Hearing about CTR, hundreds of ranking factors, as well as interpreting the numbers in Google Analytics can easily get people to turn their back on SEO and technical aspects and get them going only for content and social promotion. One of the most confusing things for most people is bounce rate. What is bounce rate and how to lower it? In plain words, how to improve your website, improve your content to keep your visitors on your website and of course achieve better conversions?

This can sometimes be very simple, most blogs only need to tweak their appearance a bit, improve their content and that is it, but for some larger websites, especially eCommerce websites, this can be a thing of long term testing until we get to the bottom and figure out how to improve conversions.

What is Bounce Rate

Technical definition implies that bounce rate is a “percentage of single page visits in which the person left your site from the entrance page”. In other words, bounce rate is the percentage of visits to your landing page, the first page people come to when they visit your website from any source, and leave directly from that page. So if you are ranking for “rotten tomatoes” and people click on the link in Google search results, come to your page, look at it for a few seconds and then leave, that is counted into your bounce rate.

When we say percentage, what is counted is the number of visits that end up leaving your pages compared to the total number of visits to those pages. I’ve been looking at the Wikipedia entry as well as various posts, and none of them make sense, all they say is that you need to divide the number of visits that end up leaving your pages immediately with the total number of page visits. With that you will always get 0.something result, which is not inaccurate, I just can’t understand if it was so difficult to explain to the common user that the number is then multiplied with 100, just like dealing with percentages. So the formula goes: Rb=(Tv/Te), while it should be Rb=(Tv/Te)*100. Where Rb is bounce rate, Tv is single page visits, and Te is the total number of entries to a single page.

Let’s say I had 127 visits to a single page, of those 57 turned right back and left the website. So based on the formula my bounce rate would be 57/127=0.4488%? While in reality its 44.88%. How hard was that?

bounce rate

Now this is just a number that helps you understand a few things, what is important is what Google counts for bounce rate, that is what you need to understand in order to improve your pages and lower the bounce rate.

  1. Any click on the page that directs a user to an external website or your subdomain (yes, subdomains are counted into your bounce rates)
  2. Pushing the back button and going back to the source
  3. Closing the browser tab or the entire browser
  4. Typing a new URL from that page and leaving
  5. Timeout session, which is more than 30 minutes on a single page (in my opinion pretty dubious factor, it can mean both that the user is inactive or that the page is very interesting and needs to be studied)

All these are taken into account when calculating your bounce rate compared to the total number of visits to a single page.

How to Improve Your Website and Lower Your Bounce Rates

First thing you need to do in order to improve your pages is to understand what increases bounce rate on your website. This can be different from website to website, but in most cases there are a few things you should keep an eye out.

1. Inconsistent and irrelevant content copy – if I visit your page using the search term “how to assemble a bike” I want to find the instructions on that, very simple. And if the page doesn’t deliver, well, I will simply move on to find a better one. This is the number one issue; most blogs tend to rank for amazing number of irrelevant keywords. So make sure that you optimize your landing pages for proper keywords and try to move those keywords to higher rankings.

2. Design is number two in my opinion. Bad, tasteless design can be a really big influence on your bounce rate. If people can’t understand the layout of your site they are not going to go through the trouble just to read the text on your website when they can find plenty of others, tastes come into accounts as well. Not everyone like green with bright yellow or pink letters. So think about it carefully, your design influences your website performance.

3. Loading time. Yup, site speed, maybe right up with design, from different studies we have seen that most people do have the patience to wait, but some don’t and why should they. Improving your website’s speed will improve the performance including bounce rate as well as how Google sees your website along with other factors.

4. Third party content. Ads, videos, music, popup’s, those can all increase the bounce rate. If you do place ads or any third party content to your website, make sure that its relevant to your page, otherwise, you will be scaring your visitors away.

5. High number of external links. Yup, ads and great deal of external links can get people interested and start clicking on them, so relevant ads, maybe not so good for everyone, right? But lowering the number of those and making sure that ads as well as external links open up in new tabs will reduce your bounce rate.

6. The last one is the purpose of the page. Some keywords are not specific enough, so they may lead to various types of pages. A simple keyword like “Nike running shoes” can lead to a sales page, product page, review page, a video or a simple mention somewhere in the content of a personal blog post. So depending on the purpose of the page and the reason for the search this can end up in a bounce from the page. If you entered that search to find a product, I don’t want to see a video, maybe a review video or a review, but an ad, or something similar, nope, I want the product. This can also be lowered by going for the specific long tail keywords, they usually tend to have lower bounce rate if your content delivers.

Bounce rate is one of the factors that Google takes into account when calculating our rankings for a given keyword. It perfectly makes sense, if we have a high bounce rate that means our page is not that good for a certain keyword, so why should it rank in top 10? Improving your landing pages is important, so get over your webmaster tools and your analytics, identify top landing pages and keywords used for those pages and work on them, lowering the bounce rate may mean higher rankings for some.

Update: 27.01.2012

As Seozy said in the comment there is more to bounce rate, so to quote his great addition:

“Also, there are two types of bounce rates: Actual Bounce Rate and Standard Bounce Rate.

Actual bounce rate: user visiting your page from search results page and leaving within a few seconds without navigating to any other page on the site. The bounce rate what you see in the Google Analytics program is nothing but the Actual Bounce Rate. This is a negative sign as the Dwell Time is just a few seconds.

Standard bounce rate: A person visits a page with high quality content, reads the full content and then leave (spends more than 10 mins). Also, he doesn’t visit any other page on the site. This is still a bounce, but “Standard Bounce Rate”. Here this is not considered as a negative sign by the search engines as the Dwell Time is more than 10 mins!”

To add on this and his mention of actual bounce rate, one thing you can see now in Google search if you bounce back to a results page is the block this site option. As Google recognizes a quick bounce they give you the option to remove that specific website from results for that specific search query. That doesn’t remove the actual page from the search or the entire site, it will remove it just for that specific search query, as shown on the image below.

block site in search results

This is not a new update, it is almost a year I think since Google implemented this in their results.