Marketers have always tried to understand customers’ perceptions of brands. While perception may not seem itself useful, quantifying perception has great value. With that intangible quantified, you can see the relative differences between brands on specific attributes. For instance, there are so many different hotel booking websites out there, but which is considered cheaper in terms of price?
Having this insight can inform your actions. For example, if a hotel booking website is perceived to be pricey compared to other sites, then it might be a good time to roll-out a competitive pricing structure or start a promotional campaign to change that perception (assuming price is the core competitive attribute of the industry that leads to more profit).
It is generally quite difficult to obtain relevant customer perception data. Market research is the main channel, but it requires significant effort and resources. Today, let’s leverage search engines to glean information on customers’ perceptions based on their website dwell times.
Dwell time is a key indicator of brand perception
Imagine 2 websites that have similar levels of SEO, DA/PA, and all the best practices are implemented. It becomes incredibly difficult for the search engine to judge which should rank better. This is because search engines never really experience the webpage.
Therefore, an important ranking factor is dwell time. Dwell time is a measurement of how long a user interacts with a webpage. This factor completely fulfills what search engines lack: the actual experience! It directly reflects how users behave on a webpage according to a search query. In simple terms, it tells the search engine what users think of the page. The longer they stay, the better it is.
An analogy: you’re at the store and you’re asked to pick between two books, both with excellent authors and content. It may be insufficient to judge by author or content alone. But if you look around and observe which book people are more engaged with, then it becomes obvious as users won’t fake their behaviors.
Search engines use dwell time as a factor for ranking results. We can observe the rankings to characterize perception in two steps: 1) search and record the top 10 ranking sites; and 2) interpret the results and limitations.
Search and record the top 10 ranking sites
We know that dwell time is a critical ranking factor for websites with similar levels of SEO. Now, we can start gleaning data from search rankings. For instance, going back to the first example, I would like to know which hotel booking website users spend the most time on and perceive as cheaper or less pricey.
We can enter search queries like “cheap hotel booking,” “inexpensive hotel booking,” or “book budget hotels.” The more close-variants we have (I suggest more than 100 with solid search volume), the better your results will be.
If you look at the results pages, you will see a lot of homepages of popular websites. This is normal, as we are asking the search engine to rank queries that are not really related to content, but rather theme, and almost all the websites have a similar level of SEO. Then, we can record the top 10 ranking websites from each search query.
Basically, what we are doing here is asking the search engines to rank pages for us on similar SEO-competitive websites such that dwell time (or user behavior) has the highest influence on rankings.
Interpret the results and limitations
What do we get from the list of keywords “cheap hotel booking” and the rankings? We know which website most users perceive as cheap!
This is because they probably have spent the most time on the website that ranks highest on average for “cheap” queries.
If they did not think that the webpage matched the “cheap” queries, then they would have left the page right away.
Dwell time might not fully reflect users’ perception, but it is strong behavioral evidence of how users think about the brand for specific queries.
To improve your dwell time, focus on creating engaging and informative content that communicates the perception you want to convey about your brand and, most importantly, meets your users’ needs efficiently.