Bounce rates are online marketing killers. You might be radically successful in your inbound marketing strategy, funneling thousands of visitors to your site through search engine, social, and referral traffic, but if your bounce rates are too high, that traffic won’t mean anything. If you want your users to stick around long enough to convert or at least learn a thing or two about your company, you’ll have to get those bounce rates down and keep your users engaged.
If you have a high bounce rate then something’s wrong. Visitors either:
1) weren’t looking for what you have to offer (so you need to work on more targeted traffic),
2) aren’t finding what they’re looking for easily enough, or
3) were repelled by something before they even took the time to investigate.
Ultimately, this means two things:
You can find out what your bounce rate is by using Google Analytics or any number of other analytical services (like Piwik). If you use Google Analytics, then your bounce rate turns up right in the middle of the dashboard the minute you log in:
Design & Content
If your site has a simple, thoughtful design that’s easy on the eyes and simple to navigate, the next thing to consider is the quality of your content. Is it interesting? Does it solve people’s problems or give them what they’re looking for?
Don’t write technical jargon unless you’re a B2B company with customers that live and breathe that kind of stuff. To stand out from the crowd, give your content some personality.
You only have a few seconds to get visitors’ attention because if you don’t, they’ll hit the back button and move on to the next site (one that belongs to a competitor).
Guide Readers to Other Content
In every piece of content you publish on your site, you should include links to pages or posts elsewhere on your site. Don’t put in dozens of links, but include a few, at least — depending on the length of the text you’re publishing.
If people are taking the time to read, then they’ll likely be interested in following those links to other relevant content on your site — which keeps them on your site longer and reduces your bounce rate.
At the end of each page, include a few links to related posts. This is easy to do with WordPress. I’m not familiar with other platforms, but I’m sure they have something to accomplish this, too.
You can use plugins that will automatically link other posts based on tags or other criteria that you choose. Some of them will also include thumbnail images, which is great if you have a lot of images as well (for example, a photography site, or lots of products to showcase).
Here are a few you can consider using:
WP-Thumbie — Displays related posts with thumbnails. You can choose to exclude certain pages or categories.
nrelate — This one’s easy to set up. You can activate and run it as is, or, if you prefer, you can use different options to display posts exactly how you need them. There are several different looks to this one, too. A few are shown here, but go to the page to view all the different looks you can choose from.
Bounce Rate and Rankings
I mentioned at the beginning that your bounce rate can affect your rankings. Notice that I said “can” and not “definitely will.” While SEO professionals have suspected for some time that Google uses bounce rate as a factor in how high your site ranks, more recently it’s become open to debate rather than an accepted fact.
Is it good to have a low bounce rate?
Having a low bounce rate is generally considered good, because it means visitors spend more time on your website and consume more content, which usually means your content is interesting or compelling, and often leads to a higher conversion rate.
Is it bad to have a high bounce rate?
Having a high bounce rate is really neither good nor bad. In some cases, it could mean that a visitor found your website, didn’t find what they were looking for, and immediately left. In others, it could mean that your site provided a clear and concise answer or the information the user was looking for, and there was no longer any need to remain on your website (in which case, you did a good job of providing information to the user, and your high bounce rate does not reflect anything negative).
Does bounce rate affect search engine rankings?
Through the years, bounce rate has been labeled by many as a metric used in Google’s search engine ranking algorithm. However, for the last 2 years, Google has flat-out denied that bounce rate has any weight in the ranking algorithm. Here’s Matt Cutts answering the question:
A, from San Francisco asks: “Are stats from Analytics (bounce rate, time on site) a factor in a page’s or domain’s ranking?”
“Google Analytics is not used in search quality in any way for our rankings.”
In Seattle, Matt Cutts was specifically asked by Danny Sullivan whether bounce rate is considered in the ranking algorithm.
“We do not use Google Analytics in their rankings. Bounce rate from the search results is noisy; there are redirects, spam, etc.”
While this information may be a bit dated, nothing has come forward that definitively rejects this notion yet.
How do I figure out my website’s bounce rate?
If you have Google Analytics installed on your site, you can easily determine your website’s bounce rate. There are other analytics tools for determining on-site analytics as well, but Google Analytics is a free solution which is a good starting point if you aren’t currently tracking any analytics data.
Unfortunately, lowering bounce rates isn’t always a straightforward process. It often includes major SEO design changes that are more appealing to the eye or more inviting to the user, but not all business owners have the means or desire to experiment with such design changes. As an alternative, you can use one of these design-free strategies to decrease your bounce rate:
The first strategy you can use is also one of the easiest, though it might take some time for you to get your existing website up to speed. The process of interlinking web pages involves tightly connecting the internal pages of your website together through hyperlinks, usually embedded in your page text. Interlinking accomplishes two goals: first, it gives users something to do by giving them a chance to venture further into the site, and second, it makes your internal pages easier to stumble upon because each page can be accessed in a fewer number of clicks. It also makes your site easier for search robots to understand, which can improve your domain authority.
