Bounce Rates – Are You On The Ball?

Google analytics is possibly the one tool you wouldn’t want to be stranded on an internet desert island without. Collectively they offer a concise picture of what visitors are doing on your site, from length of visit to which pages and keywords are most popular.

One analytic that generates much conversation with my clients is the bounce rate. Google defines bounce rate as the percentage of visitors that leave a site without having moved from the page they landed on. To paraphrase, they came, they saw, and they left. In theory at least, because they found what they were looking for. A low number logically would be the target.

There is an element of self-interest here. Google wants your search to be successful, and figures that if you go from the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) to a webpage, stay there a while, and don’t return to the SERP, then you must have found what you wanted.

Why this matters to Google is because while they like being helpful, they like even more to make money. And they do this by being seen as the best place to search, because then you might be encouraged to take out advertising with them, aka Google Adwords.

Many people mistakenly believe that the bounce rate measures how attractive their website is to visitors, but really there are many more factors at play than how pretty it may appear. Remember, the spiders that trawl the web are blind to your dazzling pictures (that’s why you should have alternate text on that photo), and really have no idea that blue and green should never be seen together.

What they do ‘see’ is text, and what they want to ‘see’ even more is relevance. And this is where the confusion can set in. Say you have a simple reference site, with three pages. A mummy page, a daddy..oh wait, that’s for another blog.

So, a simple reference site. Three pages. One of these is a contact page, one an ‘about us’ page, and the other has the meat and potatoes. Not surprisingly, your keywords have traffic landing on the latter page, and because the visitor finds what they want there, they probably exit from that page too. The result – a high bounce rate, because a high percentage of visitors didn’t need to move on to the other two pages.

Should the owner of this site be concerned? Probably not, because the site has fulfilled its purpose, to be seen as a good reference point for the visitor. The number of people coming to the site is more likely to be the hot topic for this client.

But what if this were a commercial site? The client wants to make sales, or get leads at least. They see the meat and potatoes as an entree to their just desserts for having a website. In this case, people not going through to the contact page is a disaster, and a high bounce rate would be a key indicator that the meat and potatoes page needs a tasty to call to action.

Of course, if the site contains many more pages, then other factors will come into play, in particular what keywords are delivering people to the specific pages. Relevance as always is vital, but so to is ease of navigation, speed on site, and layout of the pages. If your website is visually unappealing, amateurish or just plain difficult to comprehend at a glance, then it is likely your bounce rate will climb.

If you do find your bounce rate sitting stubbornly above 50% and would like to get it down, then you may care to consider these potential fixes:

1. How are people finding their way to your site? If search engines are the biggest source, test the keywords that are delivering the traffic. Are they leading people to the correct pages, and are they the right terms for which you want to be found.

2. Are there too many words on the page for what you want to say? Content is king, but time is precious and searchers are invariably in a hurry. A page full of text on a commercial site with no obvious lead will quickly be bounced. Even trade and reference sites need to be mindful of the amount of content they are displaying. A good designer can help you, like the ones here. (Note: blatant plug for Snap South Brisbane)

3. Consider a Search Engine Marketing strategy, perhaps with a Pay Per Click campaign while you get your Search Engine Optimisation back in order. A properly targeted campaign should help to lower your bounce rate, and lead to a better conversion ratio.

As with all things web, be patient while undertaking any alterations. Wholesale changes done quickly can be risky to your rankings too. Try making small changes to one or two pages and compare the results. Finally always keep in mind that your website should be an integral part of your marketing strategy, not all of it.

Having your website properly designed, with good SEO and a clear objective of what success should look like will soon have you bouncing back in the right direction.

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About Jeff Polley

I'm interested in life and making the most of it. I have a fondness for good coffee and scintillating conversation. I don't act my age. For more you can follow me on Twitter - @xmpieman
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