SEO- Does Bounce Rate Really Matter?

By | April 22, 2010

A lot of people talk about Bounce Rate and what it has to do with SEO, if anything. Bounce rate is one of the most questioned aspects of Google’s algorithm. In this little article I’ll explain exactly what a “bounce” is, how to make your site get less “bounces”, and how the bounce rate of a site affects its rankings in Google.

A “Bounce” is defined by Wikipedia as:
A bounce occurs when a web site visitor only views a single page on a website, that is, the visitor leaves a site without visiting any other pages before a specified session-timeout occurs. There is no industry-standard minimum or maximum time by which a visitor must leave in order for a bounce to occur. Rather, this is determined by the session timeout of the analytics tracking software.

For example, let’s imagine you have a website that sells Red Mouse Pads. You used awesome title tags on your products and you’re starting to get some Google traffic. Joe User searches on Google for “Red Mouse” and your website comes up and he clicks on your site. What are the chances you get a bounce? Your chances are probably pretty high because Joe User was looking for a Red Mouse and your site is displaying a Red Mouse Pad – (a related, but very different product). You have a hit from google, but it’s not a high quality hit. Joe User is likely to see instantly that you’re offering a Red Mouse Pad and not a Red Mouse and, because this isn’t what he is looking for, he will probably hit the back button and click on another result in the Google search. This is a perfect example of a “Bounce” and Google is watching. The higher your bounce rate, the lower your site will ultimately rank!

One might ask, “Why are bounces bad? It’s not my fault Google returned my page in error!” Well, it is and it isn’t. Its true that having a 0% bounce rate is impossible, but you need to strive for as few false positives (according to Google) as possible. To answer the question as to why bounces are bad you have to think like Google. Google is dedicated to providing high quality search results for keywords. Never forget this because if you want to succeed with SEO you need to get into the mind of the Google Engineers. To address the issue of your site being erroneously returned in a Google result is exactly why Google takes bounce rate into consideration! Google didn’t return a good result and Joe User isn’t happy with what he saw and immediately left. Google takes this into consideration and knows that your site shouldn’t be displayed as high as it was and Google will make the necessary adjustments for future users. It makes perfect sense.

Because Bounces are generally bad, you might want to work on getting as few bounces as possible. The scenario described above is quite common and it could be one of the reasons your site was, at some point, ranking well and now doesn’t. It’s important to keep users that hit your page for a keyword ON your landing page for that keyword. So, if you are competing for the keyword “Red Mouse Pad” you want to make sure you have a page that is dedicated to red mouse pads so that Joe User finds what he is looking for when he clicks on your site from a Google keyword search. If we use the example above of Joe User searching for a Red Mouse and finding your Red Mouse Pad, another smart thing to do is to list possible close matches on your Red Mouse Pad page that might even list a Red Mouse. This converts a likely bounce to a potential buyer! There are also other things you can do like CTA (Call to Action) buttons that flash and grab a searcher’s attention. This might cause the Joe User to click on your “Specials” button or “10% discount” button. This also converts a possible bounce to at least a solid “hit” from google.

There is really no sense in worrying about bounce rate until almost every other aspect of SEO has been addressed. However, if you’re seeing yourself stuck in a ranking on the FIRST page of Google and you have exhausted most other possibilities, it could be that your bounce rate is simply too high. Another good clue that your bounce rate might be too high is if you are ranking in the top 3 (in Google) for a keyword and you keep dropping down to 8-9 then going back up to 3-4. This is a sign that you’re having a problem with keeping visitors on your website for keyword searches. For sites that don’t already rank well in Google, there are tons of other SEO ideas that need to be addressed before bounce rate.

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