Click-through rate is a useful tool for measuring visitor engagement, but a new study reveals that dwell time might be a more effective way to assess the same behavior.

If your goal isn’t just to drive traffic, but to shepherd QUALIFIED visitors to your site, it’s important to look at the right engagement metrics. And while click-through rate is one of the most frequently used numbers, a new paper from Yahoo researchers indicates there’s a different figure that’s a better indicator of whether you’re bringing in the right kinds of visitors who will eventually convert: Dwell time.

Simply put, dwell time refers to the minutes and seconds people spend interacting with site content. The paper, Beyond Clicks: Dwell Time for Personalization, makes the interesting case that while CTR is better than looking at traffic in isolation, it doesn’t paint a completely honest picture of what’s going on. According to the co-authors:

“Users may have clicked on an item by mistake or because of link but are truly not engaged with the content being presented … Thus, it becomes critical to identify signals and metrics that truly capture user satisfaction and optimize these accordingly.”

Tracking how users dwell

So what’s the alternative? Compared to CTR, dwell time has a much smaller margin for error. People who enjoy content and are truly engaged will spend time with it, plain and simple. Unlike CTR, which can be influenced by good headlines masking subpar content, dwell time is more reflective of content itself, rather than the noise surrounding it.

So what kind of content is going to make people dwell the longest? Yahoo’s researchers highlighted:

 Longer articles over 1,000 words
 Video content – news round-ups, how-to guides, etc.
 In-depth topics (politics and science) over less complex ones (food and entertainment)

The best part about dwell time, at least for brands, is that unlike CTR, it actually correlates very highly with return traffic. The more touchpoints there are between a company and prospect, the more likely it is a sale will take place – so brands should be striving to get return traffic to their sites – and keep them there with sticky assets.

Alex Butzbach is a Marketing Writer at Brafton. He studied Communications at Boston College, and after a brief stint teaching English in Japan, he entered the world of content marketing. When he isn't writing and researching, he can be found on a bike somewhere in Metro Boston.