Who is your audience? If you can’t answer that question, or you answered that question with “everyone,” you’ll be in serious need of adjusting your written voice.
Your internal pages need to speak directly to your target demographic, and your target demographic needs to be as specific as possible if you want to minimize the chances of someone leaving.
For example, if your target market is highly experienced marketers and you explain basic marketing concepts in simplistic terms, you could easily alienate your users and cause them to leave your site.
SEO best practices demand that there be an ample amount of written content on your site, across all your internal pages. Unfortunately, some business owners misinterpret this to mean that the more content you have, the better.
If you’re trying to lower your bounce rates, you have to focus on quality over quantity. It’s true that having more scannable text on your site can oftentimes make you appear more authoritative, but only when your material is well-written.
Fluffy content or content stuffed with keywords is only going to irritate your users; if you want them to stick around, you need to reduce your message to the smallest possible space.
Make sure your on-page content adequately reflects the purpose of your page. If you have a page called “Services,” but instead, you talk more about your capabilities, you might feel like you’re capturing the intentions of your page, but you’re actually diverging from what your customers will expect. Do a thorough audit of your current site structure, including how your content engages your users on each individual page. Are you giving your users exactly what they expect to find? If not, you can be assured a large portion of your users are going to leave.
Another way to keep your users on your site for as long as possible involves increasing the value of each of your internal pages. You might have content, images, insights, facts, or something entertaining on your page, but is it truly valuable to your customer, or is it just filler to round out your web space? The easiest way to do this in a web format is to provide valuable information, but at the same time you have to understand what information is most valuable to your users, and deliver on that.
Oftentimes, users will bounce from a site simply because they don’t have anywhere else to go. They feel like they’ve reached the end of the road, so to speak, and will exit to move on to their next destination.
In order to prevent this loss by apathy, you’ll have to direct your users through action-based language, or immediate calls to action. For example, at the bottom of one of your pages, you could lead into another with a phrase like “for more information on this, please see our page on…”
Doing so gives your customers motivation and direction to venture further into the site.
Simplifying your sitemap can work wonders for your bounce rates. Complicated navigations are one of the biggest contributors to user dissatisfaction, but if you can streamline your site structure and give your users a very clear path to any desired destination, you’ll instantly eliminate the problem. If you’re concerned about how your sitemap and navigation appeal to your target audience, enlist the help of some user testing to get a clearer picture.
Many changes to your site that can decrease bounce rates have to do with the design and structure of your site, including its layout and navigation, but there are simpler strategies that can be applied to your content writing techniques to get you similar results.
One of the most valuable tools in your arsenal will be internal linking. When you write the content for a new blog post or new page on your website, look for opportunities to add hyperlinks to other pages when relevant. For example, if you’re writing an article on a specific type of hat, you could link to the product page for that specific hat, or a general category page that introduces hats which contains more information about the line. These links, when used appropriately, will attract people to venture deeper into your site to keep learning new information, giving you more opportunities to convert.
As an added bonus, the increased interlinking throughout your site will be beneficial for your search rankings—Google favors sites with heavily linked interior pages.
Stronger headlines can also decrease your bounce rate, and that goes for sub-headers in the body of your copy as well. First, “stronger” doesn’t necessarily mean more likely to attract a click—more importantly, it means more accurate and more compelling. Users who click on a link should be excited for what comes next, and that excitement needs to be fulfilled with your on-page content. If you do not meet their expectations, they will probably leave. Further headings down the page should keep your users interested in reading more, drawing them down the article bit by bit.
Plain content doesn’t engage a user nearly as much as interactive content. Studies show that just including a picture alongside an article can increase traffic and interest in an article, and if people are more interested in what they’re reading, they’re less likely to leave. Embed a video, incorporate pictures or infographics into the body of your content, and do whatever you can to use a diverse range of mediums throughout your site. It gives more options to your audience, some of whom might prefer plain written content while others might prefer watching a short video. The more options you have for your users, the more of them will stay.
Concise content is a no-brainer for increasing bounce rates. Since your goal here is to keep users on your site for as long as possible, it might be tempting to write longer articles as a result. However, length is not nearly as important as conciseness. A concise 300-word article can contain just as much valuable information as a fluff-driven 1200-word article. The more concise your content is, the more value your user will see per page on your site, and that’s going to draw them in deeper.
One option you can use to decrease your overall bounce rate involves the creation of new pages in the form of specific landing pages that cater to your core demographics and sources of traffic. For example, you could create a landing page that speaks directly to people who found you on Facebook, or those who specifically found you via a paid link on another site. You want to make a perfect first impression or else your initial traffic will simply leave, so take the time to understand the segments of your audience and cater to them personally.
