SEO Consultants hear a couple of frequent questions about bounce rates during reporting updates with clients. Those questions are, “Why is our bounce rate so high? and “Is it true that bounce rates have an effect on SEO?”
So let’s first address the simple question, “What is a bounce?” It is defined by Google as, “a session that triggers only a single request”. In other words the visitor left the site after viewing the page without interacting. (Closed the browser window or clicked the browser “Back” button.)
There is nothing which turns that bounce into a timed, valuable visit because the visitor leaves the window open for several minutes (to read an article for example) before closing it or hitting the back button. Only when a visitor clicks a link on the page will analytics know it is not a bounce.
Time on page (aka “Session Duration”) is measured time between arrival and clicking any other link on that page. Sessions are not timed at all by analytics if the visitor doesn’t click another link or take an action that is measured on that page (video view, download a file, fill out a form). No time is measured if no action is taken before clicking the back button or closing the browser.
Now that we understand bounces, ask yourself, “What is on the page with a high bounce rate?” Is it a sentence or two under a photo – or just a graphic button labeled “Buy Now” under a photograph of a product? Can any action be taken on the page other than purchase?
If your bounce rate is high from any particular page, consider adding some rich sales copy or an explainer video if your goal is selling something. Those who aren’t immediately sold by that wonderful photo with the simple caption will, of course, immediately leave.
If the purpose of the photograph or single sentence is entertainment only, then you’ve probably accomplished your goal. You’ve made the visitor think, or made them smile or even laugh. Then they leave. (See below for ideas to keep that visitor on your site)
- If your high bounce rate page has longer content such as an article or other long-form content – try rewriting the page headline to better reflect what the page content is about.
- If you run a content site, add a module which provides “Related Content” with links to similar articles to encourage visitors to look at more like the page that initially attracted their interest.
- If your high bounce rate is from ecommerce product detail pages, provide reviews and ratings links to share user opinions from customers.
- Again, from product detail pages, provide links to buying guides or links to pages answering frequently asked questions to encourage further purchase consideration.
- From any high bounce rate page, add video links which go to explainer videos, assembly instruction or product use videos or photos.
- Use exit intent to trigger a “Subscribe” form or a questionnaire which require actions that are measurable events.
In every instance where high bounce rate has been raised by clients, I believe the visitor found exactly what they came for. Because I believe that they got what they expected – there is no reason for concern with the bounce rate. (I must clarify though, that those cases on which I’ve taken that position were informational content pages – not e-commerce pages.)
As a matter of fact, it is very common for there to be popular content pages which have high bounce rates and zero conversions, often among the most popular pages on the site. This highly popular content is usually among the top 25 landing pages from search engines. Popular pages are commonly company blog posts, infographics or well-optimized content addressing highly focused topics.
Let’s return to the second question asked at the top of this discussion: “Is it true that bounce rates have an effect on SEO?” The most authoritative source, Google, says “It depends“. On what? Your Goals for the pages with high bounce rates matter above all.
If the popular page is informational and not transactional consider enabling enhanced link tracking of anchor links which “jump” from one section of a page to another place on the same page. That tracking is essential on one-page sites which are made up entirely of anchor links. However, linking from different areas of the page can trigger measurement of the “session duration” and avoids recorded “bounces”.
Some clients are so concerned with the lack of conversions from popular pages that they propose getting rid of their most popular content! That is a bad (SEO) idea in most cases, because that strong visibility of popular pages can be leveraged to increase relevance and share page authority using internal links.
When popular content with high bounce rates and no conversion exist, link to relevant products (or content), freemium content or subscription pages. Always provide a prominent “Call to Action” for your primary product or service. Offer appropriate downloads or provide videos, which will stop the bounce and record a productive visit.
Your SEO is typically affected on a page-by-page basis, but when SEO is viewed overall for your entire site, a small percentage of pages with high bounce rates are unlikely to have any effect on your overall visibility in search. Often, those high bounce-rate pages are ranked incredibly well if they are among top landing pages from search.
Do your best to convert those visitors to customers. Enjoy the exposure of your business and be content with the bragging rights of having crowd-pleasing content. Those popular (but high bounce rate) pages can only help overall visibility – especially if leveraged as recommended above.