When it comes to web analytics, bounce rate (aka when visitors land on your site and then leave) is a lot like a golf score. The lower it is the happier you are. If you have a normal, well-working website your bounce rate should be below 50%. If you are seeing higher bounce rates your site is suffering for two reasons.
Reason 1: Your website should be a lot like a good party–once they come in there’s so much there they never want to leave. A high bounce rate means people are going to your website and abandoning ship without seeing any other content, filling out any forms, or doing anything that makes them stick. In other words, you’re going to all the trouble to host a party or create a website but you’re not actually winning any long-term friends. This makes for a long hard haul on the marketing side.
Reason 2: High bounce rates are also negative because Google uses bounce rate as an indicator of quality (or lack thereof). When people click to a website link and then leave without going anywhere else Google sees that and says, “Ah, that content must not be that useful to the reader. We’ll rank something else higher in its place.” A bounce rate above 50% won’t kill your SEO but it will knock your site down a few notches (especially if your time on site is also low).
So how do you fix your bounce rate? Here are a few ways to keep people on your website longer (thereby making them more likely to become long term readers)
Step 1. Go into Google Analytics and see if your bounce rate is consistent across all of your website or on any particular pages. Usually high bounce rates are a reflection of overall site architecture, but if you’re lucky you’ll find you only have to tempt people to stay on a couple different pages.
Step 2. When you’ve identified the problem pages, take a step back and take time to evaluate. Reapproach your web pages as if you were landing on them for the first time. Ask yourself, dear first-time-visitor-of-your-site:
First, let’s establish a baseline. Does the page in question work? Does it load quickly (aka in fewer than 3 seconds) and does it give people what they expect? Or are there errors? If visitors aren’t getting the experience they want right off the bat they’re going to leave. Make these fixes before moving on to the next steps on this list.
If everything appears to be working, does the first time visitor understand what is going on? This sounds basic but this is a common problem. When we immerse ourselves in the worlds of our websites it’s easy to assume everyone is picking up where we left off. Make sure that no matter what, newcomers feel like they belong. Show them how to grab on and join you for the ride.
Take a look at your outbound links (aka links to other websites). Are there a lot? Do they distract the reader? Are they the first thing you would click if you were a visitor to the site? At one point I had a client who placed their social media links (along with an irresistible call to action) into the header of their website. The client couldn’t figure out why people were abandoning ship, and yet so many people were interacting with her content on Facebook. We looked deeper into Google Analytics and discovered everyone was leaving their website so they could join them on Facebook. We moved the link to the footer, gave people the content they wanted on her website and bam, the improvements were immediate.
Take a look at how people are arriving at your website or this particular set of pages. (You can do this in the Acquisition tab on the left-hand side of Google Analytics.) This doesn’t happen all that often, but in some cases there’s some kind of spammy referral site or bot attack that is sending worthless visitors to your site in droves. If this appears to be the case these bots are probably killing you web maintenance costs as well as hurting your SEO.
Is the content delivering high caliber value your visitors expect? Is what you’ve written clearly an advertisement that your readers can see through like skimpy lingerie? If so, take the time to revamp your content. Dare to deliver the ultimate guide. Give your readers something they can really dig their teeth into and enjoy.
The final (and perhaps most nuanced) fix to a high bounce rate has to do with tending to your marketing funnel. Ikea is the master of marketing funnels. You go in there for lingonberry soda and walk out with a couch, a new desk chair, some plants, a few cute plush toys, a few organizers and who knows what. They’ve done the work to get you into the store and they take full advantage. Ikea guides your every step, bidding you into the promise of a perfect life lived in 543 square feet. Your website should do the same. Before you hit publish, think about why you want the visitor there in the first place. Consider all the ways you can add value to their experience, tempting them with the irresistible. Then nudge them with elegance. Keep them hooked until they’ve given you their email address or opened their wallet. This isn’t just the start of a lower bounce rate, it’s the first step in fostering friendship, fans and customers. When in doubt, always go back to the marketing funnel. Give your readers a clear path and let them slide right through it.
Step 3. Taking time to answer the questions above should provide you with a clear diagnostic view of where there is room for improvement. The next step is to act. Make adjustments to your website based on the conclusions you’ve reached. Unless the results are clear as day and you’re sure you know what you are doing, make small, incremental changes one at a time. This is critical because it allows you to isolate your changes and study what your users are doing more carefully. It also helps keep your branding somewhat consistent if you have return visitors who expect a certain look, feel and experience when they visit your website.
Step 4. Measure the results. This is critical to closing the loop and finishing your work. When you make changes to your site, note them as an annotation in Google Analytics. This is a best practice for all important changes because six months from now when you look at your analytics you can say, “Yes! That traffic spike is because we made this change or landed that opportunity.”
Step 5. Decreasing your bounce rate, like optimizing your website or staying stylish, is work that never ends. Fortunately for us, we love what we do. Reaching people online and really impacting them is a labor of love. We will never, ever give it up.
That should be a good jumping off point (no pun intended) for getting a handle on your website’s bounce rate. If you have any questions or tips feel free to let me know. I am always delighted to help.