Meta descriptions are the short snippets that appear under their corresponding link in major search engines. As such, they’re usually responsible for determining whether a user clicks on the link, and why they chose to click it. If your meta description is appealing enough to attract clicks, but it isn’t relevant enough to your content, users will leave your site the moment they discover this. If it’s accurate, but not compelling, they won’t even click in the first place. Your goal should be to create meta descriptions that set accurate expectations about your content, but are still dynamic enough to entice new visitors.
White space is easy on the eyes—it’s a principle of design, but it can also be harnessed with the shape and style of your content. If you keep all your paragraphs long and bunched up together, you’ll run the risk of tiring your audience’s eyes, or worse, leaving them with a bad impression of your site. Instead, break up your articles into sections with clear, distinct subheadings, and use bulleted lists whenever possible to cut through the bulkiness of your content.
It’s also a good idea to eliminate any distractions that you can. While integrated forms of media are beneficial to an inbound audience, obnoxious ads can sometimes deter them. Keep your ads subtle and off to the side whenever possible.
Fighting against bounced visitors can be a long, difficult battle, but as you make iterative progress, you’ll start seeing higher levels of user engagement, and of course, more conversions.
Fortunately, you don’t have to make a massive investment or completely overhaul the architecture of your site to accomplish this. You can reduce your site’s bounce rates with cumulative, non-intensive tweaks:
Your first job is to make sure the users who visit your site have a reason to be there. It makes sense that if a user isn’t interested in what you have to offer, he/she will leave almost immediately. Accordingly, you’ll need to ensure all your page titles, meta descriptions, and offsite brand associations are all aligned with your actual purpose—that means no optimizing for keywords. Instead, focus on highlighting who you are and what you do best. The rest should take care of itself.
Your onsite content needs to be readable—we’re talking a middle school reading level vocabulary and a conversational tone—or you’ll alienate the majority of your users. It also needs to be specific, telling users exactly what they need to know as early as possible in each respective piece. The entertaining factor also can’t be underestimated—create a vibe that keeps your visitors reading. These content qualities should extend throughout your entire site—not just your blog.
There are probably a handful of key pages you want your customers to visit, such as a sales page for an e-commerce platform, a contact page for a B2B company, or a blog for a heavily invested content marketers. Your goal should be to make these important, informative pages as prominent as possible both in your site’s overall navigation and internally, with frequent callouts.
Minimalism is underrated when it comes to web design. It might be tempting to load up your website with “helpful” materials, such as a prominent, well-described search bar, a list of popular posts, advertising, and baroque designs to fill in the gaps, but realistically, the less you include the better. Minimalistic designs keep users focused, and help prevent them from leaving your site altogether.
The speed of your site is important—some users will leave immediately if a site doesn’t load in the first several seconds of the attempt to access it. Reducing your load times, however you can, is essential. Lower your image sizes, streamline your design, eliminate any hosting issues, and keep your information cached and clear. This is especially important for mobile users.
Keep the pages of your site tightly interlinked. Each page of your site should link to at least one other page, and every page should have multiple links pointing to it from other pages of your site. This will keep your users venturing deeper and deeper into your world, and as a pleasant side effect, this process can also increase your search ranking. Sites with tightly connected page networks tend to have higher domain authorities.
If you find your users are dropping off at a certain point, try directing them to new areas with visual cues or verbal instructions with content. For example, you could include an arrow that points to a subsequent page, or include text in your article that tells users to “read more about it here.” This will naturally lead them to remain onsite.
Your bounce rate could stem from your content speaking too generally about a topic or about your industry. You have a specific target demographic, so do everything you can to target that group in your writing, design, and offers. If you’re unsure how to do that, conduct more market research and user surveys to guide your improvements.
Onsite search bars are easy to install, no matter what type of site architecture you use. This will help your users find exactly the information they’re looking for, and will prevent bounces that occur out of frustration or the inability to find meaningful content.
Throughout your content, you will probably encounter opportunities to link to external sources, which can be good for building your credibility as a source. Make sure those links open up in a new window; otherwise, anybody who clicks on them will constitute a departure from your site.
As I’ve mentioned, the best way to prevent someone from leaving your site is to attract them deeper into your site. In order to do that, you’re going to need strong calls to action. Instead of merely posting a link and hoping for the best, wrap your link in a compelling phrase that emphasizes the value of the page to come. Motivate your users with action-based language, and make the venture to your other pages seem worth the extra effort.
If you want to keep your bounce rates as low as possible, you’ll need to commit yourself to nurturing your site. It’s highly unlikely that your first round of changes are going to instantly solve your problem; instead, you’ll need to monitor the effects your changes have, analyze which changes have had the greatest impact, and revise accordingly.
As you learn more about how your users are using your site and what’s important to them, you’ll be able to make an educated guess about which new features will excite them or which current features are frustrating them. As such, optimizing for lower bounce rates is an effort in knowing your customer as much as it is an art of website development. Read into user behavior metrics in Google Analytics, conduct user surveys regularly, and don’t be afraid to experiment. The more you learn, the better you’ll get, and the fewer bounces you’ll have to deal with.