e-commerce platforms benefit from this strategy? If we look at the giant in the space, Amazon, they are surely persuaded that the Google strategy is the way to go. One-click purchasing is a fantastic example of this. Instead of making a complicated shopping cart/validation/check-out process, they let you buy with one click and then you can leave the site. They are favoring your rapid purchasing over trying to get you to browse through related products and recommendations before checking out. It is identical to the Google strategy since they want you to come back again and again.

And come back you will. Once you know that you can go to Amazon, buy exactly what you want in the span of one minute, you will start to rely on Amazon. This is exactly what led to the development of Amazon Prime, where people were ordering things literally every day so they created a shipping subscription service.

Increasing dwell time can be dangerous for e-commerce platforms. If someone comes to your site with a purpose and the site is not optimized for them to get that one purpose accomplished, people will abandon their mission out of frustration, not understanding, or distraction. Attention is so precious today why risk losing your conversion by giving someone a window to check their Facebook notifications?

To optimize a site, therefore, I recommend trying to reduce the length of visit for conversion visits as much as possible. Here’s what you do:

  • Look at the average length of visit (session duration in GA) for conversion visits. It’s probably going to be much longer than the average length of visit on your site.
  • Then, look at the funnel page by page and ask yourself these questions:
    • Can you identify any steps that might seem superfluous?
    • Are there steps that can be combined?
    • Can the placement of a fast check-out button get people to the confirmation stage directly from the product page?
  • Test different funnel combinations to see how you can reduce your length of visit.

There is always a caveat and in this case, media and content based sites are certainly excluded. In those cases we want visitors to stay on the site as long as possible to generate impressions and clicks for advertisers. But for e-commerce platforms thinking long term is smarter, and long term means bringing customers back again and again.

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