Every single time I am asked to do an SEO audit of a website, the FIRST thing I check is the bounce rate. Not keyword rankings. Not traffic. Not anything else.
Because when bounce rate is high, it is a sign that something serious is wrong.
This is an example of a very bad bounce rate.
And the average session duration is very low. This is not a good sign.
Google knows that a very high bounce rate is a bad thing. While this is not one of the major ranking factors right now, all signs point towards the situation changing soon. We will soon see it as a very important factor, especially when mobile traffic will be dominant in the market.
So, a high bounce rate does not drastically hurt SEO rankings. But, it does show there is a problem.
You have to make sure that you reduce bounce rate and you need to solve the problem you identify. Here are the main causes to be aware of, right after a quick explanation of Bounce Rate.
Bounce Rate Explained
Bounce rate is practically a percentage that shows how many visitors leave the site after they see one page on the website.
The average website has a bounce rate between 26% and 70%, according to RocketFuel.
To put it as simple as possible, you should aim for a bounce rate of 26% to 40%, even if a number that goes as high as 70% can still be ok, based on the characteristics of the website.
For instance, when most of your content is of a very high quality and visitors get all the answers they need on one page, bounce rate is normal to be higher. This is only an indicator of a problem if other problems are also present.
So, why is bounce rate high? The really common reasons are presented below, together with an explanation of the bigger problem you should assess.
Pages Load Very Slowly
The current Google ranking algorithm takes site speed into account. This is normal because when content loads slowly, people simply leave.
Right now, Google promotes the content that offers a great user experience. Slow sites ruin that experience.
Unfortunately, it is not at all easy to fix site speed problems. Fortunately, Google PageSpeed Insights tells you what to do and is the only tool an SEO consultant needs to use to figure out something is wrong.
You will not be able to make all modifications unless you are a pretty good web developer. But there will surely be some things that you can change. Make the changes so you can reduce bounce rate and you will quickly get benefits.
Self-Sufficient Page Content
OK. This is not necessarily a problem because it practically means that the visitor gets all he/she wants from a single page. In so many cases, the content created was just awesome. In this case, you also see that the average session duration is high though. In other situations, we talk about a landing page that just includes a short form.
Turn to Analytics to see if this is a problem or not. When you see that the user spends a lot of time on a page, Google sees it too and it is a good sign.
If you see that not much time is spent on the page, you may want to entice the reader. Include some sort of related post plugin or try to add some internal links. There is a pretty good possibility that you did not add them in the first place.
One more thing.
Even if the content is awesome and answers all questions, you should still use internal links and try to get the user to interact with more of your content. This cannot hurt.
Disproportional Bounce Rate Contribution
Analyze the pages on your site and see if there are some that have a very high bounce rate and others that have an excellent bounce rate. When you notice this, it might be simply because some of your pages are very good and others are built in a way that would have a very high bounce rate, like a CTA landing page.
There is nothing wrong with this in the event that the pages that have a high bounce rate satisfy user intent. This practically means that when the page delivers on the promise and does it in a way that does not warrant an extra click to another page, you have nothing to worry about.
Misleading Meta Tags
This is a serious problem. When the content you add to a page does not match the meta description and the title tag, people will leave, and they will leave fast.
I often see this problem when blog or site owners try to use some sort of keyword clickbait tactic. Do not try that! It works for the paparazzi sites because they get most of their traffic from social media. When you want the best possible organic traffic from Google, you should NEVER deceive people.
You only have 2 options:
- You review the content so you can adjust the meta tags.
- You rewrite the content so that search queries are properly addressed.
When you see that bounce rate is very high and people only spend seconds on many pages, there is a very good possibility the pages are blank, do not load properly, or return a 404 error.
Use the Google Search Console and then go to Coverage. The report should look like this:
If it does not look like that and you notice many errors, check the pages. Google can easily perceive this as a huge problem and you would end up with lower rankings.
This is particularly the case when the high bounce rate you see comes from referral traffic. You might be faced with a referring site that sends unqualified visitors. It is also quite common to see anchor text being improperly used.
In rare situations, the referring website actually tries to sabotage you. Some negative SEO tactics were utilized or someone just had some fun.
In all cases, when you notice bad backlinks, the best approach is to reach out to the site owner and ask for the link to be updated or removed. Whichever works.
If you cannot contact the site owner, you will need to use the Search Console disavow tool.
Under Optimized Content
If the content is bad, people leave. It is as simple as that.
Also, when the content is not properly optimized, the same situation happens.
I often see content that is simply great but it is not really optimized for the online visitor. Ask yourself:
- Do you use simple sentences?
- Is the content properly formatted?
- Are there images that can make the content very easy on the visitor’s eyes?
Many bloggers make the mistake of writing in a language that is way too complex. Try to write in a way that high school students can understand to increase time spent on site.
When the content is simply poorly written, the best thing you can do is to hire a copywriter or maybe a content marketer.
Bad User Experience (UX)
Did you ever land on a website and you were bombarded by pop-ups? You most likely quickly closed the page. I personally even do that if I see a subscription pop-up that is hard to close.
Remember that CTA-heavy features are not great for visitors. Way too many marketers simply add too many email subscribe buttons, surveys, ads, and other unnecessary buttons.
Also, we have to talk about sites that are very confusing because of the navigation system used. It is possible that the user wants to check out more content but there is no search box and the items in the menu are very difficult to click when a smartphone is used.
Always prioritize user experience before you do anything else. In an online environment, especially when you use a smartphone, simplicity is the key for success.
High bounce rate is difficult to deal with. There is no way to deny that. Even seasoned SEO specialists have problems because they often have to work with web developers to fix problems.
Fortunately, in the examples I mentioned above, the solution is simple. Basically, there is always something that you can do to reduce bounce rate. Do it and you will not regret it.
Do it and you will rank higher in a natural way.