Bounce rate is one of those SEO factors I like to think of as a silent killer. As a web user, I typically perform a search and open several tabs out of the results. Sometimes, my question is answered in the first tab I open, which means I close the other tabs more or less without looking at them. Other times, I close the first few tabs before I find the answer I’m looking for.
This means one query results in as many as half a dozen clicks to various websites. I rarely spend much time on any given site, and it means traditional analytics record bounces for most of my visits, even if I’m pleased with what I’ve seen.
This means that bounce rate is often thought of as semi-benign. There are posts written about the “good” side of a high bounce rate; i.e. that it means you’re answering the questions your users ask, leaving them satisfied. This, of course, doesn’t address the fact that your site doesn’t hook them and keep them around.
In any case, bounce rate is a highly visible metric that’s far more damaging than it seems. This is because of a convergence of factors. On one hand, you have people explaining how a high bounce rate isn’t all bad. On the other hand, you have people dedicating far too much time to fixing a high bounce rate, to the exclusion of other, more beneficial changes. It all means that bounce rate is poorly understood, as are the means to fix it.
With that in mind, here are six ways you can decrease your bounce rate in a good way, which boosts your customer retention and consequently your Google ranking.
You’ve experienced it, I’ve experienced it, we’ve all seen it happen; we click a link to a promising-looking result on Google only to see the tab go to blank white and the loading bar swirl its little swirl. You wait, you wait, and you decide the page is taking too long to load. You click back and check out another site on the list.
What most people don’t realize is that the amount of time the typical web user spends waiting is actually three seconds. If your site takes longer than that, we bounce. In fact, at four seconds to load, your bounce rate is double what it would be. At eight or more, it’s 150% what it would be.
How can you speed up your site? The possibilities are endless. Prune down the code. Remove scripts and plugins. Streamline the plugins you do use. Don’t autoplay media. Load content, particularly media, asynchronously. Use a cloud content distribution network.
This point has been harped on again and again recently. If you don’t have a mobile site, stop what you’re doing and go make one. There is literally no other change you could possibly make that would have as big an effect on your metrics as mobile compatibility, unless your site is completely broken.
Mobile browsers outnumber web browsers in general, and with local business searches, local is a drastically higher percentage of the market. What’s more, Google recently rolled out a mobile-friendly tag for mobile search results, that will definitely have an impact in the coming months.
How do you make yourself mobile friendly? The best way is through responsive design. There are a few services that will convert your current site to a responsive design, but if your site is older than a few years, you might have legacy code that needs updating, making a redesign an easier route to take.
A profusion of advertising is a problem in many ways. Bounce rate is one. Google also hates it because it makes your site look spammy, like you’ve made the site to make money simply on volume of traffic and ad exposures rather than real value. Users hate it because the site looks cluttered and messy, or because your ads look too much like content and they’re tired of being duped.
If you’re anywhere near a 35% or higher saturation of ads on your page, you have too many. Cut out the worst performing ads, move your best ads to better positions, and cut out ads that are irrelevant to your audience.
Speaking of relevance, it’s a common issue where a page might be ranking for a keyword that’s actually tertiary to its primary purpose. It’s harder to see this than you might expect, primarily because Google killed the keyword referral reports webmasters used to rely on. Now, if you want to see what users are searching when they find your site, you need to use the Search Queries report. This shows you some idea of what users are typing in when they come to find your page.
If you discover that people are searching your page for content you don’t have, you have two options, and you should probably take them both.
First, create new content that suits the queries users are making. This will allow your better pages to outrank your irrelevant pages, in a niche that’s clearly empty enough that users can find irrelevant pages on your site before they find real resources.
Second, remove the irrelevant keyword references from your older content, whenever possible. This will adjust Google’s perception of your pages. The pages ranking for bad keywords will drop in visibility, yes, but it should leave room for your new, better pages to get in on the game.
Multiple studies have been performed about the way web users view the web, and the answer is overwhelming; people don’t read what you write, they skim. With this in mind, you need to present your information in a way that is as easy to parse as possible.
What does this mean? Frequent subheadings. Bold key points. Break up content with images. Load your value, don’t beat around the bush. Avoid superfluous vocabulary. Use shorter sentences, and shorter paragraphs. Use bulleted lists.
If you have an extremely high bounce rate – that is, over 90%– you might have a broken analytics installation. This might also be the case if your site has a bounce rate under 10%. Only the most specialized service sites have bounce rates around 10%, and even that is rare.
If nothing else seems to work, or if your bounce rate is insanely high, check your analytics code and make sure it’s well-formed and not broken.
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